Purchase/Prebuild - What's the difference?

In the other threads there has been discussion on purchasing pre-built trannies, arms, legs, frames etc. The question I am asking is - What is the difference of a team building a function ahead of time so that they can concentrate on other things during build, or purchasing a part built by another team (most likely built before season starts)?

Building it ahead of time is illegal. You could purchase a part ahead of time and not build it into any part of the robot ahead of time, though. Its clearly in the rules, all construction must be done during the 6 weeks.

Additionally, I think you might have a slightly skewed view of the FIRST world. A large majority of teams will never be able to build many custom parts. No amount of time will turn some scrap metal, a hand drill, a hacksaw, and meager funding into a precision piece of metal work.

you can prototype something ahead of time and prove it out…at least then you know exactly how you want to build it during the six weeks. ways to improve lighten etc, but you know it works…like 60 & 254 did…they knew their drive train worked well so they could work on other aspects.

The difference? imho you can tailor the part to exactly what you want instead of a purchased solution, which may or may not to exactly what you want.

Actually, there’s a real inconsistency in the rules on this point. Steve is correct to point out that purchasing a part is permitted at any time (by virtue of not being disallowed). Since one might purchase a part from a store, or from a team, or from something in between (e.g. AndyMark), this raises a problem with teams pre-building parts.

Let’s say that teams X and Y decided that it would be beneficial to collaborate on gearbox design for the 2005 season. They work together on the design, but build them totally separately. (This takes place in the Autumn of 2004.) Under the current rules, any prototypes built by X, for X, in advance of the season are not eligible for inclusion on the robot (and similarly, the rules prohibit Y from doing the same thing). If, however, X sells its gearbox to Y, and Y sells its gearbox to X, they both now possess purchased parts, and may therefore use them freely, before and during the competition season. Obviously this little formality makes an end-run right around the existing rule. (Consider: how is this different from buying from AndyMark before the season starts? Does AndyMark intend to sell to teams before the season starts?)

Now, let’s extend the thought experiment. What if X and Y collaborated on robot design in advance of the season. Once again, they design together, and X builds and sells a robot to Y, while Y builds and sells a robot to X. Now what? (Of course, I’m fully aware that there are obvious disadvantages to designing a robot without the benefit of knowing the game. That’s irrelevant to the analogy–plenty of robots don’t exhibit much more than a box on wheels design, which is rather universal every year.)

Dave Lavery says that cloned robots make his job of scouting easier–true enough. But will his small gain be overshadowed by the fact that those teams could theoretically have 6 weeks of solid practice, on a proven robot, if the 2005 game design happened to suit their pre-built machines?

As we’ve seen already, different people have differing opinions regarding the 60-254 collaboration (which took place during the regular time period); similarly, not everyone is sold on the sale of standardized gearboxes by Andy Baker & company. Unless a clear rule is instituted by FIRST (preferably in September, well in advance of the season, and preferably based on some consultation with the teams, though the Team Forums have obviously passed), various people–all claiming a monopoly on gracious professionalism–are going to have a bit of a disagreement on this very subject. We don’t really want that to happen, since all it serves to do is make a farce of the rules and the competition.

Isn’t that the point? What they can’t build, they can buy (in advance), try (in advance), and use (during competition). And doesn’t that create a potential source of revenue for those teams that can build them?

(resists the urge to go off-topic)

By purchasing, you’ve got a finished Billfred Industries gearbox, which you know you can mate up to a kit motor of your choosing and rock.

By building in advance, you’ve got a challenge. It may not look as pretty as the BI gearbox, it might not be as cheap, it might not even work for a couple of months. But when you’ve sorted it out, you’ve got a gearbox that you know works for you. And while everyone else is using Billfred Industries gearboxes, you’re going to get lots of cool looks, respect from everyone who’s tried it before, and perhaps the odd comment…

(sorry, had to put in the Rick James reference)

pssst…i know ive mentioned this before, but there is already a prebuilt transmission INCLUDED IN THE KIT…you don’t have to build or buy a thing it comes right in the kit…if baker wants to sell these transmissions he has every right to do so…it is legal, unless you take away the bosch transmission and everyone has to make their own transmission from scratch which many teams cannot do…there is no need for a ruling they made it last year with 60/254…it is legal

Just a thought. If we don’t know what is in the KOP then how can gearboxes be built when the motors and their specs are not known? Also if Team 188 builds a gearbox before build season and sells it to themselves as well as others, does that break the rules?

