Perennial Q&A Answers

I noted something while inspecting at the Championship that I’d like to throw out for discussion regarding legacy rulings in the official Q&A.

A couple of years ago I posted a question to the Q&A regarding the legality of rotating the head of the compressor 90 degrees to accommodate rounting of plumbing; it appears to have been designed to do that (4 bolt flange) and seemed pretty straight forward. However, the GDC responded that it would be considered a modification of the compressor and not allowed per one of the rules. OK, no problem - we won’t do it.

This year while doing spot inspections I noticed one of the teams had rotated the head of their compressor 90 degrees, so I pointed out that this was against the rules. They argued (rightly so, I think) that it was not, so we went to the lead inspector who agreed that it was a modification which was not allowed by the rules. I had told him about the previous ruling so I’m sure that influenced his decision. The team changed their configuration to meet the rule.

So my question is, if a ruling is made in previous years that something is or is not allowed by the rules, and the something hasn’t changed and the rule hasn’t changed, does (should) that ruling stand for future competitions? For instance, COTS parts definitions, motor and pneumatic requirements and modifications, definition of “entanglement” have all been submitted previously and pretty much the parts and rules have remained the same, so I think it should be safe to say that the GDC hasn’t changed their intent and prior rulings in many cases should be adequate.

Or do we have to take a long list of rulings from every season and submit them every single year to make sure it gets documented for the current season?

My put is that

  1. Current rules surpercede previous rules (always)
  2. Q&A interpretations on previous rules that are the same as current rules should be sufficient without having to get a current year interpretation
  3. If the question does get asked in the current year Q&A and a different answer is received, that supercedes previous interpretations.

One issue with this is accessing prior year’s interpretations; they are archived but the inspectors will likely not have a copy of every ruling ever made by the GDC. But if it helps your case, have a copy and show it.

We passed with a rotated head at san jose because there was no rule or QnA to prohibit it.

I don’t like this idea, mainly because of all the changes that have happened in the QnA.

Some things were illegal in past, legal now, but that was only found out by asking in the QnA. If something is deemed illegal, no one would QnA it again, and it’d stay illegal.

Silly logic on my part I know.


<R73> Items specifically PROHIBITED from use on the ROBOT include:
A. Any pneumatic part or component rated for less than 125psi.
B. Any pneumatic part or component that has been altered, modified, machined, coated, or changed from its original “out of the box” condition, except as required for normal assembly with other components.

Your robot inspector should have pointed this out during inspections. As to Gary’s original question, the answer in part lies with this year’s rules. The GDC has stated that in many of the Q&A responses. Previous year’s rules do not apply this year. I think all of us will find things changed next year as well. It goes with the territory. Electromagnets were not allowed in previous years. One instance is this response:
“Re: Legality of rotary electrical connectors?
Posted by GDC at 02/12/2010 11:28:55 am
Rules from prior years do not apply to this year’s game.
Rule <R47> requires that circuits branched off the Power Distribution Board be wired with wire,
not rolling contacts, slip rings, or liquid metal contacts.”

Rotary electrical connections were allowed in the past as the poster included in the question. This year they were specifically prohibited. There are other rules that relate to First supplied parts in previous years, COTS items that were legal before but are no longer available to teams, etc.

Aside from what Al already mentioned, my issue with this would be for rookie and fairly new teams. How are they to know what prior Q&A’s addressed? Do we lump more on thier plate by making them go back and read and interpret mutliple years worth of Q&A.

If for some reason, the GDC want’s to do this, I’d suggest that they go through the previous years Q&A. If there are question there that do not need to be reanswered, they should be moved into this season’s Q&A so that all the data is in one location.

Wouldn’t this fall under the category of Mr. Lavery’s “Previous years’ rules do not apply to the current game” rule?

I should have added that the GDC does interpret ideas differently following a year of experience with new ideas. The foldover color changes for bumpers this year was a good example of the the GDC adapting to change that benefits us all.

On the specific topic of the compressor head, I think Al’s comments are very specific and really don’t leave much room for debate… but I think Gary’s bigger point, about the relevance of old Q&A responses is still open.

In the absence of a guide from the GDC (in the form of a Q&A response) in regard to the interpretation of the current year’s rule, it would be UP TO THE LEAD TECH INSPECTOR to interpret the rule (for tech inspection related rules… the head referee at the event would interpret game rules).

So I agree that a previous year’s Q&A is not *binding *upon teams or inspectors. However that does not mean that it is irrelevant. It should form part of the body of data and experience upon which, in the absence of a current year’s Q&A response to guide rule interpretation, an LTI would base their interpretation of a rule.

