Robot Tips For Rookie Teams

I wanted to create a thread of tips for rookie teams to think about to improve on their robots. Build season is rapidly approaching and I haven’t seen a single thread about tips and tricks to help teams. Some examples of things that would be worth mentioning would be like:
-Low Center of Gravity
-Don’t overcomplicate things
-Ectetera…Whatever y’all think would be worth mentioning!

Like you said, don’t overcomplicate things, that would be my biggest tip. The problems we’ve had in the past is that we’ve tried to do things that just weren’t realistic for how old our team was. Also, prototyping is a very important stage, make sure that it’s decently consistent before moving on to the final.

  1. Good Bumpers!!! Actually use the material FIRST recommends (I think it’s condura or something like that)

  2. Make sure you learn to download your code correctly

  3. Have a good pit designed before going to your first event

Whatever the size FIRST gives for the robot, build 1" under. Not design, build. Somehow, the robot will gain that inch back.

Ditto for weight: build 10# under (accomplished by designing 15# under). That way, you’ll come out right at maximum–though having to grab a block of steel might be necessary.

Aim for the simpler tasks. Particularly if you don’t have a lot of expertise. Sometimes, a lockdown robot that can score lots of 1-pointers can be worth more than a high-point robot that only works half the time.

First off, to any rookies who may end up reading his, welcome to FIRST. :smiley: It’s going to be one of the best things you will experience in your time as a student. People on this forum are here to help, so don’t be shy to ask for it. (Search for a previous thread on it first though.)

As for tips:

Keep it simple.
Many people have already stated it, and it can’t be stated enough.

Other pieces of advice (for a rookie team):

  1. Use the KOP. I’ve seen a fair share of team, even veteran ones, who try to build their own drive train and end up with one less competent than the KOP. The KOP may not necessarily be the best, but it’s reliable and allows you to focus on your mechanisms .
  2. Read the manual. ::rtm:: Take it seriously, the last thing you want is to find out you come in conflict with the rules at competition. Make sure you give yourself a practice inspection before bag.
  3. Make components (relatively) easy to replace. Things break. Accidents happen. You’ll save yourself a lot of headache if things like motors, motor controllers, and wires are easy to access. Access holes/points are key.
  4. Design within your limits. Don’t design a robot you can’t build or afford. Know what your team can and can’t pull off. It wouldn’t be very wise for a rookie team to do a swerve drive, for instance… Also, do order parts you think you will need ahead of time. Things go out of stock pretty fast during build season.

I’ll post more later if I think of some.

Ask questions before it is too late

A lot of teams start their brainstorming on Day 1 diving headfirst into how they might make various components on a robot. You might make a bunch of excellent robot parts, but without a well thought out strategy that robot will inevitably be playing inefficiently.

A good guideline is to leave robot part discussion off the table for at least the first day or two. Use this time to have every single team member read every line of the rules. Then, discuss how to play the game. Keep track of every idea (sticky notes and whiteboards are great for this) because even ideas that don’t work can cause someone to think of something brilliant. No side conversations for the same reason.

You should be discussing how the robot is scoring points, what you think other robots will do, and how to fit yourself into an alliance (always remember that you can’t do everything yourself). Look for choke-hold strategies, though there often may not be one. Once you know what the robot needs to do, you can figure out what parts are needed to achieve that.

Also, my pet peeve: don’t worry about pushing matches. If you’re on offense, pushing against a defender is exactly what they want you to do. If you push, you waste your time. Time is points, so instead try to avoid or evade defenders. If you’re on defense, your wheels should be perpendicular to the path of your opponent, so there should be no need to push.

With the new perimeter rules the 1" under issues is much less severe.

Pick one thing, and do it well.

Last year, our failing point was trying to design a robot that could do everything. We wanted it to have a 50-point climb and a full-court shooter. We didn’t have our final climber built until the day of bag-and-tag. 3 hours before the deadline, in our first test of the mechanism, the cables broke, and we realized that the design wouldn’t work. Our shooter, designed to be on top of a robot with a low CoG, did not work as a FCS because we had to turn the robot around after loading 3 disks, to fire the shooter.

Also, know the rules by heart before the second day. The night of kickoff, the game rules are your only companion until you know them backwards and forwards. This goes for every member of the team. That said, always have a copy of the rule book handy for rule checks and other references, especially during the design process. Before you even start designing and prototyping an idea, make sure it is within the rules.

It is also best if you make diagrams and drawings of some of the rules for the robot (size, weight, wire gauges, etc.) for quick reference during the designing and building of the robot.

Also, leaders and older members, delegate, delegate, delegate. You should never have idle hands/minds at meetings. There is always something that needs to be done, so, if there is someone standing around, either you need to take a step back and let someone else do what you are doing, or you need to find something for them to do. Have a list of random jobs going into a meeting, so you can assign them to idle people.

Teach new and young members, and have them work on the robot a lot! If you have a lot of seniors that do everything, there will be no one next year that know what they are doing. On top of that, what is the point of joining a robotics team if you don’t get to do anything. It is a learning experience for everyone, so let it be just that.

#1 Read the manual, cover to cover.

#2 Read the manual, cover to cover.

#3 Read the manual, cover to cover.

#4 Repeat steps 1-3

Quite true. OTOH, it’s always a pain to arrive and discover that you’re out of compliance by -><-. I’ve seen that a few times… and it’s never fun to tell a team that they are out of compliance by dimension.