Please do not refer to Andy on this thread. I / we don’t want any finger pointing and the issues go far beyond Andy. No offence Andy.

Many questions so little time. Curious minds would like to know. :slight_smile:

Where do you draw the line if you allow pre building, though? If pre-building is allowed, a team could concievably take the previous year’s robot and adapt it for the new game. This would eitehr cause them to a. make some awesome end-effectors, or b. finish in 2 weeks and practice for the remaining four. That leaves rookies and teams that had bad robots the year before at a disadvantage.

And I know this was in a different topic, but who says people can’t learn from purchasing a gearbox? It’s up to them whether they teach the kids why and how it works or they just put it in their robot.

I’ve been watching these discussions for a while, and it seems the biggest argument seems to be where to draw the line. Should team X be able to buy a complete arm mechanism from team Y? Should just the parts and plans be for sale, or a fully functional assembly? I think that’s the root of the matter, and sort of questions the role of FIRST in general- is it about the robots, or the inspiration? Yes, you can be inspired by a robot built of premade parts, and yes, you can be inspired by building the robot yourself.

Personally, I’m inspired by getting aluminum dust and shavings stuck to my hands with tap magic while milling out the mounts for our drill motors, or chopping some extruded aluminum to piece together into an arm. That doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired by other things or in other ways too. I think if you can make a part in house for similar/less cost, in a reasonable time period, do it. That’s not to say other parts can’t be purchased, but in my opinion, the line should be drawn at functionality. I don’t think anyone can honestly expect teams to fabricate their own motors, so we buy them. Same goes for chain, pneumatics, etc. etc. Similarly, if there’s a certain mount you designed but can’t fabricate because you don’t have CNC, or a good enough mill, or a lathe, or whatever, you can send the order out to a machine shop, and purchase that part. Again, the same goes for sprockets, gears, etc. Even certain advanced mechanisms, e.g. the dewalt transmission can be purchased- because it’s technically a raw material. The transmission by itself is not good for much until it’s changed and tweaked to work with a particular setup.

Where I draw the line is at complete bolt-on assemblies. Team X has a fool proof hanging mechanism with a 99.9% successful hang rate. It’s for sale at $150. It needs a 4" by 8" footprint to bolt on to the chasis, and plug in cables 1 and 2 into pwms 7 and 8 on the RC respectively, and copy these lines of C into your code. I think that’s wrong. For one thing, it’s not fair to the teams who did design/build/test their own mechanisms, and if everyone purchased it, what challange would there be if everyone has the same capability to hang? If it were sold as a kit, I’d say that’s better, but still has the same fairness implications. There would be more inspiration and thought in building it, but even then it would be the same as building a pre-designed lego kit (which by no means I’m saying isn’t fun, just not the same as building from scratch). Now, if team X made avaliable a whitepaper describing the functions of how and why the hanger works, that’s the best solution. Teams can take that and change/tweak it to their bots, perhaps purchasing individual components from team X, and asking advice in assembly. Just like is done with gearboxes now, ideas can be taken and changed to suit a particular purpose. I know we’ve seen a number of modified technokat geargoxes, and will probably see a lot of Whos C Tek gearboxes next year. But a complete bolt-on assembly just seems like a waste of thinking power. I know many teams don’t have the resources or technology to build certain complex features, but half the fun is figuring out ways around limitations- using tools in unconventional ways to get extraordinary results- which, to me, is the ultimate form of inspiration.

You’re blurring the lines here.

