Ruling on Robonauts Balance

As we posted yesterday in the Alamo thread, the GDC made a decision regarding our bridge balancing mechanism. We wanted to provide a little more of the details that were provided to us. A picture of us using this mechanism to balance the co-op bridge with 488 was posted in the Alamo thread. This was a very exciting moment and the Robonauts are proud of achieving this on Thursday of our first regional.

The head ref at Alamo approached our team prior to opening ceremonies on Friday. He told us that a telecon was held last night amongst the GDC and they determined our robot’s mechanism fell under their definition of the word “grapple” when interacting with the bridge. It would therefore be a violation of [G10] when used, and be penalized accordingly. We were told it was not the GDC’s intention that teams utilize the features at the edge of the bridge to hang or lift off of during a balance.

During a break in matches at the beginning of the day, the head ref explained this ruling to the crowd. During this he read the following definition for Grapple: “The use of a tool to catch, hold, or rake to gain a physical/mechanical advantage”.

In our conversations with the head ref he expanded on this definition, talking about devices which react against multiple surfaces to create a moment or torque.

We understand that we took a risk in this design. Nonetheless, we are disappointed in the ruling the GDC has made. Even more, we are disappointed that the risk we took was created only because FIRST refused to answer direct Q&A questions related to it. Answering the following question could have clarified this situation very simply and early in the build season. At the time, it was our honest belief that if FIRST intended for this to be illegal, they would have stated so here.

Q. Would a passive device applying force to multiple sides of the 2x2 angle on the bridge to partially/fully support robot weight violate [G10] if it didn’t actively clamp/grasp/attach to the angle, so that at match end the robot can be lifted off the bridge w/out actuating/releasing any mechanism(s)?
FRC1967 2012-01-16
A. The purpose of this forum is to answer questions about rules, not to perform design reviews for legality.

Furthermore, giving their definition for the word “Grapple” seems like a fair thing to do when they were asked, especially when that definition differs from the one in a common dictionary as well as the definition they used in the 2011 game Q&A. ( Instead they stated that “there is no formal definition…”

We’re all competing in a competition in which we’re encouraged to think outside of the box to solve difficult problems. A set of rules must be in place to create some boundaries for those solutions. The Robonauts have no desire to step outside of those boundaries. We do, however, feel that FIRST allowed these boundaries to be unclear, seemingly on purpose. Not until Friday of the first week of competition was this issue clarified. These actions are not indicative of the Gracious Professionalism we would expect from this organization. It’s our hope they use this situation as an example for better managing the rules and Q&A system in the future.

The head ref at San Antonio was extremely polite, gracious, and friendly in explaining this decision to us. He listened to our arguments and passed them along to New Hampshire. We believe there are likely other teams who were planning on using a strategy similar to ours. We’re sorry that they may not have the opportunity to state their case and we hope the GDC will reconsider this ruling for future weeks.

We don’t intend for this post to start another discussion on the specific rule, we simply wanted to explain the events that took place and our thoughts about them.

The Robonauts

No they didn’t.

While I agree that there were problems with the way the definition of grapple was handled, please don’t try to put words like those in their mouths.

Like I said in my post, the post wasn’t meant to be negative. And like Justin has quoted above, the GDC admitted they didn’t think about teams utilizing the edge of the bridge. I’m not saying the GDC is saying they aren’t pushing teams to think out of the box. I’m saying they admitted that they weren’t prepared for a team like 118 (though nobody IS every prepared for 118), and therefore made it illegal. Sort of like the 254/1114 hanging in 2010. Not the GDC’s intentions, though if I remember correctly they were ruled legal.

I’m not arguing the legality, and somewhat agree with the ruling, but WHAT they said about it, and there response to 118 was what I was disappointed about.

Sorry to hear about the ruling, I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

I’m looking forward to facing and competing with you guys at Hartford, a team like 118 really has inspired and motivated myself and a lot of kids on GUS.

Regardless of the fact that your bridge balancing was deemed illegal, you have done an outstanding job of trying something that was different and outside what everyone else was thinking, so everything that you have accomplished is nothing near a waste. Thank you Justin for giving us all this information. Good luck with the rest of Alamo and see you in a couple of weeks!


I’m glad you guys had a ‘plan B’ (as I knew you would – you guys are class acts all the way), because I never in the world dreamed it would be ruled legal, especially given the ‘astute observer’ definitions in the Q&A.

Please keep in mind that designs like this put the Q&A folks in a difficult situation – they can’t possibly anticipate every solution that a team can dream up, and so the intentionally broad definition criteria of ‘astute observer’ (which I personally find to be completely reasonable) gives them wiggle room to do exactly as we are instructed to: interpret the spirit of the game, and not try to squeeze every advantage out of the letter.

If FIRST is going to co-opt the sports model successfully, they must at almost all costs avoid the audience thinking, “I thought that was cheating?” Designs based on letter-of-the-rule interpretations will therefore always be a major risk, and perhaps an even bigger risk than they have been in the past.