The interpretation of the LTI at an event will then be binding upon all teams at the event. It is possible – although unlikely – that in the absence of a Q&A, that two different LTIs at two different events could make two different interpretations. They would both be correct, and their interpretations binding at their event, although in this case it would make sense to refer the question to the Q&A for official interpretation for future events.

That is my understanding of the correct procedure and precedents.


I think this is more of a question as to whether the previous years’ Q&A interpretations are usable as evidence for legality to this year’s rules. Can a team use (or conversely claim ignorance to) previous years’ interpretations if the rule from that year is still worded the same way and was never addressed in the current year’s Q&A? If not, then neither can inspectors, correct?

In this particular instance with the compressor, the rules as written are somewhat obvious without the Q&A IMO.

In the attempt to make inspections uniform across the country, Lead Robot Inspectors at events are given a few phone numbers to call should something out of the ordinary arise. LRI’s consult (if following their training) with the Head Ref and FTA at each event, at least daily. Most LRI’s I talk with, prefer to park on the field during Friday and Saturday except when called away to cover a pit problem. The head ref, FTA or other event staff can then get problems taken care of quickly. The head ref also has contact numbers and the FTA has a different set. Eventually, one of us can get to our contact or to the Head Ref or to Bill Miller if needed. LRI’s in general keep an electronic version of the latest rules, team updates and a consolidated Q&A on their laptop for electronic searches.
In rare cases, a specific issue that was addressed in a previous year’s Q&A might help lead to an understanding of the problem but is not used as the sole determinant in a decision. My above example could be checked in past Q&A’s and I bet the same answer exists in each one. The same response is there for motor modifications, and electronic control parts. (Crio/robot controller modifications rules go back to the beginning of robot rules) Teams generally ask the same questions every year. Of course, we sometimes jump to conclusions the same as everyone. When I was asked at the beginning of the season, electromagnets had been banned for many years in the Q&A and the robot rules reflected those decisions. This year the Q&A allowed. If a dispute arises, a team needs to have written proof that their decision was made following a response from the GDC, FIRST or through the Q&A. I will tell you that many times teams interpret the Q&A in a way that is favorable to the team not what the Q&A has answered. My most spoken and written admonishment this year was, ‘the bumper rule is 1 and 1/2 pages long. You can’t cherry pick from that. It is one rule with many paragraphs that must be satisfied in it’s entirety. You can’t make your bumpers fit most of the way around the robot, even if they are the right color. They must fit all the way around the robot with no gaps between segments.’
There is always one issue that arises at an event that no one has an answer for. In those cases the LRI, Head Ref and FTA should come to a consensus, report the issue at their weekly meetings or via email and inform the team that for this event only, the XXX will be allowed but be prepared to remove it at your next event even if that is the Championship.

Ahhh, you caught us Al. I interpreted “normal assembly” different; to fit in our robot, it was required to be rotated. I see now how that is completely not what they meant.

As for your example on slip rings, that’s a perfect example of what I was thinking as I was replying, but didn’t say because I didn’t remember exactly what it was. The QnA seems to change opinions on subtle things like that year to year.

I like what Jason wrote: This year’s rules are THE rules; previous year’s interpretations (even of the exact same rule) may be useful for guidance, but they are not binding.

BTW, for those who don’t know, as far as “the buck stops here”, when it comes to the final decision on robot rules at the championship, Al is “here”.

Well, since it appears noone is going with me, it looks like I will have to “take a long list of rulings from every season and submit them every single year to make sure it gets documented for the current season”. Just seems absurd.

It seems to me that the rules are equivalent to laws in our society. The GDC makes a new set of “laws” every year to supercede the previous year’s “laws”, but the ones that have exactly the same wording are effectively the same “law”.
And every year they issue (through the Q&A) interpretations of those rules for clarification; sometimes through the season they change the rules to make it more clear or correct, but more often they let the rule stand and just state how it should be interpreted. And yes, sometimes they change their interpretation of the same law from year to year, even overturning it. Then the new interpretation is used.
This is equivalent to the courts deciding how a law should be interpreted. They pass a ruling and that stands until another ruling supercedes it. If the law changes, then their previous interpretation is invalid and they have to re-interpret the new law. And yes, sometimes they change their interpretation of the same law from year to year, even overturning it. Then the new interpretation is used. But if a previous interpretation of a law has not been changed, it is still valid.

This year’s rules are this years rules, period. And always have been. But they can often be interpreted different ways; I’m just trying to make that more consistent year to year without “bogging down the courts” asking the same question about the interpretation of the same rule again and again.

Of course, I always thought that The Manual was the rules; apparently that is not the case, since according the the Q&A, any latest communication from anyone at FIRST in any form is the official rule.

Unfortunately, this does appear to be the case.

I’d like to see a defined structure, like FLL has. (Rules < Missions < Q&A, in their case–if a rule is getting in the way of the missions, the Q&A will throw it out.) Currently, the defined structure is, “Whatever we just told you via official channels”. Noting that there are no less than 5 official channels (Manual/Update, FRC Email, Bill’s Blog, Q&A, Regional Directors) that don’t necessarily agree all the time, there needs to be some form of defined hierarchy.

Given those 5 channels, if I had to pick an order: Manual/Update (The Rules) > Q&A (How the Rules will be Enforced) > Bill’s Blog (Direct Channel from HQ/GDC) > FRC Email (Direct Channel from HQ/FRCOPS, cleanup) > Regional Directors (FRC Email via a middleman). Note that Updates are part of the Manual; any ruling made elsewhere that affects a rule needs to be noted in the next Update.

Remember the headaches just before ship date, when the GDC (via Bill’s Blog and the Updates) increased the Withholding Allowance, then someone asked the official interpreters about bringing in a full lightweight robot (Q&A) and got one ruling, then the Regional Directors passed down another ruling from HQ, then Q&A overruled that, then the final result came in an Update with a split decision? 4/5 channels were used, and they were taking different sides until the Update came out. Not pretty.

I could see for the Championship information, no update might be needed. But one would have been nice.

I’ll give you a hand starting that list, Gary.

  • Slip rings,
  • Electromagnets,
  • Permanent magnets,
  • Long/wide configuration (you’d be surprised),
  • Rotation of the compressor head,
  • Relief valve directly on compressor (Do we HAVE to?),
  • Extension volume (in applicable years),
    *]Bumper questions about segments, length, number, coverage, angle within zone, etc., depending on the year.
    Within a couple of years of people asking the same questions year after year, they might decide to come out with an official response to this thread that says yea or nay to having a “standing response list” for the “constant” rules.

I think it is important to remind everyone that the GDC is not the bad guy here. I know that they sometimes discuss at length the changing of a rule or the interpretation of that rule. The decisions are not made in a vacuum as some would have you believe. Please remember that some rules are simply to make you think harder.
As to the logical progression after kickoff. I would prefer to see Q&A response or GDC affirmative action at the top followed by a Team Update. The TUs are then, in turn, followed closely after with a manual revision. That is pretty much what happens now. Bill’s blog should be out of the list here. (Sorry Bill. It’s a blog, (A blog (Wiki def. )a contraction of the term “web log”)[1] is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.) Many do not see a blog as law and I don’t think we should muddy the waters with a parallel path. The majority of the people I have talked with this year either do not read it or don’t believe what is written until followed by a TU or revision.
When forming your list please keep in mind changes that make it harder to inspect or troubleshoot. However, many changes over the years have moved towards following industry practice. For me a big change was the ability to use custom circuits. Mechanical guys had all the freedom to do whatever they wanted but electrical was forced to use only the parts provided prior to the change. I am confidant that we will see other changes in the future.

I’m with you, Gary. I think you had a brilliant idea here.

It wouldn’t be that hard to put this in motion. When the GDC publishes the rulebook, they could publish a supplement with past Q&A answers to clarify each rule for which a clarification was issued. They don’t have to clarify any new rules or changed rules until something comes up in the Q&A. In other words, like Gary said, it would be like legal records.

If I were part of the GDC, I would welcome this. By re-using past interpretations of carryover rules, they could save themselves tons of time wading through e-mails asking for clarification for rules that already have been clarified in past years. It would hopefully free up enough time so they can concetrate on clarifying game-specific rules, like 3 inch intrusion and active mechanism above the bumper line.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m implying that the GDC is the bad guy; I would say that in general their rulings are consistent and predictable and understandable; very few surprises, and never anything I would characterize as “stupid”. Even the responses that are effectively “because we said so” help keep consistency in the rules by not changing every little nitpicked word, lest we get a 2000 page manual. “Relief valve directly on the compressor” is a good example - that takes one sentence, versus other options which you could spell out in several paragraphs which I’m sure meet the same intent.
What I’m looking for is the least painful way to make some of the grey areas more black and white, so there is less confusion between teams and inspection is easier (its a go or no-go). Does the GDC take questions in the Q&A during the after-season? I may ask them the question I posed at the start of this thread regarding using previous year’s rulings (not rules).

I don’t know that answer. My gut feeling is they are taking a well deserved break before they start on next year’s game. Give it a try and see what happens.

That would require each Q&A to be indexed to a rule, and then the indexes updated to the new rule numbers in future years. I don’t know which would be more of a hassle - indexing, or answering the questions over again.

That’s exactly what I was thinking.

Indexing should be pretty easy. All of the Q&A’s reference specific rules, so automating a search and compile would be pretty simple. Hire a student with some Perl experience - he could probably have it done in a few hours.

iPhone probably already has an app for it