As far as the rules-reading goes, I’ve got a couple of things…
-There is no unimportant rule. (And, for those wanting to get a head start, the Administrative Manual has been released already. Some of those “Can we use X at the event?” questions are already answered.)
-Read ALL the Updates issued. They change the rules, sometimes significantly.
-Read ALL the Q&A. Most of it won’t necessarily apply to you–but the items that do can be pretty important.
-If it has a rule number, it is not a suggestion. If it’s in a blue box, it’s explanation for that requirement, or clarification of it.

Oh, and one more tip for all rookies: Bring a wheeled conveyance for your robot and driver’s station, marked with your team number. Your arms and legs will thank you for the wheels; the queuing staff will thank you that they can return it to you easily.

With out a doubt, this is the best advice in my estimation. To add to that, build it and have it running within the first week before you worry about scoring mechanisms.


I can think of a few:
-Show GP at the competition
-Don’t drive behind success. Do your best and success will dive behind you!
-Show great sportsmanship. After all, FIRST is a “Sport,” AKA, the “Sport of the Mind.” We build robot athletes to participate in the sport, released on the Kickoff!

Here’s a presentation Mike Corsetto and I gave to our team just a couple months ago. Should give rookie teams a good place to start.

Last year was my first year mentoring a rookie team (4464), and it went much more smoothly than I think any of us had been anticipating. Here are some tips, based both on what worked for us, and what we realize we could have improved:

  • Extensive preseason training, with FRC hardware. The importance of getting the students familiar with the control system, especially, prior to build season is hard to overstate. Mechanically, if the students do not have any experience with machining and/or construction, you really must get tools and parts in their hands. There is no substitute for experience and familiarity.

  • Safety training! There are lots of good resources for this out there. Rookie teams should probably have a meeting or two prior to build season devoted entirely to making/reviewing safety rules and procedures, which should be written down and put in a visible place (on a poster or similar).

  • Plan ahead of time, in detail, the first few meetings after kickoff. You want to have a brainstorming and discussion schedule that you can follow. Remember that you can’t design a system without knowing your design constraints, which means that you must decide on a strategy before brainstorming a design. Hold practice brainstorming sessions based on past FRC games to get students used to the process. Make sure you encourage everyone to speak up and contribute ideas - I’ve seen far too many design discussions railroaded by a small number of very vocal team members (myself included) when other people had valuable input that simply never was put forward.

  • Put a large build season calendar in a visible place, and set/mark important dates/deadlines as build season progresses. Organization is key to success.

  • Specialize. After kickoff, pick one task, and build your robot to do it. Over-ambition is probably the single biggest cause of build-season disappointment I’ve seen, even on established teams. Keeping your sights within reason not only keeps the challenge more manageable, but enables crucial design iteration.

  • Keep your designs simple. This means as few moving parts as possible. More complexity leads to more failure modes, and more failure modes leads to less success.

  • When in doubt, overbuild rather than underbuild. The weight limit is a pain, but even more of a pain is having critical structural failure modes reveal themselves at competition. Exceptionally rigid/beefy mechanisms are usually not only more resistant to failure, but (especially in the case of shooters, like this past year) they often perform in a more repeatable, reliable fashion.

  • Design and fabricate according to your machining capability. If you lack precision tools, match-drilling and cutting to templates are your best friends. Make sure that students know they need to keep tolerances in mind when designing.

  • Make sure every structural bolt/nut assembly on the robot has some sort of locking hardware if it is feasible to do so - lock washers, nylock nuts, loctite, etc.

  • Make sure your robot is serviceable. I’ve spent too much time at regionals than I care to recall taking apart half of a robot to replace one or two small parts. If it’s not bulletproof, make every effort to ensure you can get to it and replace it in short order.

  • Pick your drivers early, make a practice drive base, and practice driving. Driver ability is every bit as important as robot quality on the field.

  • Make sure everyone on the team really gets gracious professionalism before attending a competition. FRC simply would not function if the atmosphere at competition were not as helpful and friendly as it is, and you need to make sure every single person on the team appreciates that, and makes it their job to uphold it.

I think this is enough for now. Most importantly, have fun.

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Last post on the last page, I really think this will help rookie teams so I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t missed by people looking.

I looked at that presentation. It was quite through and full of important information. Another good thing is that it is in Plain English!

1.) Have decent looking bumpers that match the FIRST color scheme, using the recommend material is best as well. Good bumpers do not make good robots but at competitions you can usually get a feel for a robot by looking at its bumpers.

2.) Watch Karthik’s presentations.

Pay attention to his section on strategic design, especially in the 2012 one. He talks about many ways to make a competitive robot without many resources. The example that he uses is that in 2012 having a small robot that could balance well on the bridges was more valuable in most regional play than a less than mediocre shooter. Follow his priority list idea. It’s simple, but it works.

3.) ::rtm:: ::rtm:: ::rtm:: ::rtm:: ::rtm::

Read the manual! Read the manual! Read the manual! Read the manual! Read the manual!

If you don’t know the rules you aren’t really playing. Think of that friend that wants to play Settlers of Catan, even though you don’t know how, that says he will just explain the rules as he goes along. It’s no fun and really hard for both of you. Learn the rules before you play.

No matter how good of an idea it seems like, or how much weight it will save, do NOT use castors in your drivebase. Your drivers will thank you for it.