Yes, there is a cost in ingenuity; but if FIRST is to become a true culture-transforming spectator sport, it can’t also be a 100% proscriptive rules set game. (Most games are permissive. Proscriptive games are much more open-ended… which is what makes them harder to follow, and thus gives them less mass appeal.)

My favorite quote applies here: “It’s a wonderful idea. But it doesn’t work.”

Wow. If you don’t mind, can I steal that quote? :stuck_out_tongue:

Everything Mr. Freivald has said is 100% accurate. There is no way the GDC can predict everything, so therefore the answer to that is to have FIRST be a little less proscriptive, and a little more permissive. I’d say 50-50 for each. While you don’t want too much strained and controlled rules, you don’t want the rules to lack clarity enough that events like 118 this year happen. I’m sure no team wants to spend time during their build season designing, manufacturing, and perfecting a mechanism deemed illegal because of a lack of clarification.

Can anyone post a video of them balancing? I mean, this is not the first time FIRST has had issues with miscommunication.

Absolutely. I stole it from Poe, who “sampled”/stole it from a lecture given by her father, the tape of which she found some years after he passed away.

I’d say that game theory is a lot more complicated than that. Almost all games are permissive, because it’s much easier to write a permissive rules set than it is to write a proscriptive one. FIRST has historically been more proscriptive than permissive, but every sport in the world is permissive.

The most interesting (IMNHO) games (mathematically and strategically) are proscriptive, but they don’t garner much of a following a lot of the time because they’re often hard to follow, hard to predict, hard to manage… As someone who has made some small amount of money doing freelance game design, I can really, truly admire just how well FIRST has skirted the line between a permissive and a proscriptive rules set.

Designing a technical challenge that encourages ingenuity and creativity lends itself strongly toward a proscriptive rules set. Designing a game that’s fun to watch for an audience not obsessed with the game requires a strongly permissive rules set. The balance is insanely hard to meet, and I have so very much admiration for the GDC for doing so yearly as well as they have.

In recent years, FIRST rules have tended more toward a permissive rules set. If they want the game to be spectator-friendly, they have to. That said, they have kept the design side of the robot very proscriptive, which is why you see wheel-shooters and catapults and sling-shots, and you see tank drives and drop-center drives and swerve drives and mecanum drives and octocanum drives…

Give credit where credit is due: there are a lot of companies that do nothing but design games for a living. None of them have a single team of a dozen-ish people put out a completely new and innovative product on a yearly basis. The GDC does.

Hats off to the Robonauts for an extremely innovative and interesting solution to an engineering problem. Hats off to the GDC for sticking to the game they designed (and the philosophy behind it) and ruling against them. Ya both done good.

I want to thank team 118 for not only building such an innovative design, but posting it in their reveal video for all to see. I would also like to thank them for going to a week 1 regional, which forced a long overdue ruling to be made.

I know there is quite a few teams scrapping designs right now but at least now they can all go into their next competition without taking as big of a risk(at least from hanging).

PS. If its Finals 2 and 118’s alliance is up by one, with <20seconds left with a score of 20+ the opposition, they should definitely hang anyway(give the crowd a show). :wink:

Ditto this. x100

You were also absolutely awesome for explaining in detail how the system works. That is truly inspirational for kids like me.

Thank you and best of luck this weekend.

This is what happens when the GDC (or anyone else) tries to make “common-sense” rules or “simple” rules or anything of the sort. Discussion about “rules lawyering” or whatever misses the point: rules need to be clearly defined and as comprehensive as possible, or there’s no point in having them. Otherwise you end up with differing interpretations and that very rarely ends well.

Maybe not “as comprehensive as possible”.

The rules need to be a) clear, b) as comprehensive as necessary to communicate the intent of the rules, and c) written clearly.

But the questions about interpretations need to be answered promptly and clearly. Not “we’re using the common sense definition of ‘grapple’” or “We don’t give design reviews”. More like “We are using the following definition of ‘grapple’…” and “We don’t give design reviews; however, you may want to pay close attention to the following rules…”

The GDC neither declared the concept legal nor declared it illegal. They simply said, “We aren’t going to make the call.” Then, it seems that they decided to make the call… a month and a half after it was asked, and a few weeks after declining to provide a specific definition of “grapple”, “grasp”, and “attach”.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened (and yes, I can cite instances); however, the real question is, how do we keep it from happening again?

OP couldn’t have stated this any better. You took a risk, and it got called illegal. But you handled it very well. +1 for you guys, I’m impressed.

On the GDC side of things, ruling it illegal is 100% okay to do. But being extremely vague on definitions of things like “grappling” and “balanced” and what consists of the bridge until the final week/first day of competitions is…I can’t even think of a word for it. If they were made clear from the start, and if they wouldn’t beat around the bush with these “we can’t comment on designs” answers, none of this would have happened. Even in this case, if they couldn’t comment on the design, they could at least clarify what consists of clamp/grasping/whatever. And then stick with that definition, and not change it when someone thinks outside of the box with a design that still fits those parameters. even something as flat out as “no, you cant hang off the side of the bridge.” Nothing to lawyer there.

