Returning as a mentor….after a 10 year break

After a 10 year break from FIRST and a cross-country move, I’m excited to return as a mentor in 2024. For the last 2 seasons I have dipped my toe into the FIRST pool by being a volunteer judge at South Carolina events. I have loved every second of talking to the students about their robots and it has reignited my own passion for FIRST. And given the geopolitical climate in the red states, inclusive representation is more important than ever.

So, it looks like I have missed a lot. What positive changes have happened over the last decade in FIRST and what needs work? How have mentors improved the support of their teams and students?

It’s good to see so many strong teams still competing, hope to see you all at future events :slight_smile:

-Krystine

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First off, welcome back! You have missed a few things that likely you have run into as a judge as well.

Over the last decade Commercial of the Shelf (COTS) products have boomed. From the expansion of AndyMark’s line of products, the founding of VEXpro, West Coast Products, REV Robotics, and Thriftybot founding (and I am sure I am missing many others), the mechanical solutions that are available to teams with limited machining resources has never been better.

OnShape, and other online based CAD software, has made it easier than ever to get more students involved in the design process to take ideas from in their heads and into the real world. Manufacturing options have also changed significantly, from cheaper/better 3D printing options to CNC routers that are affordable, it is significantly easier to manufacture what students have come up with. Also, don’t discount services like Send Cut Send to help manufacture parts if you do not have something, or it isn’t a cots product.

Speaking of, groups like the Open Alliance, the Compass Alliance, and Everybot, have made more resources available to mentors and students to help resolve issues from robot design to running a team. Some of these resources are even available directly from FIRST.

The district model is no longer this weird thing some folks in Michigan do with its expansion to include the Mid-Atlantic region in 2012 and including a bunch of areas (including South Carolina) now. Which gives a lot of teams the option to play a second time and improve their robots from their shakedown first event. This also makes it where making District Championship makes a pretty reasonable goal for most teams in the district to get that 3rd play in.

Generally, a lot has changed on how the “campfire” is built that we all gather around. The rest of the things around it are typically the same or pretty similar. Mentors are still working in partnership with students to design, build, and compete while navigating all the “non-robot” challenges that come with running a FIRST team.

EDIT: Realized I didn’t even touch on electronics options made by vendors not listed above like Cross the Road, Kauai Labs, and the folks behind Limelight. Also, how can I forget the biggest changer in drivetrains Swerve Drive Specialties. Man a lot has changed in a decade…

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My first season was ten years ago… crazy.

I think you covered most of everything really well. Note that The Compass Alliance hasn’t been updated in years (at least when I was looking for stuff late last year). I would say Spectrum 3847 has a better set of resources.

Also, WPIlib has expanded MASSIVELY, and many control concepts that were considered advanced ten years ago are now the bare minimum today, such as PID control and motion profiling.

A ton of people are on the FRC Discord server, letting it easily surpass CD as the Communication Hub of Choice for FRC people. Students are able to pick up way more than they used to in a short period, with some caveats.

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Some of the Compass Alliance stuff is pretty “evergreen” but I do agree @AllenGregoryIV and crew with Spectrum do have a pretty great list of recommended reading and other resources!

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Thank you for your comprehensive response!

Over the last decade Commercial of the Shelf (COTS) products have boomed. From the expansion of AndyMark’s line of products, the founding of VEXpro, West Coast Products and REV Robotics founding (and I am sure I am missing many others), the mechanical solutions that are available to teams with limited machining resources has never been better.

Yes! I was so impressed in 2022 when I saw the amount of teams at the Electric City Regional who were using swerve drive with success! I’m loving all of the new COTS/motor/senor/manufacturing options for teams!

The district model is no longer this weird thing some folks in Michigan do with its expansion to include the Mid-Atlantic region in 2012 and including a bunch of areas (including South Carolina)

Absolutely! This was my first time attending events that were part of the district model and I can see the benefit to the teams. The events are smaller, the majority of the teams get to be in the playoffs, more teams get to go home with awards and a satisfying weekend of game play.