When I buy a gearbox from AndyMark the company, I’m not buying a gearbox from the Technokats we all know and love.

I am buying from a company, not from a team.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the important distinction to make.

Let’s consider 3 scenarios:
Option A:
Gary Dillard offers to sell me two (really sweet) genuine SPAM-180 gearboxes. These gearboxes are built pre-season in the SPAM “summer-sweatshops”, I mean… “summer learning camps”. This offer is for me only.

Option B:
Gary Dillard teams up with JVN (during the 6 weeks) to design the new “Division by SPAM” gearbox. They also co-design something called the “uber-arm”. During the 6 weeks – SPAM builds the gearboxes, DBZ builds the uber-arms. They swap parts. (Think 60+254 with a twist).

Option C:
Gary Dillard forms a new company called “GaryDill”, and premakes gearboxes. He then posts an advertisement and offers to sell these to any FIRST teams that want them for the small price of $299.99 each.

Which of these options is okay?

I say, options B & C are valid.

Here is why:
In option B, the parts being sold were made DURING the 6 weeks. This doesn’t vary much from the collaboration we saw this season, which was ruled perfectly okay by FIRST.

In options C, the parts being sold are available to everyone. GaryDill is no different from McMaster-Carr. Buying parts like this is perfectly acceptable.

In option C, Gary takes a risk by premaking gearboxes that may or may not be allowed in the 2005 game. It’s his risk to take.

I feel there are important distinctions to be made here.


PS - As far as I know: There is no 229-180 collaboration. GaryDill is not an actual company. I have recieved no illicit offers to purchase SPAMy gearboxes.

PPS - I chose Gary for my little examples because he’s a cool guy, and SPAM builds wicked sweet gearboxes.
Seriously man, you wanna collaborate, give me a call ;).

Don’t worry about my references above to Andy Baker–he’s just “along for the ride” like the rest of us. Nobody of consequence knows what’s going to be in the kit next year, so any gearbox bought or built before the season would risk being rendered useless. That’s why I’d wondered whether Andy was going to be selling them in advance.

There used to be a rule which stated that previous robots’ parts couldn’t be used. I don’t remember if it was “streamlined” out last year.

The Bosch transmissions were provided in the kit like every other motor, so their inclusion in next year’s kit is not guaranteed. The same problem arises with a custom-built or an off-the-shelf design.

Also, since you brought it up, 60 and 254 forced FIRST’s hand with the collaboration issue. There was no appropriate rule in place, and it seemed that by the time FIRST knew what had happened, they’d already built the two robots (actually four, if practice robots are counted). It was simply not possible for FIRST to have made any other decision for last season. It isn’t unlikely that FIRST will codify something a little more explicit this time around, whether or not they indeed do allow that type of collaboration (and indications from last season seem to point to it being allowed next year).

I think that the lines are already blurred here. It appears that the gearbox being marketed by AndyMark is an adaptation of the 2004 TechnoKat design–tried and tested last year by the TechnoKats themselves. While technically we aren’t buying from the organization known as the “TechoKats Robotics Team”, the implication (intentional or not) is clearly that we’re getting a TechnoKat gearbox. It may possibly make for an interesting situation, deciding when a person belongs to the company, and when he belongs to the team.

Regarding the three options, what about an auction? Only one team gets the gearboxes, but everyone has the opportunity. Is that kosher? And what if a “company” sells to everybody, but offers a special price break to teams from Canada, or teams from Toronto, or a few especially friendly teams? What if that price break were $298.99 off? And what if “GaryDill” sponsored 180 or 229?

While one individual may have answers to all of those questions, bear in mind that someone else’s answers may be different. And barring a ruling from FIRST, or some frightfully elegant logic, it will be very difficult to settle on a common interpretation of what is fair, and what is not.

I have a feeling that Dave is designing this years game to screw up any plans AndyMark has for selling drive systems. Mabey it’s just my huntch. But I feel this will be addressed in Janurary.

