Rookie team prototyping equipment

Prototyping is obviously a crucial part of creating a good robot. The kit of parts doesn’t provide enough equipment for extensive prototyping for a rookie team, so what should a new rookie team purchase at the beginning of the year so they can prototype properly?

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The answer depends heavily on your existing resources. Do you have access to 3D printing (either in-house or reasonably close to it)? Is aluminum tubing especially cheap for you? What kind of budget can you devote to buying parts on speculation?

Let us peek behind the curtain, and we can give you better answers. :slight_smile:

Edit to add: Also, ideally you would buy this stuff in November or December, so you won’t lose a chunk of the first week of build season to shipping times.

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We have a couple documents that I think may help you.


has a full list of robot items to purchase for new teams.


is the system we developed to do some fast raw prototyping work. The kind where you are understanding how the game pieces work and interact and learning about a concept you may want to incorporate in your robot.

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I can confirm, this guide completely revolutionized our build approach. Like “went from 2012 through 2018 missing playoffs, then made three straight regionals as a first-rounder at worst” revolutionized. You could do infinitely worse than to heed this, both for prototyping and for building a finished robot.

(I just read back through it, and I would deem the content up to date for anyone attempting a build in 2021. I would buy the same parts for 2022 in a heartbeat; things that have been on the market for a year are parts that are well-understood. This is important if your team does not have the bandwidth to troubleshoot the new thing.)

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We all know your pain. Our team has made lots of progress in its short 4 yrs.

Plywood, lexan, aluminum hex shaft, aluminum angle iron and various tubing, 1 1/8 hole drill, lots of flanged bearings, locking collars and a huge assortment of fine tread socket head cap screws and lock nuts.

80/20 is a great product for rookie teams without available machining capabilities. You can build almost anything with 80/20 that is square or rectangular. And you can adjust and tweak. 80/20 is a sponsor of First and gives wholesale pricing of ordered through a distributor.

This is a good presentation on prototyping for your team to watch when you have time.

It depends on your budget and skillset, but Spectrum’s first $10,000 list is a perfect start

For 7226, we try and keep on hand a bunch of stuff that we use a lot, and we try to keep the diversity of parts down. For example, we pretty much only use vex versaplanetaries, and even then we only use 3:1, 5:1, and 7:1 gear ratios, but we have a ton on hand. We use primarily 775s and Neos, and pretty much nothing else unless we’re trying to fit something somewhere special

This helps us prototype by A) having things on hand to use and B) limits what we have to work with, which helps with design (sometimes more constraints makes designs easier)

Another thing that helps us prototype is our CNC router. It’s super easy to throw some geometry together and cut a prototype out of plastic or wood

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1/4" and 3/8" plywood, some 2 x 3’s and some 2 x 1 dimensional lumber.

Making prototypes beautiful wastes a lot of time, time that is better spent on more iterations to refine the concepts. Expect to make at least 3 iterations to get something good, if it is something you are not familiar with making.

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While I’m thankful they’ve been supportive of FRC teams, I would posit that 80/20’s time has largely passed for FRC robots. For raw prototyping, Spectrum’s Protopipe is a much cheaper raw material even if you had to bribe or pay someone to print the connectors. For production-intent builds, VersaFrame (or its cousin, using VersaFrame parts and poking your own holes into 1x2 tube) is a vastly lighter low-machining option with more relevant-to-FRC mounting options.

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80/20 is very expensive if you have to buy anything yourself. It also is a weight trap

1/16" 2x1s are excellent building materials. That and 1x1 and some polycarbonate and you have 90% of the building requirements for an entire robot

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Don’t overlook pink foam board. While not structurally strong, it is easy to work with and helps get spacing and basic form set up. We have a small stock of foam batteries, motor controllers, RoboRIOs and such we use to make sure we’re planning placement properly.

You can make mechanisms from it too.

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You know. It never clicked to me to use foam for placeholders for some reason.

Which is funny cuz Anthony and crew did exactly that on the shooter back in 06. It just didn’t click to me.

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Coroplast (like election signs) is a good substitute for sheet metal or polycarb. It can be cut with a box cutter or utility knife. A small screwdriver is good for making holes. We used it for the electrical panel in 2017 and attached it to the KOP chassis with zipties.

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Exactly right. There’s a reason CAD stands for Cardboard Aided Design.

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I can also vouch that, properly supported and at the right thickness, it can, in fact, hold up a robot. (330’s ramps in 2007, in this specific case.)

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I think I have the ratty piece of foamboard we used to figure out gear grabber geometry in 2017. Half an hour with a stack of the stuff and an X-acto, and we ended up with one of the most successful non-dustpan manipulators that year.
It’s also great for planning out where all the expensive polycarb will go.
Hot glues like a dream, lasers even better than cardboard; what’s not to love for prototypes?

Adam Savage has done a few shockingly sturdy builds with it as well if you want to pull techniques: Adam Savage's One Day Builds: Air Tools Sorting Boxes! - YouTube

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in FRC, you don’t have a whole lot of time to prototype. So, whatever prototyping you do, you need to be able to do quickly.

Last season, for example, we prototyped our shooter with some scrap wood. That helped us figure out things like dimensions, wheel type, motor configuration and so on. It took a few hours for one person to put that together.

That said, here’s one thing that is really important: get a “Thrifty Throttle” and get some motor controllers that will do PWM. It’s really hard to prototype a subsystem if you need to have a CAN bus up and running.

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SPARK MAX and REV Hardware Client: ”Are we a joke to you?”

Snark aside, being able to test with the production-intent motors and tuning is massive. And that tuning includes current limiting, which has objectively saved our team at least one motor (plus replacement time) while developing the robot.

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Rookie team… concentrate on what you can do “well” for your FIRST game . You need to analyze the game and see what you can add to an alliance of two other teams . There is no reason for you to chew off more than that, as you likely will compete in subsequent years. At that point after your rookie year , then worry about high level competition and laugh off rookie mistakes. I have seen plenty of boxes on wheels go to Champs…have fun and enjoy the rookie preference. Then worry about how to compete other teams in year two forward (unless and offshoot of an existing powerhouse team) where you might have a significant head start in year one. Most of all enjoy your rookie year.

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I differ on this slightly. Call it a corollary.

One, I’ve seen teams that should know better whiff on this assessment. (Hell, I’ve whiffed on this assessment. Repeatedly.)

Two, there is a minimum level of performance needed. If you can do driving well and only built that, you’d be in a world of hurt for Infinite Recharge (where some kind of ball-handling in volume and a climber were generally considered table stakes).

Therefore: Still don’t bite off more than you can chew, but ensure you are in touch with seasoned teams (whether locally, on CD, or through other channels) to ensure your assessment of the game and your capabilities are on track. Top teams know what they’re looking for in a pick, and they’ll tell you. Sometimes, publicly on their mentor’s blog in mid-January.

And if you ask for help on that tough part earlier on, you are more likely to find it. 8137, a 2020 rookie, got connected with us in the fall of 2019 and ran 1293’s robot at SCRIW. It happened that their mentors were in the area a week or two after Kickoff, just after we had upgraded our battery charger setup. Sure enough, we solved both their problem (rookie teams only get that one crappy charger) and ours (we had a bunch of surplus chargers that were serviceable, but bulky).

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My Week 1 Regional ran out of functional climbers by the time we got to 2nd picks, and if I recall the scouting correctly, “in volume” meant “averaging 6/match”.

…it was not LA North. And I’m sure it would change by the end of the season.