Offseason Minibot: Is it worth it?

Recently our team purchased some SDS MK4 swerve modules and, although we don’t have the falcon motors yet, we wanted to start building an offseason drivetrain to practice with. My mentors insist that we should build a bot full size (28 in x 28 in) but I think we’re better off making a much smaller bot so we can first set up the electronics and swerve. Plus, we don’t yet know what the competition will call for. My current design is 19.5 in x 19…5 in as it was the smallest I could reasonably make it.

Is it worth even making a minibot to practice with, or should we just make a full-size drivetrain? If a minibot is more practical, how can I change their minds?

Making a full-sized robot will get you more experience with something similar to what you will (probably) run in season, and will let you mount things to it as well. Minibots are great fun, but they’re hard to mount things to.

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We weren’t really looking into mounting much else besides the necessary components to get the drivetrain functioning. Does that change anything?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter? Assuming you aren’t actually trying to play Rapid React, you just need to get four modules mounted and wired up in a square (or rectangle). The sooner you get that built (of any size), the sooner your programmers can experiment with button schemes and autos, and the sooner your drivers can learn to control it.

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Maybe a better consideration is this: What size bumpers do you already have? You’ll want bumpers for practice (because a new swerve is going to crash into things), so making your new chassis fit your existing bumpers will save you having to build new ones.

OTOH, practice bumpers can be as simple as duct taping pool noodles to the frame, so don’t fret too much.

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We have the same bumpers from the last few years, made to fit a 28x28in chassis. Thanks for pointing it out as I didn’t give much thought to how hard it could be to learn how to drive swerve

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Agree with @nuclearnerd

We started doing swerve with the At Home challenges. We built a smaller robot with a shooter on it (probably was around 20x20 frame with a shooter and a couple of wings for picking up balls in galactic search). We learned a lot with the smaller robot and it was great because it fit in any vehicle so it we wanted to take the robot to test it was easy – load up a couple of batteries and go. Also, it was easier to tip the robot up to see the wheel directions if something wasn’t behaving properly.

When we switched to a full size robot this year; code just worked after we set the length and width values.

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It depends on the level of what you are trying to teach and the level of who you are teaching. If you’re teaching experienced members on the team who’ve had 3 years of experience, then a minibot would be fine because they already understand the dynamic of a full robot and just need to learn how to use the swerve modules; however, I would say for people who have never built a full-sized robot before should have practice on the full-sized thing. What we (we being team 1895 as a whole) do is we have a basic drivetrain that’s just the bare-minimum you need for a robot (the RIO, PDP, Radio and Wheels w/ motors) that is a full 23"x23" size made out of 4 aluminum bars and particle board, but with nothing on it. That way it’s very easy to add/remove stuff in a way that doesn’t put expensive hardware a risk and it’s simple enough so someone w/out experience isn’t overwhelmed by a rainbow mass of wires.

Another alternative (if you have the resources to do so) is to keep previous season’s robots. At 1895 we use the last season’s bot as a teaching device and show-bot and the season before that to salvage for parts. That way new people can see what a full robot looks like but not worry about potentially messing up the current season’s bot or learn how to salvage parts from older bots.

tl;dr:
Minibots are good for vets learning a specific thing, but full sized bots are better for new people.

One advantage of a full size frame (or a few inches under) is that you can throw your prototype mechanisms ontop of it and simulate a real robot early in your 2023 build season. You can also work on figuring out bumper mounting techniques now too.

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One advantage to a mini bot is it will encourage more thought to how the wiring is laid out. Which is valuable experience.

But honestly - it’s mid September, whichever you can get done faster so you have more dev time. This is a debate for May.

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What do most teams do during this time in the year? Right now the only thing on our agenda is building a chassis and setting up swerve so we can code it. Without knowing what the comp is, what do most teams do?

Oh no you’re doing the right thing. But debating “should I do x or y” instead of doing whichever gets you closer to your goals right now is silly.

If you want to run swerve in 23 -

December is usually a wash, maybe 1 week.

November is maybe 3 weeks with the holidays.

October is 4 weeks

And you have 2 weeks left in September.

Get a bot together will probably take you 2 weeks depending on your shop time. That gives you 8 weeks to get software working, do path planning, driver practice to see how it is different. And maybe if you’re clever stick something to emulate a manipulator or two on a side and play at cycling game pieces to learn that it’s different with swerve.

That’s a lot of work and since typical off season schedules are lighter you’re not going to be as productive as during season.

If it were May I’d advocate for understanding what your organizational goals were and mapping efforts to them.

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We meet once a week in the fall. We’ve got more than enough on the agenda to fill the remaining ~14 meetings before kick-off:

  1. Recruiting new members through the end of September
  2. Introduction meeting(s) for new team members
  3. Mock Kick-off meeting
  4. Design challenge meeting (marshmallow challenge or equiv.)
  5. Parent meeting
  6. Shop tour meeting
  7. Golf tournament / bake sale fundraisers
  8. Prep 2056 Conference presentations
  9. Prep for Ruckus off-season event
  10. Prep for STEMley Cup off-season event
  11. Shop safety training (three or four meetings)
  12. Hands-on build project (usually something small like a phone stand)
  13. Shop and field clean-up in time for kick-off
  14. At least one team social (bowling / laser tag etc)
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