Nothing is impossible!

(this thread is a result of a post in this thread:
“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”–Arthur C. Clarke

I don’t know how many time I heard on this very forum all through January and February that “so-and-so will never work” or “This mechanism cannot do that”. I believe that, while well intentioned, these comments discourage innovation, and prevent people from trying new approaches. Just because you haven’t figured out how to make something work doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Two examples I heard over and over involve the use of vacuum to acquire and hold the ball, and pneumatic cylinders (thats the proper term, the piston is the part inside the cylinder that moves) used to shoot the ball. I read numerous posts that said things like “you can’t pick up a ball with vacuum”, “the cover is too porous”, “you can’t develop enough holding force” as well as comments about the impossibility of shooting the ball using pneumatic cylinders.

This year Team 1771 built a robot that everybody on the forum (and some members of the team) said was impossible. It uses a Shop Vac (powered by 2 FP motors) and a large funnel to grab the ball by suction. It then uses a pneumatic cylinder arrangement to shoot the ball. To fire, the vacuum holds the ball against the funnel, and the cylinders are pressurized. When the cylinders develop enough force to break the vacuum (around 300 pounds) the ball flies off with great speed. They were able to achieve more than 6 feet vertically, and over fifteen feet horizontally. Once the bugs were out, they were able to average 5 hurdles per match, and got 7 once (I think, still waiting on video).

Unfortunately, even though they were one of the best scoring bots at the competition, they were eliminated in the semifinals at Peachtree, and their season is done. The biggest disappointment is that the FIRST community will not get the benefit of seeing that not only is an unorthodox approach workable, it can create a top notch robot.

Here is a true story that illustrates what people can do if you don’t tell them it’s impossible.

A young college student was working hard in an upper-level math course, for fear that he would be unable to pass. On the night before the final, he studied so long that he overslept the morning of the test. When he ran into the classroom several minutes late, he found three equations written on the blackboard. The first two went rather easily, but the third one seemed impossible. He worked frantically on it until, just ten minutes short of the deadline, he found a method that worked, and he finished the problems just as time was called. The student turned in his test paper and left. That evening he received a phone call from his professor. “Do you realize what you did on the test today?” he shouted at the student. “Oh, no,” thought the student. I must not have gotten the problems right after all. “You were only supposed to do the first two problems,” the professor explained. “That last one was an example of an equation that mathematicians since Einstein have been trying to solve without success. I discussed it with the class before starting the test. And you just solved it!”

I completely agree. In opinion, nothing is impossible. I will be one of the first to tell a team that something is going to be really hard. To tell them, it is going to take a lot of time. To suggest to them, that they take a different design. However, I always finish with something to the extent of “I wouldn’t attempt it, but if you do Good Luck and let me know how it turns out.” That is the best way to respond. (In my opinion). That way they know what they are up for, but still know that it is indeed possible.

I have to agree with you. Our robot was heralded as impossible by half the team, including myself. But I am now convinced that it is the most capable and excellent robot we have ever produced in the 9 years of team. Not since 2006 has our robot looked or performed this well.
So there you have it folks. I have to believe that in FIRST, anything (within reason) is possible. Violating the laws of physics (such as robot duality) may be slightly harder than building a vacuum robot. But heck, if you can figure out how to pull that off, I’ll buy you a donut :slight_smile:

I must agree with you as well. Team 1108 built a robot similar to yours. They used a shop vac and a garbage can lid to effectively pick up and hold the ball as they made laps, then incorporated the lancher into the arm, to hurdle the ball over the overpass. They won the Xerox Creativity Award in Kansas City and at Lone Star for their design.

Have YOU ever tried to dribble a football?

All jokes aside though, I agree.


what about traveling faster then the velocity of light in vacuum with out warping space-time
our current understanding of physics says this is impossible
don’t confuse this with travelling faster then light period which is possible if you can warp space-time

but the general concept i agree with

I’m not quite old enough to remember, but at one time, current understanding said that controlled flight faster than the speed of sound was impossible.

are you saying that Einstein has no clue what he was doing?

It’s possible.


heck at one point it said flight was inpossible. great post and story, very insporational.

There are only barriers an all can be broken.

Einstein had a very good clue about what he was doing, but would be the first to admit the weaknesses in his theories. Suggesting that we do not have a complete understanding of the universe, or what is possible in the universe, does not mean that current theories are wrong, merely that they are incomplete.

Newtonian mechanics, for example, accurately describe almost everything we do… until the velocity approaches the speed of light, at which point they are incomplete.

While I would disagree with the postulate that nothing is impossible, simply because the proof would require demonstrating that everything is possible, I wholeheartedly agree with the spirt of the post. When someone posts to CD (or states elsewhere) that “it won’t work” or “it can’t be done”… it would be wise to consider the reasoning behind the statement rather than the statement itself. Sometimes they are right… other times their statement is incomplete… and other times they really do have no clue what they are talking about.


Very nicely stated.

Well said.

As I said, this type of comment is generally well-intentioned, (trying to prevent a team from wasting time on an approach that is destined for failure?) but if not done very carefully, can stifle creativity. I think it is OK to say that a specific design wont work (if you are absolutely sure, and completely understand the design) as long as you can point out alternatives. But making blanket statements about the unworkability of concepts should be avoided.

My opinion is that there are an equal number of possible things that can be done as there are impossibe (an infinite number of each).


I think Einstein had a lot of problems with his relatives- he seemed to talk about them alot.

Relatively speaking -

You have identified the beauty of FIRST, in that while 1500 teams received the same game challenge, there are multiple ways of playing the game and anding the game elements. Systems were designed by one team that were thought to be impossible by another.

If you look around a competition, there are several ways to score in this game, and lots of variations of those gereral themes.

The challenge for each of us, new, veterans, students and mentors, is to make the decisions of what is possible and feasible given the constraints on the team, and what is fundamentaly impossible given the same constraints.

Anything that is stated as impossible will eventually be proven posible, it might jst be thta it is not possible today given the knwledge and tools that exist.

example - 25 years ago it was impossible to send a text message - no systems existed for that to happen. Now, it is commonplace.

Come on Chris, I can think of at least one thing that will ALWAYS be impossible - convincing ones wife that FIRST really does not take up too much of your time.

I don’t think Arthur C. Clarke said this because it’s flat out wrong. As much as we can hope and wish there are things that are impossible.

Actually, Arthur C. Clarke DID say this, and it’s not wrong.
Everyone realizes that there ARE some things that simply are not possible. But if you read the quote carefully, you will see the caveat “very probably”. Not “certainly”. We do not know everything about our own planet, much less the entire universe. At this point, we cannot say what is impossible with any certainty.

But this argument is not what this thread is about. This thread is a caution against discouraging teams from thinking outside the box.

Actually, certain things ARE impossible:

I feel the evidence in the link above is indisputable. Plus, it rhymes.