Something just has to be done about that, at least I think. Its okay to change rules, just not so late in the season after you refused to clarify them a million times.


I see no possible interpretation in which this put them in a difficult situation. The Q&A Justin quoted was asked in week 1. It is eminently clear what the question is asking (can we hang off the side of the bridge, or otherwise partially support robot weight in order to balance without being entirely on the polycarb on the bridge?).

There is no way the GDC did not understand that teams wanted to know if they could hang from the side of the bridge. They chose the cop out route of answering with a non-answer.

Nearly a month and a half later the issue was forced and they had no choice but to give the answer they should have given originally. Instead of playing games with the Q&A all they had to do was say “we intended the angle on the side of the bridge to be a guide to keep teams from falling off, not a support for teams to hang from”. That would have taken thirty seconds to post. Instead they give a typical useless response and multiple (I’m sure there’s more than just 118) teams waste time and money implementing such a device in the hopes that it is legal.

7 weeks ago the GDC wasn’t between a rock and a hard place. They chose to insert themselves there by not answering a simple question (completely not robot design related…it is a fundamental question about how the game is to be played). End of story.


Having been on the wrong side of a questionable game design committee (GDC) ruling on legality of a robot (back in 2008, Overdrive, with Speed Racer), we know what it feels like to invest hundreds of hours in an innovative solution that you felt was legal, only to have it disqualified by a GDC.

You have our understanding in this matter, whether or not we actually agree with the ruling.

The good news is that it seems that you have an incredible robot this year, even despite the disqualification of the innovative bridge balancing approach. Best regards for a continuing great performance at Alamo!

This argues both sides of the issue. “This is what happens when” versus “as comprehensive as possible”. One absolute truth is that it is NOT possible (preivald - “they can’t possibly anticipate every solution”) to construct a set of rules that is 100% comprehensive. So every year there will always be some level of ambiguity. The engineer’s response is to calculate the risk and make a decision.

The robonaut’s device is ingenious (dare I say awesome). It was risky for consuming mass on the robot, money, time and effort etc. But the ramifications of it not working (or being illegal) was near zero because the robot is awesome without the feature. So risk of effort times risk of result is still near zero and they went for it. It was kewl to see it in action!

It’s a difficult situation for all game designers who want a game that is both fun to play and to watch. (IMO Warhammer 40K and D&D are both fun to play… not so much fun to watch. Football is fun to watch, but I have no interest in playing.)

It’s not a cop-out at all. What they did was refuse to get into a cycle where they are forced to define every word in the manual (and then possibly define the words used in the definitions, and then the words in those definitions). These are really smart people, and I’m certain they understand Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem as applied to creating rules sets.

They’ve been using “reasonably astute observer” definitions for years as a way to essentially say, “Look, folks, it’s impossible to create a positivist document. Not difficult, not really hard, but actually impossible. So we’re not going to try to do that. Be creative, but do so within the spirit of the competition-as-sport that we’ve set up.”

And The Robonauts did indeed create an awesome device with minimal risk – it’s not like they can’t balance without it.

Some thoughts:

  1. Yes, 118 is taking this design to the very limit of the rules (though, in my mind, never quite over).
  2. Yes, the GDC should be more clear in these edge cases. (Not the “Can we use the F-P motor to raise our shooter up to get a closer shot?” questions, but you know what I mean.)
  3. Yes, I’d love to read the GDC’s position on the whole matter.
  4. I’m a touch surprised, but eminently pleased that we made it to Week 1 of competitions before we reached a rule or ruling that made me want to say “Paging the IRI Planning Committee…”
  5. No, I still don’t want to be on the other side of the glass from these guys.

Has anybody done a stress analysis on the actual bridge structure to see if it could withstand suspensions from the side? As thorough as they are, I’d assume 118 has done so but I haven’t seen evidence.
That’s a pretty incredible moment arm for that part of the bridge to support; if the same part of the bridge was used to suspend several times during a regional, and several regionals during a season, it’s possible for that component to fail.
Can you imagine the (figurative and literal) carnage that would follow if the bridge broke during eliminations? Possibly leading to field, robot, even site damage? Screams of “We were balanced until the field failed - we should be given those points!”
Are there spare bridges shipped with the field? What if a particularly innovative team coupled 118’s design with 1501 - allowed a robot to drive upon it, then balanced on the side of the bridge? There’s no way the structure could support that.
The GDC made the ruling that had to be made. Sometimes the game has to be played in real time to really understand the rules - it’s happened before. That’s why we have team updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.
I agree the timing is poor in this circumstance. Kudos to 118 for everything.

Yes, having set the field up in New Jersey, each field has a spare bridge, spare back boards, spare hoops, spare plexiglass for the player’s station and a spare barrier. There is also an entire extra backup field ready to go in the case of some catastrophic accident with a truck catching on fire or freak meteor showing destroying a building.