I don’t think the rules are unclear at all. I have said this before and I will stress it again, only those looking for loop holes will find the rules unclear and inconsistent.

Here are the rules in a nutshell:
Every part on your shipped robot must be obtained during the build time.
It really is that simple folks.

I built a prototype pre-season. Do I really need to buy all new parts?
100% YES

If AndyMark wants to sell you a tranny, you need to buy it after kick off. Or you can’t include it on your robot. (Yes, you can buy one pre-season to play with, however, the one on your robot needs to be a new one.)
How do they bill it?
When they bill the transmission there is a real judgment call that needs to be made, “is an AndyMark transmission an off the shelf item?”
I feel the answer is no. That means teams must account for both parts and labor. AndyMark can bill the item however they would like. My recommendation is to bill for both parts and labor.

** Pre-built-**
Pre-built means: a team buying a mechanism from someone during build season. During build season means you did not have the parts producing that mechanism in your teams possession prior to kick off. Therefore, NO 100% can you just slightly modify last year’s robot to this years game. You can use new parts to recreate the mechanism, but those parts have to be NEW TO YOU.

This is, of course, making the (quite possibly incorrect) assumption that new language isn’t introduced by FIRST for 2005+ with regard to either collaboration or declaring that “off the shelf” components only refer to certain companies and catalogs and exclude others (like the AndyMark or GaryDill corporations).

There was no part of last year’s manual that stated “Every part on your shipped robot must be obtained during the build time.” That is an incorrect statement. It says in Rule <R09> “Mechanisms from previous year’s robots may not be used, however, individual off-the-shelf components from previous year’s robots may be re-used to save the cost of re-purchase of these parts IF they meet ALL of the 2004 Additional Parts and Materials Rules.” <R09> later says that if you use a part from an old robot its cost must (obviously) be factored into your robot’s budget for inspection. This makes it pretty clear that your statement ““Every part on your shipped robot must be obtained during the build time” is incorrect.

I believe that if AndyMark or GaryDill or any other team forms a corporation, which I assume is what’s happening here (for tax, liability, and other issues), they’re legally within their right to do so in this capitalist society we live in. I do not believe that any such corporation should be treated any different (in the 2004 off the shelf rules of FIRST) than MSC, McMaster, Skyway, Grainger, etc. FIRST is obviously within their right to say that we’re only allowed to use a certain source for off the shelf parts, but that would probably be against their apparent goal of opening things up to teams. My quick $0.02…


Not that that’s a bad rule, but like Bill Gold said, it’s not an actual rule.

Just a thought…
If FIRST did choose to implement that restriction, teams wouldn’t be able to stock up on parts in advance–a screw, a piece of aluminum angle, a gearbox–they would all have to be bought after the kickoff date. For the first two items, at least, that would be wholly impractical. But consider the implications of FIRST saying that every item with a legitimate value of less than $20 (USD) could be procured at any time, from any source; and furthermore, that raw materials could be bought in advance. All other materials would have to be bought after the kickoff. It would allow little things like hardware to be readied in anticipation for the season, while clearly requiring that the big items be built or bought after the kickoff.

All of the sudden I am really longing for the “good ol’ days” when you could only build your robot from the stuff in the kit, the specific additional parts list, and $425 of parts from Small Parts. And that was ALL you could use to build your robot. I know that some didn’t like the limitations at the time, but I really enjoyed that approach. It made you THINK about how to use the limited materials that were available for use. You had no choice, you HAD to get creative - buying a subsystem off the shelf just wasn’t in the cards. And all these debates about what we could or could not buy, barter or trade as a finished solution would have been moot - they just weren’t allowed.

Ahh, well. Now we got all these new-fangled shifting transmissions, and fancy-schmancy multi-motor drive trains, and gol-danged 'struded al-new-min-ium stuff, and all that. And everyone is thinking about how to grab whole sections of their robot as quick as they can, and have the entire thing bolted together three hours after kick-off. Just doesn’t seem the same to me.

