paper: Stop the Stop Build

This, in my humble opinion, this is why Zondag’s proposal won’t fly for Regional teams. FIRST wants everyone to move to Districts. Being able to highlight the work time out of the bag in your shop to teams is a substantial motivator to get people moving toward the district model. Particularly for Texas, where we are so large that the travel logistics are a big headache for teams, removing this distinction will further push teams here to stay with the Regional model. In my conversations with Texas teams, having the time out of the bag was consistently a top 3 reason for interest in districts. And, more often than not, that was enough of a reason to get a team to work through the hassle of planning the extra trips.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of having time to work out of the bag. But, I think that numbers wise, there are a lot of teams that like the idea that the commitment expected of students is well defined and time limited. Doing away with the bag entirely would present a lot of headaches for teams with students that are attracted to many other activities. I think Jim’s compromise is a great one, but I also suspect it is not something we will see implemented.

This is my main argument for just ripping the band-aide off rather than going with the 8 hour per week window: The rules around withholding are already a hot mess, I can see how this 8 hour per week rule could make this situation worse.

If the only way I can get rid of the stop build rule is to make this half step happen for a few years, then I’ll take it and be happy but I would much rather just make a clean break. Kill the bags, kill the tags, kill the entire withholding rules…

Dr. Joe J.

While definitely a sound interpretation of the 2016 withholding rules, that sounds awful to try to keep track of in the context of a weekly unbag period… Uh, how many pounds did we add on last week? Was that part made inside or outside of the window? What’s the total weight of parts we made outside of the window between last event and our next one?

Would a withholding even be necessary with a weekly unbag period? I suppose that might hurt teams that use withholding to keep their control system out so that they can use it on a practice/twin or test bed without having to buy duplicates of all the (rather costly for some teams) components. Would also get messy with regards to sending out parts to a sponsor… since it couldn’t be withholding and would be impractical to try to have the machining done during the same window of the time the team is meeting (and even if it was practical, that’s an awkward interpretation of unbag time).

I am not seeing the disconnect that others see. I believe that I can be FOR removing the stop build rules and still be AGAINST having the top teams cheesecake the soul out of a lower tier team.

I have a yardstick. It has inspiration tick marks along its length. I take the controversial position that it is more inspirational to have a team compete with a working robot of their own creation that can accomplish a game objective they set out to achieve.

I don’t like excessive cheesecaking because I believe it has bad long term effects on inspiration. I don’t like stop build rules because they significantly disadvantage teams with low resources and while wasting resources of high resource teams, both of which adversely affect the inspirational impact of FIRST.

You can disagree with my views but I don’t understand how they are incompatible views to have.

What am I missing?

Dr. Joe J.

While I agree districts are the future of FRC and their benefits are a great motivator, I don’t think FIRST should artificially hold regional teams back for the sole reason of trying to force them into districts. The teams in the regional model shouldn’t be punished for the lack of action of the administration of the region or even just landscape(Southwest is very spread out). In addition, if a region won’t see much real benefit transitioning to districts, maybe it shouldn’t become a district in the first place. That being said, I think there are enough real benefits in the district model that it will eventually make its way to every region.

I think it comes down to a very fundamental difference. You see it as a top tier team taking advantage of a lower tier team. I don’t. I see it as two teams collaborating on a set of goals and a common design.

One of the reasons being given, even by myself, is that ending stop build will allow top tier teams to better assist lower tier teams prior to events. What’s to stop them from collaborating on alliance strategies or a better design? How is that different than doing it at an event? What if you bring your robot into our shop and we machine parts for you? What if we come up with a plan that is practically unbeatable and have a plan to transform one of our two robots for eliminations?

To me, these ideas are very much related. But hey, as a wise man once said, you don’t have to take my word for it.

Given the plethora of other benefits to districts, this mentality, while probably true, is sad. Holding team’s potential hostage like that isn’t fair to said teams who are stuck in the middle of the debate. If one can improve, improve.

