I’m pretty surprised, and just a little worried, by how many teams are responding “yes” to this poll. I say all this as part of a team that, after much deliberation, decided to go for it, but I’m worried that there are a lot of teams out there who are not fully thinking through the rather dramatic implications of designing for the low bar, and the actual strategic value of it to the average team.
I think that there are a lot of FRC game tasks, or even just general robot characteristics, which teams do not attempt or prioritize every year simply because somebody told them “trying to do everything is bad, simple is good” rather than out of a tangible, well thought out reason that it’s going to be difficult for the team to pull off, or because of a valid trade-off which improves performance elsewhere. Shifters, for example. I have a hard time seeing how choosing one bulletproof, battle-proven COTs gearbox over another bulletproof, battle-proven COTs gearbox makes a robot appreciably simpler, or quicker to put together. Last year, the classic case was canburglers. The vast majority of FIRST teams dismissed this task as “too hard,” only to have teams that didn’t see it this way rapidly retrofit their robots to steal cans during lunch. This year, I expect to see teams fail to meet their potential in this way in regards to scaling. It’s an easy task to dismiss, but also an easy thing to add after the fact (look at the WCP MCC, for example). The common thread is, it can be achieved through an “auxiliary” mechanism, something that can just be slapped on top of a robot without affecting the rest of it that much. And it’s pretty close to a “binary” task; unlike something like shooting where there will be a huge spectrum of performance with gains to be made by optimization at every level, you either scale or you don’t, and there isn’t much to be gained by spending a huge amount of time optimizing how quickly you can do it. I would argue that some of the defenses also fall under the category of tasks more teams will avoid based on philosophy than sound engineering analysis.
The low bar is not one of these tasks. It is the opposite of these tasks.
The ability to do the low bar is immensely integral to a robot’s design. It affects every single element of it, and disqualifies a number of otherwise viable designs and approaches.
The low bar takes practically every archetypical design from the previous game to which you could effectively say “build team XYZ’s robot from that year,” Rebound Rumble, and throws them out the window.
The low bar will make your electronics team cry.
The low bar has a direct and dramatic impact on the effectiveness of every single subsystem of your robot. Instead of releasing boulders from four feet up, you’re either releasing them from one foot, or adding in systems you didn’t need without the low bar to make up the difference. Same with hanging, your reach distance changed dramatically.
The low bar also has its advantages. It’s one more defense that you’re guaranteed to be able to breach, taking the number of other defenses to design for down from 8 to 6, and possibly eliminating some of the ones which require dedicated mechanisms to achieve. It’s also the most direct path to/from the secret passage, probably the fastest defense to cross, and provides you with an optimal cycle time.
I’m worried, however, that a lot of teams are overestimating the degree to which they’ll be able to take advantage of this.
By doing the low bar, you have made being an accurate high goal shooter quite a bit harder. You have also made your shots easier to defend if you stick to a low release point. Teams doing the low bar are betting on being able to make up the difference through an increased cycle rate. The number of extra shots a team can expect to miss by building for the low bar is hard to estimate, but likely not trivial, and I would argue that for many teams and the rate at which we’ve seen that defenses like the rock wall and rough terrain can be crossed, it may be more effective to cycle over these with a taller robot. They are also betting on consistently being effective enough to take priority over their alliance partners in use of the low bar. If as many teams want to use it as people say there will be, there’s going to be a traffic jam through the thing.
By doing the low bar, many teams are completely neglecting the possibility of scaling. These teams are demanding an extra two high goal boulders a match from their low bar cross, minimum.
For teams that have chosen to neglect the high goal, the picture is even more stark. A team would need to run five extra cycles per match to make up the difference from a scale, a task which becomes dramatically easier if you allow your robot to be tall. I would bet that most teams won’t even average five a match, let alone five extra cycles due purely to low bar efficiency gains.
Many teams are designing to be “breaching specialists,” crossing all 9 defense styles. This gives them an extra five points per match (and no change in RP), when compared to crossing 8. Scaling, or even a single high goal shot, does the same or better.
And that’s all neglecting alliance partners. The low bar is weird, in that it can be reasonably expected that both the best and worst teams in FRC will be able to do it. For the best teams, the advantage in cycle time is clear, and it’s integral to their strategies. For the teams that struggle to put a kitbot on the field, taking away an effective way to score points that you’re given from the start would be a poor idea. For a team in the middle, it’s a reasonable assumption that their partners will be able to take care of it, and may be actively hogging it for their own cycles.
I also think Dr. Joe is right. But teams should consider, which will be the more effective robots? The ones which were designed for five weeks to do the low bar, and then hastily had a few tall bits added? Or the ones which were designed from the beginning to take full advantage of their height?
Unless you expect to be able to take full advantage of the low bar’s efficiency gains, it may be in many team’s best interests to walk away from the extreme design tradeoffs that the low bar forces.