Pre-Build Activities for rookie team

I am looking for advice on activities and projects for a rookie team - we have very little FRC material stock built up, and so a lot of the things my previous team did don’t apply. We’re planning on doing basic workshops to familiarize people with the materials, components, and the design process, but we’re wondering how to strike the proper balance. If anyone has had experience with engaging pre-build projects that require minimal materials, advice would be very welcome!

We did a bunch of useful stuff in our pre-rookie season:

  • Go through a mock-kickoff. Watch the animation of an earlier game and go through the manual. Split into groups and analyse the strategies. Then brainstorm some designs and see how they compare with the robots that made einstein
  • If you can find an old KOP and pre 2015 control system (a neighbouring team may have these kicking around, since they won’t likely be used in competition) see if you can make your own drive base & bumpers. Sorting out challenges now will help you in January
  • Start some training, even if there isn’t time to bring students up to 100%. We did some intro to programming with Java and MIT App builder, intro to 3D CAD with onshape (and printed 3 view drawings).,
  • Conduct safety training on whatever shop tools you have
  • Have a social! It’s never too early to start building team spirit. Plan a board game night, or dodge ball or something. End with seeing The Martian or Star Wars in theatre

The first season is a tsunami - fortunately there are a lot of resources to help. Keep asking questions and you’ll keep above water. Good luck!

Try to get in contact with the senior mentor for your area and see if that person can get you in contact with a team that can guide you through the control system before you get to build season. That team could potentially mentor your organization, allowing you to grow sustainably under their wing. A team may also have an old KOP drive base you may be able to put together yourself.

There is a wealth of documentation and presentations on the internet related to running a FIRST team. FIRST has materials for running the administrative side of the teams with information by teams, for teams. FIRST will also have resources created with GameSense that relate to building a good team and presenting resources available for you to use. Simbotics has presentations on Strategic Design, strategy, and scouting and has information in those presentations that teams of all ages can use. They also have Computer-Aided Design tutorials for SolidWorks, a program which is offered free by Dassault Systems for individual FIRST member use via their website.

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When I took over as head mentor for Spectrum our pre-seaon project was to design and build a cart. It used pretty much all wood and parts from Home Depot and it served us well for a couple years. It’s useful and you can use it to go through the engineering design process without actually building a robot.

Everything above is all good stuff.

Before build season: teach some basic physics, engineering, and programming concepts. My recent mini-classes are a good place to start for the basics of overall and drive system design. Also have someone download and become familiar enough with the JVN calculator that [s]he’s ready to use it by kickoff.

Have someone (again preferably several or many) review Karthik’s videos on game strategy and top-level robot design, many of which are linked from the first post of this thread, and newer versions of which are searchable on CD.

FIND SPONSORS! Sponsors are the hardest to come by of the three required resources for an FRC team. The three required resources are sponsors (dollars/build space/construction), mentors (expertise), and students (those who are being inspired, and hopefully doing most of the work).

Early weeks after kickoff: Rule #1 of kickoff is that the kickoff video lies. Read the rules, and develop your strategies in accordance with your understanding of the rules, not the video. Prioritize your functions. Prioritize your functions. Prioritize your functions. Did I mention to prioritize your functions? A robot that does two things 90% of the time will be far more successful than a robot that does nine things 20% of the time. Also, the more things you try to do, the more likely you are to wind up resorting to desperate measures to shed weight in the last few days of build season; sometimes the results are disastrous. Pick a strategy and stick with it. If you start to build a robot that does not support your “agreed” strategy, regroup and figure out authoritatively whether you have changed your strategy, or whether you will return to the original development path.

During Build:

  • Watch the calendar. Items in the calendar are closer than they appear.
  • Remember your strategy. If your design is going outside of your design strategy, re-think this as a team to decide whether you will stick with the original strategy or make the shift.
  • Make sure you have someone (preferably several someones, but not likely, especially for a rookie team) who reads **all **
    the rules, keeps up with the Q&A, and generally monitors the conversation on Chief Delphi.
  • Have someone (probably someone other than the person for the previous bullet) pay attention to all of the administrative e-mail from FIRST. It mostly looks like waffle, but there’s a lot of necessary info buried in it. Have someone detail-oriented (maybe even OCD) review these e-mails.
  • Understand what you can and cannot do between stop build day and your first competition. Figure out as a team
    how much you plan to do during this interval; teams that win events generally do more rather than less.
  • Prepare for success. Wouldn’t it be horrendous to qualify for world championships, but be unable to go because you don’t have the money? IT HAS HAPPENED TO MANY TEAMS.

I’ll second the cart building.

When is your first regional? After build season is done, as a rookie team you’ll likely still be overwhelmed trying to prepare for the competition. What are things you can do that would be beneficial at competition? To that end - depending on space available to you - I’d recommend a building your pit, a robot cart, and/or a battery cart.

Side note: I personally like the idea that the last week or so of build season all robot fixes should be handled in a 10 foot by 10 foot area to represent working in the pit. If you have a pit put together of where you’ll have tools, work places, etc then that’s event better so you can make sure you have all your necessary tools at competition. For a rookie team - this may be completely impractical…but it can be a good goal to work towards.

This is an obvious one, but make sure all tools are assembled. We had some funnies in meeting in the fall before our build season our rookie year, so we spent a lot of our first weekend assembling a tablesaw, mitersaw, drill press, and bandsaw. That’s obviously not ideal.

We also had enough experienced mentors to have a day where we just did a round robin style about each subsystem - and borrowed components from some nearby teams to give physical examples (a crab drive module, a frisbee shooter spare part, a drivetrain that the programming mentor could connect to and program, etc). This past year, we added an additional “subsystem” to our round robin day about speaking to judges, team goals, business plan etc. We probably spent about 30-45 min with 5-6 students per mentor talking about what kind of things can be done in that system. If you need to, you can probably get a mentor or experienced student from some nearby teams to lead those lessons.

I wish we would have done a mock kickoff our pre-rookie season. We were unable to go to one hosted by Spectrum, and didn’t do one of our own. It showed the first day when many of our team members had no idea how to read the rules to extract the important bits - what are the major constraints, penalties, and ways to score. Assuming you have the experience, I’d recommend watching the game animation, giving them 30-60 minutes to look through the rule book and come up with a game strategy in groups of 3-4, (let them take notes on the important things), and then see if they’ve gathered some of that important stuff.

We spent some of our early meetings showing videos of FIRST to show the new students what they’re getting into and then brainstorming and voting on team goals, meeting nights, team name, team colors, team logo. We spent a lot of time on this, which ate into the rest of the stuff we could be doing, but we wanted everyone to feel like they had a real say in how the team was going to work.

Most of our meetings took the form of a 30-minute presentation on the “topic of the night” followed by other stuff in the rest of the meeting. Topics have included:

  • branding (when we were defining our logo and colors)
  • fundraising 101
  • personal safety and YPP
  • physical safety around tools and equipment
  • FIRST awards
  • definition of our subteams (electrical and controls, software, design, fabrication, business)
  • project management 101

We’ve also had a few all-meeting activities done and scheduled, including:

  • Mechanical Design Challenge (weight bearing beam challenge using cardboard and duct tape)
  • “Electrical and Controls 101” and “Shop Tools 101” - two breakout sessions that students swapped after 30 minutes - familiarization with the RoboRio control system, how to strip wires, what is a wrench and ratchet, etc.
  • team building activities (marshmallow challenge)
  • planning for fundraising - making posters etc.
  • competition 101 - what a regional looks like, show videos, what the subteams will be, how to apply, selection criteria
  • kickoff simulation

Our subteams are currently working on a few small off-season projects:

  • Design team has been getting SolidWorks installed on student laptops.
  • Fabrication team borrowed another team’s KoP chassis and took it apart one meeting, put it back together the next meeting.
  • Electrical and controls team laid out the RoboRio parts on a sheet of plywood, wired it up, and interfaced the robot code and Driver Station to control motors and lights and toggle switches
  • One software team is working on an Android scouting app for the team to use
  • One software team is looking at robot vision using GRIP
  • One software team is looking at making Arduino based robots move for now, and when we have a drivable robot, will look at autonomous motion (unfortunately the other team needed their KoP chassis back, otherwise this team would be using that)
  • Fabrication team put together an AndyMark “Cheap and Dirty RCU”. Once done, my hope is that they will work with the electrical and controls team to tie the motor control into the RoboRio instead of radio control, and once THAT’s done, the autonomous software team will have something to play with.
  • Business team has been planning fundraisers, designing shirts and hoodies, setting up our website, building our social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr.

There’s lots of good stuff in here that veteran teams should/could also be doing.