Most of the benefits of districts require districts to execute. This example isn’t one of them. Other than the cost of extra bag ties, there isn’t any additional cost to FIRST, so fiscally it’s a wash. If they have legitimate reasons to not expand unbag time to everybody, fine, but withholding it purely to steer areas to districts isn’t right IMHO.

To me the idea of helping another team is completely okay. Help away. But suppose that Team A helped Team B before an upcoming competition but Team B could only use the improvements IF they were on alliances that included Team A. Doesn’t seem right. Also, before a competition, Team B seems to be in the driver’s seat. They can accept the changes or not. It is up to them. But once an alliance is formed, Team B is under much more pressure to accept the cheesecake proposals of their alliance captain whether they like them or not.

I know, I know, Zebracorns feel that they were not taken advantage of. I hear you. And I don’t care. Well that is too strong of a statement. I care, in fact, I am happy for Team 900. It was a good experience for you. But I STILL think that such excessive cheesecaking was bad for the sport. The typical team in the future will not have a great experience having their hard work (for 6 weeks :wink: being pushed to the side so that a top team can cheesecake the snot out of them.

Dr. Joe J.

I agree. One of the strongest motivational factors that sustains a team (IMO) is the sense of ownership the students have in their machine. Win or lose, being able to watch your robot on the field and knowing that part of it exists due to your hard work and effort is a powerful thing.

Random thought on cheesecaking.

Would teams cheesecake less if they were allowed to enter multiple robots for less-than-ridiculous costs? We would probably enter 3-4 robots if it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The amount of time we could commit to cheesecaking would definitely taper off at that point.

I think a lot of FRC’s issues boil down to program cost actually. Hmmm…


So prior to an alliance being formed, it’s acceptable to you to offer to help make a team as competitive as possible but once the alliance is formed it isn’t? :confused:

Tell you what, forget I brought it up. I’m good without the public display of mental gymnastics that is someone coming to terms with their own cognitive dissonance.

Ding ding ding.

Edit: Makig clear what I was highlighting.

It is a question of degree. Picking a team and making them a ramp anchor and telling not to move isn’t inspiring. At least not to me. Admittedly that is an extreme. The Zebracorn collaboration of 2015 is the other extreme. (For those coming late to the party read thisthread) Rules generally do a bad job of corner cases. Does that help with your confusion? :]

I don’t see the need for half-measures here. Don’t give everyone an unbagging time slot, just get rid of the bag entirely. The current policy is regressive and unfair, and lessened version of it is still going to be regressive and unfair, only somewhat less-so.

This might just be me, but I can’t envision this doing anything but further exacerbating the gap between high- and low-resource teams and breeding a lot of ill-will. For instance, I don’t think many people would take kindly to seeing an elims bracket at district championships consisting of multiple robots from only a handful of “elite” teams. That might be a more accurate reflection of the distribution of resources in FRC (both monetary and human), but I doubt it’s what’s best for the program.

Completely agreed. And it is interesting to bring up cheesecake in the context of the bag discussion, because of a hypothetical scenario that has been bothering me for a while.

Most years, “cheesecaking” consists of relatively minor, relatively low tech additions dreamed up on the spot, in a collaborative effort between teams. Alliances are largely selected on the base competency of the robot a team showed up at the event with, and cheesecake provides minor enhancements. In 2015, we had a game uniquely suited to cheesecaking, largely because of just how completely the vital canburgling task could be completed via a self-contained, sub 30 pound mechanism, developed and brought in entirely by another team, and how few less than elite teams put any effort whatsoever into this task, or developed systems with a prayer of being competitive at it. As a result, we started to see some teams picked more on their willingness to abandon elements of the robot they brought in. And at the end of the season, cheesecake and its possibilities being in people’s minds lead to us seeing a new robot built from the ground up at an event, based largely on design work done by another team prior to the event.

