Legality of CADing components before build season?

One of my friends and I got in a debate about the Legality of CADing drivetrains ahead of time. For example Team xxxx designs and builds a prototype crab drive during the fall; would it be legal to then use the exact same drive system for the next year’s game?


As I understand this would be legal as long as the team releases the CAD to the public and rebuilds & remakes all the parts during the build season.

Expect this rule, or one very like it, to be part of the 2012 FRC game manual.

<R22> No final design, fabrication, or assembly of any elements intended for the final ROBOT is permitted prior to the Kick-off presentation.

The “final design” part would be a problem for the situation you describe.

Technically, as long as it’s only a CAD file, and you’re not fabricating or building the actual part CADded, I see no problem with this. Look at all of the drive trains that people have CADded and put on Chief Delphi. Those are done before kickoff, but they’re still legal to use during the build season. It’s like an idea. They can’t say “no thinking about ideas for next year’s game before kickoff”.

My understanding is that you cannot CAD up a design and use it as a finalized design as stated by the rule quoted by Alan Anderson.


Designs are never final, you can always make improvements. I’d be amazed if an experimental drivetrain worked perfectly in it’s first iteration and needed absolutely no improvement or change.

Take a look at 254/968’s drivetrain, while their drive design may look the same year after year, they are constantly making tweaks and changes to the design.

Teams do CAD and build drivetrains in the offseason, and learn a lot in the process to make changes for the next season.

We CADed a drive before the season, but then changed it once the game was announced to better meet our needs. Problem?

My take on the rules this year was that you can use designs from prior years as long as the CAD were open sourced. I wouldn’t apply this to all models though, for example, making a model of something that you already have and plan to use, however the manufacturer doesn’t release CAD Models.

This really is a “spirit of the game” kind of call: See this(

For a variety of reasons.

  1. I don’t know of anyone thats ever been busted for this (but I may be wrong)

  2. This is an educational experience, so please don’t hinder yourself

  3. Don’t violate the Non Disclosure Agreement you may have signed because you found something out about the game before everyone else. So now not only are you in legal trouble, but you clearly can’t be in competition also.

My take on it is go ahead and do something with your time and teach yourself, the chances of you using an entire design without any significant modification is pretty close to you being on Shark Week because of a Shark Bite. But hey, teams use the same drive train design repeatedly without any problems. So I think offseason research & development of drivetrains is pretty close to legal.

Also consider: next year’s rules haven’t been finalized yet, so you really have a chicken before the egg type problem and you won’t find the answer out until the FIRST Official Q&A opens up again.

Everyone I’ve ever heard of who sets things up early (i.e. people building fields at Remote Kickoffs) has the integrity to remove themselves from any design until Kickoff.

That is very true of everybody I have worked with, but from my understanding NDA’s are required for many people participating in many different aspects of kickoff, from field design, construction to kit distribution (even at remote locations that don’t end with -anchester).

But at the end of the day it goes back to a what-if scenario, the rules are still meant to protect the integrity of the game. So just don’t violate that (and that is how most Head Ref’s/Inspectors/et cetera would call that from my understanding)

I know that it is lawyering, but I thought I’d point out that since we don’t have the 2012 manual now; unless FIRST tells us not to create designs NOW, then they cannot reasonably expect not to use what we will have created when they release the rule prohibiting it in 6 months

You’re right, we may have created it but we can’t use it.

However, it can be argued that since the 2012 manual has not been released, the 2011 manual is still in effect. Thus, the 2011 rules are still in effect…

FIRST does not restrict prototyping designs before the competition. However, they do restrict taking the exact design used–or the exact prototype–and using it in competition–or have in the past. You must make some change to be in compliance with the rules. This competition is an engineering competition*; sometimes engineering involves taking past designs and changing them to fit your current problem.

Usually, FIRST’s method of enforcing this rule group is to change the game every year. Sometimes, they also change the robot dimensions or other robot requirements–this throws off any designs that already exist, just enough to require them to be retuned. (2005, dimensions; 2009, wheels)

*OK, not totally…but for now, I’m just considering that aspect of it.

The choice to use what was created/CADded is still being made during build season, after the release of the 2012 rules.

I wouldn’t bet on this rule going away anytime soon. Build and CAD all you want, it’s a good learning experience, but don’t expect to be allowed to use it.

My take on this is that because the 2011 (and previous) rules are very non-specific about what is meant by final design (nor has FIRST offered much in the way of clarification through official channels), and because it’s very hard to find out about the design process unless described by a team member, that clause is nearly unenforceable.

Besides, one could think of all sorts of creative rationalizations: “We changed from 32X M4 machine screws to 16X M4 socket head cap screws; that constitutes a redesign in terms of load path and mass with the intent of putting us under the design weight while still maintaining strength. This is a redesign conducted during the build season of a prototype robot assembly from the preseason. Now we can use that improved robot design [but not preseason parts] in competition.” Such a minor redesign and associated explanation is probably not what FIRST intended. But the team is saying all the right things, and the officials must be very cautions making judgments without strong support from the rulebook, especially when clearly and substantially to the detriment of a team. I think the correct call in this case is to permit it, even if you have a strong suspicion they were deliberately making a minor pro forma change to comply with the letter of the rules, irrespective of the spirit.

I’d also disagree that the 2011 rules are in effect. I would consider rules to only be enforceable by competition officials, at official events. With none remaining in the 2011 season, I don’t think anybody needs to worry about running afoul of them.

Of course there’s a significant chance that the 2012 rules will be similar—and given that there are plenty of 2012 events coming up, you wouldn’t want to do anything now that could be enforced against you later on (e.g. if a rule talks about the preseason). And yes, since we haven’t seen the 2012 rules yet, we don’t actually know whether they’ll succumb to the rivet lobby’s machinations and ban threaded fasteners. Teams can only speculate, and hope they don’t get screwed.

The 2011 rules allow the reuse of software if it is open sourced, but there is nothing in there about open sourcing CAD files.

The relevant rules section is “fabrication schedule” on page 12 of the robot section of the manual.

The most pertinent passage:

Example: A TEAM designs and builds a two-speed shifting transmission during the fall as a training exercise. When designing their competition ROBOT, they utilize all the design principles they learned. To optimize the transmission design for their ROBOT, they improve the transmission gear ratios and reduce the size, and build two new transmissions, and place them on the ROBOT. All parts of this process are permitted activities.
Example: The same TEAM realizes that the transmission designed and built in the fall perfectly fits their need for a transmission to drive the ROBOT arm. They build an exact copy of the transmission from the original design plans, and bolt it to the ROBOT. This would be prohibited, as the transmission – although fabricated during the competition season – was built from detailed designs developed prior to kick-off.

Thanks for all the feedback, guys. As you might guess, brian and I, being the two CADders on the team, were discussing this.
In my opinion, i think it needs to be done from scratch starting day 1. R22 was a big reason for my opinion, as Alan discussed earlier. R22 goes on past what Alan posted to further refute the aforementioned “plan”.
The main reason for this thread is because we have a sponsor that can take a converted CAD file, and laser cut it and make the flanges (not laser flanges :P), assuming we use sheet metal. We did it that way this year for our Meccanum drivetrain, and we really liked it. And, knowing my team, there’s a good chance a lot of people will strongly push for the same drivetrain as last year. So, that brought up the thought of, would we be allowed to just re-order the same part we made last year? My conclusion was no.
Then the possibility of it being a COTS item was brought into play. Brian pointed out a rule concerning COTS to prove it could be ok:

For the purposes of the FRC, generally available software modules obtained from open sources (e.g. professional publications, commonly used FRC community accessible web resources, industry source code repositories, etc.) … shall be considered COTS items.

So, he argued that if we “release” an open source CAD of our drivetrain to the public (CD), then its considered a COTS item. That kind of makes sense to me, but i feel like that was not FIRST’s intent.
Nonetheless, my plan was just to remake it from scratch, and add some “improvements”, using the previous one as a reference. It’d only take a day tops. That way you made this design during the Build Season. In my opinion, that would be no different than a team reconstructing a replica drivetrain out of aluminum box that they used the previous year, or remaking an arm like 233 and 148 did (in NO way am i trying to offend them) .
I think its better safe than sorry, and the most GP solution to this. As for whether the 2011 rules are still in effect, i would argue that it doesn’t matter if those are the rules that HAVE to be followed; rather, those are the rules that should be respected, and abided by, whether or not they remain in effect.

Don’t read it like that. Remember, COTS is only meaningful in reference to a component or mechanism. The idea that a computer file is “a ROBOT part in its most basic configuration, which can not be disassembled without damaging or destroying the part, or altering its fundamental function” (i.e. a component) is remarkably shaky—even when referring to a program running on the robot (or a compiled equivalent). It’s certainly inapplicable with respect to the software or the CAD files used to create a part, but not actually present on the robot. (Besides: that statement your colleague recalled is from the blue explanatory text, not from a rule. It conveys intent, but doesn’t change the meaning of a rule in the event of a conflict.)

The way to make your drivetrain COTS is to sell it, as a vendor (with all the requirements and complications that arise from that status—see in particular the 3rd through 5th paragraphs of 2011’s section 4.3).

Also remember, if your sponsor’s personnel (in their capacity as team members) build stuff for you after the kickoff from raw materials, those parts don’t have to be COTS. They’re just fabricated items.

Given that you’re improving it, this should be fine.

Do you mean that as a practical matter, or as a moral principle ?

Kind of both. Sorry to not supply the answer you wanted. I guess im leaning more on the side of morality.
Thanks for the feedback btw
EDIT: Think of it as a moral principle that in turn results in one treating it as a practical matter.