Too bad we can’t halt progress. If only we could go back to the good ol’ days. Guess I’ll just go back to walking barefoot to the one-room school house. Through five feet of snow. Uphill. Both ways. (grumble, mutter, grumble …)


Dave No! I beg you NO! Don’t do it, we’ll rebel, we’ll revolt! Now don’t get me wrong, Small Parts is a great company that is a very reliable easy place to order stuff from and they have some really cool stuff that no where else does, BUT they are over priced and the selection is quite limited. The removal of the “parts from Small Parts only rule” and “additional parts list” was one of the best things I think ever happened to the robot rules. In 2002 our drive system failed miserably because we couldn’t order steel gears because all Small Parts had was brass and that’s the only place we could order from since they were not on the additional parts list.

Being limited by parts availability is one of the worst, most frustrating constraints in all of builidng robots. Let teams be limited by their imaginations and size and weight and strategy constraints, not by the availability (disavailability ?) of parts.

Personally I would hope that all the teams would try to do their best to uphold the values of FIRST. Unfortunately to try to play on the possibilities of what could be done to circumvent the rules would be infinite…there are only so many things FIRST can control with these type of rules. This rule you propose is only effective if you assume everyone is doing their best to follow the rules. What happens when they try to circumvent those rules? well then we have to make another rule…and around and around we go making up rules we do not have the resources to patrol…

If a team wanted to get around certain rules they could because FIRST doesn’t have the resources to patrol this. Unfortunately you have to assume that ppl are going to do the right thing or else we all will dip down into a paranoid state…All I’m saying this rule you propose is simply unrealistic, and you must rely on the fact that people are doing positive things with this experience/opportunity…there are simply too many rules that people could find a loopholes in, and I am not prepared to go on a witch hunt for these types of rules…

This all goes back is the competition just a competition? Well then let’s start clamping down or **we can understand the competition is a portion ** but there are other parts to this (Chairman’s Award/Engineering Inspiration)…you won’t win either of these awards with an off-the-shelf part…the only possible benefit will occur in the competition, and if that is your only goal I personally believe you have missed something.

Personally, I don’t see where the whole debate about buying stuff came from. There has been no evidence given of the loose restrictions on purchasing having a negative effect, and considering that even if it is going to be a problem, it isn’t going to be something that is going to destroy FIRST. So, just wait until something bad happens, we can fix it then. It isn’t really as bad as it sounds, its not like someone is just going to start manufacturing complete FIRST robots out of the blue, so I think we can wait a bit before judging.

As I have hinted at in various posts, I’m still a bit unhappy about the whole distribution of skill, not money. But that topic has been discussed enough so that it would appear not much is going to change…

No, but using pre-fab components gives teams a far greater edge over teams who build from scratch. Since it’s inception, team 38 built every component possible from scratch. We worked late nights/early mornings throughout the build season to finish the robot on time, working all-nighters and 48 hour shifts the 2-3 days before shipping, and it still wasn’t quite done.

Now, compare that to a team (I don’t know of any, but this thread is about the hypothetical implications anyway) who buys “off the shelf” assemblies, bolts/welds together a robot of parts in 3 weeks, the bulk of the design and bug checking having already been done by the manufacturers of these “off the shelf” parts. What’s left but three weeks of practice, more bug checking, testing, etc, while teams building from scratch struggle to finish.

So while it may not be a problem now (or it may be, I don’t know what other teams build/purchase policies are, only my own), it may be in the future as FIRST grows. While it may not matter to me personally, as I get more inspiration out of the build season than competition, I can see how some people might be disappointed watching their 6 weeks of hard work get knocked out of the standings by a robot of pre-built parts.

I do understand that it makes logistical sense to purchase parts that are tested, proven, and affordable, and I don’t deny the benefits thereof in terms of building a successful robot. But how would things like the X-Prize be if one team decided they could (hypothetically) just buy the plans for the space shuttle from NASA, or the Soyuz from Russia. Sure, they would accomplish the set goal, but how would that help our efforts of developing new and better ways of getting into space?