The debates over whether or not this was a positive thing have been beaten to death. But one indisputible fact about the experience remains: the harpoon build was a monumentally difficult feat for all teams involved. It required an unprecedented level of coordination, pre-planning, and engineering skill. We’ve only seen it once, and I don’t know that we’ll ever see anything quite like it again. If we do, it’ll be hard not to be in awe of the teams that pull it off, and the amazing accomplishment will once again overshadow any sourness about the ethics of attempting it. One can say similar things about teams that manage to pull off mid-season full-bot rebuilds under the bag system, and arguments about design convergence.

However, the difficulty of this feat was almost 100% artificially generated, through the bag rules and withholding rules. Getting rid of bag and tag would presumably also erase poundage limits on fabricated items that a team can bring to competition with them.

Which brings up the logical questions: What stops teams, many of whom are already building multiple robots, from bringing in pre-built “Cake-bots,” ready to roll as-is with different team numbers slapped on (or Cake-tops that can bolt on top of a kitbot, if FIRST adopts VRC-style definition of a robot)? Would the hypothetical gains in performance of the average team be enough to erase an elite team’s motivation to do this? Would the sense of collaboration and involvement by all teams so often quoted regarding past extreme cheesecake endeavours always be maintained? Would we want to stop this at all, or would it be a positive thing to a degree?

EDIT: To be clear, I don’t anticipate this ever becoming a widespread thing, nor do I mean to suggest that certain teams are ready and waiting to do this, only held back by the current ruleset. But the door does open up if we aren’t careful.

Marshall, Marshall, Marshall…

I have obviously offended you (and all of Team 900?). That wasn’t my intent. Sorry for that.

AND… I have a views on how the world should work. I do my best to come up with a consistent set of values which you graciously call mental gymnastics and talk of cognitive dissonance.

From my point of view, our differences boil down to this: regarding excessive cheesecaking, I come down against it while you come down on the other side.

Can we disagree without insulting each other? Maybe?

Dr. Joe J.

I wouldn’t want to compete in FRC if teams were allowed to enter multiple robots. That would be the very arms race that everyone wants to avoid. Poor teams would have no chance. Competition would be far more boring, strife between students on a given team would probably increase, as well as interaction between other teams becoming more cutthroat. Guaranteed teams would sandbag to try and get all of their robots on the same alliance. To keep up with the Joneses elite teams will be forced to dump more money and time into building more robots, training more drivers, and going to more events.

I know this has basically been done with 494 and 70, but that is a sort of unique situation that had a large opportunity cost.

Hopefully, ethical sense on the part of both hypothetical teams?

I don’t see this as ever becoming widespread as I don’t think there are that many teams who would ever consider this as an acceptable way to participate in FRC, especially on the part of the receiving team. Then again, I’m not from an ultra-competitive district, so perhaps the mentality really is that different there. I know our students would be pretty offended if someone suggested that we do that.

From my own competition experience:

  • In 2014 your alliance would be seriously improved if your third pick robot could be fitted with a trampoline for quick inbound bounce passes.
  • In 2015 it would help to add a ramp or canburgler
  • In 2016 (and 2013) a flip out defensive wall could make a huge difference.

Each of these examples were used in competition with great success (I could link to some, but given the “ethical” controversy surrounding cheesecake I won’t). When the withholding allowance is removed, I can’t see why more teams won’t do the same.

That said, cheesecake limits are a separate issue from Bag/Witholding, and should be addressed with separate rules. The GDC tried to put in some rules last year, but they probably went too far. I think it’s possible to strike the right balance with something like a separate weight limit, but that’s a different conversation.

Great read, thanks for posting!

Minor stats comment: Fig (5) is a little concerning because each curve represents a different population of teams, so it isn’t a very clear way to show the trend of increasing performance as teams have attended more and more events. It is unclear to what degree teams from the left-hand side are moving rightwards as they attend more events or if most of those teams simply aren’t included in the next curve. While it can be surmised by looking at the right-hand bounds of the distributions there are some performance increases, the graph would more directly support your point if a single population of teams (perhaps the 304 that competed at 4 events or the 765 that competed at 3) were tracked across their multiple events instead.

Edit: Please disregard the second part, I had misinterpreted the next figure :slight_smile: