Practice Robot?

The team I’m on is semi small we have usually between 10-15 members per year. I was wondering if there are any teams around this size that build a practice bot and if so how do you go about doing that.

I apologize for the title being named “practice” I forgot to put the word “bot” after and don’t know if or how you can edit it

I fixed the title

Last year was our first year building a replica practice bot, and we plan to again this year. Our team is no more than 10 students right now (don’t recall exactly) and about the same last year.

How we did it: Many days, long hours, and Mountain Dew. We kept meeting 4 days a week (M/T/Th/Sa) throughout competition season (dropping Sunday from our week.) On stop build night, we worked until about 10, and while some were tweaking the comp bot, others cut most of the parts for the practice bot (It helped to use the kit chassis.) IIRC the practice bot was finished no later than the end of Week One.

The ideal is to build two of every part, but that’s time-prohibitive and things could change. Because we planned the practice bot from the start, we made sure to buy double everything we needed and restock on things we didn’t have enough of.

We are at about 20 members this year, and are planning to continue doing a practice robot. Even at 10-15, we would continue doing a practice robot (at least partially) assuming we have the budget.

OK, how do you do a practice robot?

Have the same crew (or at least a common set of core members) build the practice robot as the competition robot. This is to ensure that they are as alike as possible.

One of the things which has helped us greatly is using a (modified) kit chassis. If you can build two essentially identical chassis and control systems, and can keep your manipulators down to the withholding allowance weight, you can achieve 80-90% of the benefit of two full robots. Edit: versaframe, or WCP chassis can likely be just as successful, but we’ve had good results with the AM14U series kits. The key is to be able to build two identical chassis that meet your needs fairly quickly.

When we had many more members, we would switch back and forth between our two robots during the end of build season, and not decide which to bag until very near the end. (In 2015, we switched around noon on bag day!). With fewer members, our top priority for “seconds” is on a drive chassis and control system; we’ll be ready to only do a single version of the manipulators. Then, at bag, we can pull the manipulators, put them on the practice chassis, and continue drive practice and development until competition.

A team of 10-12 students is fine. However, how many dedicated mentors do you have? And how many hours per week are you meeting?

In terms of mentors, you need either need a handful of dedicated mentors, or 1-2 very regimented mentors on board with this endeavor from the get-go. If you only have 1-2 mentors, you will need a very strict build schedule with objectives clearly laid out ahead of time.

Does your team use a gantt chart? If not, this is something to look into working with this season (it will pay HUGE dividends in coming seasons).

What do you plan to use for a drive train? As you are probably aware, the drivetrain is the most time-consuming part of a robot build if you have not previously developed one. If you do not already have one mocked up I am assuming you will use the AM14U3 (great drive train, but you need 2).

Weekly Schedule - it is not that the second robot will double your build time, just the workload. If you plan accordingly, many components (if you CAD correctly) can be fabricated quickly. If your team does not have a robust CAD team, then you are going to struggle big time.

If you can head into Westtown with a team that knows your robots’ limitations as well as it’s advantages, you are a long way ahead of many other teams. What we have learned on 4607 is that this knowledge of what will work and what won’t (and the circumstances you will face) is very valuable. As other teams are trying to figure out how their robot is failing, you are already beyond this and are working to improve through this obstacles.

Good luck this season!

We’ve built a full practice robot every year since 2007. Some years had more students than others, but for the 2016 season, we pulled it with 9 students and just about that many mentors. It’s definitely possible, but it’ll require a lot of dedication.

I am a mentor on a team that struggles to be larger than 12. Our robots are hand crafted…

This is the first year that we are even building a driving test chassis to have for the controls team. We are currently wiring the test chassis with the expectation that we will have it complete before game reveal day.

In prior years the software and controls team had a rio with 1-2 cim motors on them… Non driving test chassis are very hard to work with and we are excited to have a driving test chassis to work with this year.

Good luck with building 2.

Well we are going to try it for the first time this year. I guess at 24 our team is not “small” but we are just starting to do a little CAD work and I estimate our build team as being about 6 or 7 serious workers. We are going to use the Kop Chassis, plus an extra one from AM, plus scavenged parts from last year. We have in hand a good supply of 80/20 and better than average fab facilities. The quirks of our schedule have us attending Regionals very late, so having that second machine for practice driving is critical. We have all of last year’s very hard working team back, so double the work load should not be a deal breaker. In theory.

T. Wolter

Our Rookie team last year built a practice bot and we had a max of 15 members I believe last year, we started off just building the practice bot for about the first 4 weeks once we settled on ideas and designs then we ordered exactly the amount of parts from Andymark and our machine shop that we would need to make a final draft so to speak of our practice robot and we painted the parts and made sure the code worked on the final bot and did some driving tests to ensure that everything worked nicely and we bagged and tagged it.

We are a small, low budget team with just a few mentors, and we build one.

We started building a practice robot two years ago when we had about 8 students. We did it again last year with about 15 students. This year we have about 30 students, and we will continue. (About 50% of our students are very dedicated each year.) The practice bot made a huge difference two years ago in our team’s performance; in one year we went from ranking poorly and never being picked to captaining alliances and going to worlds, and the practice bot was at least half the reason.

The financial aspect was the biggest for us. We had to have the two bots share a few parts the first year. This meant a lot of work taking things off and putting them on, but it was worth it. We also convinced a sponsor to give us materials for a second robot.

A few days before bag, we had one mentor start on the practice bot. Our actual robot is 100% student built, but we relaxed that rule for the practice bot. One or two mentors and a handful of students built on it while our programming team (which consisted of one person, haha) worked with the real robot. It was finished the Saturday after bag night, and we were able to drive and break it for two weeks before we attended a competition.

It’s been a great experience for students to build two robots. We do build a few drive bases and program them during the fall for practice, but building two full robots each year really gives them experience.

This thread has some really great advice to make building the practice bot more manageable/efficient. I would give it a read if you guys are going to make a practice bot. As far as 842, we’ve been building a practice bot every year since 2010 with a team of 10-20 active students. It does vary from year to year but the team has made practice bots with a very lean team before.

Last year was our first time building a second robot. We had about 15 students and we met 6 days a week (Monday-Saturday). We also met the last two Sundays of build season. We had adequate machinery: chop saw, band saw, drill press, and manual mills on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have to admit we over exerted ourselves by making two. We are still debating whether having two was better than spending more time on just one robot. One thing we might do this year is have the second bot only have the mechanisms essential for driver practice and auto. So, for example, last year we would have left out the hanger.

After bag day, though, it was totally awesome. We had lots of time to program and practice driving. The one mistake we did make though was we didn't make the control systems identical. We used victors on the practice bot and talon srxs on the comp bot. THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE!!!! ::ouch:: We had to have two separate programs. All of the code made after bag day had to be transferred over to the comp bot's code before the competition. This caused endless headaches. Do yourself a favor. Make them identical...

We are no longer a small team (>50 students) but for many years were were <15 students working out of a mentors garage. Starting in 2009 and since we have always built some form of practice bot. Not all had all of the subsystems. I certainly agree with last post- if you can make them the same - different motor controllers mean a different code - which leads to issues (more work when you get to your first competition).

However if you can’t build it all the same, there is still value in having a practice robot. At least it should result in having some autonomous program (I hate watching auto when robots just sit there!) and some feel for the driving and handling of the robot. If you have a second Roborio, at least put it on a drivable chassis.

Agree also you should have a plan for the build season - Some sort of Gantt chart (I like Excel for simplicity) at the start - that is updated as change happens (it will, let it change when it should, but keep a plan that gets you to the end you want). It keeps you focused on getting things done, making decisions when you need to, ordering parts on time, etc. Include the practice robot in the plan. We used to build the gamer, then cobble together a practice robot, we shifted to building the practice robot first, then incorporating lessons learned in the build of it for the gamer second. The practice robot will go to a week 0 event (FIRST please bring back real field elements to Suffield!) while much of the team is back refining the game robot.

Then after Bag day the team still has much to continue to do - programming, drive practice, and with-holding upgrades. (as the stop the bag day folks have pointed out - the 6 week build season is not reality for teams that build a practice robot)

We build one, with identical components to comp bot. Roughly 8 veteran students & equal number of involved rookies last year, 3 highly dedicated mentors. It’s expensive to buy a second control system, motors, and wheels, but as long as you’re disciplined in making drawings for manufacturing (CAD or pencil…) it’s not hard to knock out 2x the custom parts for everything else.

Now that we have “last year’s practice bot”, we can loot it for a control system and most of the drivetrain for “this year’s practice bot”.

For our (lack of…) schedule last year it was critical to have the second bot for programming & final adjustments.

Teams that build 2 robots have a distinct advantage in competition.

Ask yourself this: Let’s say you were given a complete set of detailed plans for your robot on Day 1. That is, all the dimensions, layouts and mechanisms are fully tested and worked out, all materials are on hand, you just have to fabricate the items and assemble them. How long would that take?

Let’s say a week, just for discussion.

OK then: Build and optimize your robot in 5 weeks, then build a second identical* one - for the competition - in the remaining week. Easy-peasy.

Use the “prototype” robot for driver practice, programming, and so on, while your competition bot sits in its bag, all happy and clean. This is how you win competitions.

What keeps every team from doing this?

  1. Budget. Many teams can’t afford 2 of everything.
  2. Time: Many teams barely finish robot #1 in 6 weeks.
  3. People: Some teams struggle finding people who can make and build.

All are solvable problems, IF the team wants to solve them.

*Minus any imperfections, of course!