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The Crio is dead. Long live the roborio… I mean roborio 2.0! There’s a lot of technology changes but the core of how FIRST runs is the same. The playoffs changed just this year to Double Elim.

Rev has alternative parts for everything VEX has but I mean. 10. Years ago would be 2012/2013/2014. I was a student and transitioned to coaching right during that time. Everything at that point was mainly from Andymark it felt like or Vex. You didn’t have many other choices. Now we have Rev, West Coast Product, and a ton of others you should really check findrobotparts.com definitely to get a good overview of the catalog now. The only thing to survive the pre 2015 control system is PWM motor controllers still do exist I swear. The RSL, breaker and then the Relays. No one makes the original SPIKE relays anymore. Teams are supposed to get the new solid state relays.

From a media perspective the streaming and digital work by FIRST is much better but the guidance to rookies is still a bit lacking. Communication with coaches is all up to the level the coach puts in. You can hound your Program Delivery Partner but they won’t hound you because they have 100s of others bothering them.

One big change I think is back in 2013 era the most complex drive was maybe mecanum? Now we have swerve but also premade mechanism kits teams can buy. This was not the case at all during that time and would’ve been illegal probably. Definitely frowned upon.

No more bag day, no more BOM, and the shipping rules for freight to worlds and states is gone as well!

Otherwise welcome back home to FRC! You’re 2010s veteran era experience will be invaluable cuz theres not as many of us around as we would like to think!

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This all sounds really awesome and encouraging!

No more bag day, no more BOM, and the shipping rules for freight to worlds and states is gone as well!

Glorious, I’m glad to hear that FIRST has removed some of those old pain points!

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Other pain point now relieved that I’m thinking about it more. FIRST decided that all districts and regions will have to have their events done by a certain date to give teams more time to make arrangements for worlds.

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Ah, yes. I am sure there are still many improvements that can be made within FIRST.

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Swerve has been around as a drivetrain since at least the early 2000’s, and COTS modules have been available since at least 2015 (the AndyMark Swerve & Steer came out in late 2014, not sure if there were other modules available earlier). Obviously their prevalence has exploded in recent years, but it is by no means new.

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Yes, Swerve had been around from the early days, but almost no one could do it well. It was a very happy surprise to see the amount of teams using swerve drive with great success.

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Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the break! Best of luck with your team!

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You’re correct, I should’ve said “Most complex commonly seen drivetrain”. There’s always someone doing some crazy drive. But for the most part you weren’t getting swerve modules at all. The mecanum wheels or the nanotube gear drives from Andymark were about the most “complete” thing I remember. But I was also 18… So I probably wasn’t completely aware of everything out there at the time. Just what I’d see at FIM events

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Thank you! I’m actually not sure what team I will be working with yet. I have also begun working with the local Girl Scout Council to get a feeder FRC program in the works, starting with FLL in 2023 and building up to FRC over the next few years. I’m hoping to jump into an existing team for the 2024 build season though!

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Where abouts are you at?

Near Spartanburg, SC. But I would be happy to help a team remotely as well :slight_smile:

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I took a 4-5 year break and was surprised how much things changed in that time.

The biggest thing to me is motors. We now have brushless, and a more powerful motor and controller weighs less than a CIM did.
The other thing is the COTS available are way more than there used to be. Between AndyMark, Rev, Thrifty Bot, WCP, SDS, CTRE, VEX and others you can buy almost everything you need to build a competitive robot.

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When I started in FRC 10 years ago, there was only one full-sized field in the greater Houston area. Now there are 4 STEM Centers with full-sized fields with the workshops for between 2 and 7 teams. Teams not based in those facilities can visit to practice and refine their robots. At times, some of these facilities host scrimmages where other teams can practice. This makes a huge difference in the level of preparedness of the teams and the refinement of their robots when they arrive at their competitions. There are many other areas that also have one or more full-sized fields available to teams. I believe a field perimeter can be ordered through AndyMark.

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I’m loving the accessible motor and COTS options for teams!

There are teams here in SC currently working on building similar STEM centers. I’m loving how accessible robotics has become!

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