tl;dr: Read the bolded text.
I’ve been the lead for The GreenHorns Ri3D team for the last four years and now that I’m “in the real world”, the mantle of team lead for The GreenHorns has been passed to some awesome FRC alumni in Bison Robotics at NDSU. This post is for a couple groups of people including recently graduated FIRST alumni who are looking to start Ri3D teams, and FRC teams that take inspiration from Ri3D.
I’ve been involved with some highly effective Ri3D builds that have helped a lot of people, and I’ve been involved with some Ri3D builds that most likely didn’t help anybody, and that I desperately wish weren’t on the internet… Let’s just say you learn a lot in four years.
For FRC Alumni Looking to Start Ri3D Teams
This post in part stems from the fact that I’ve been contacted by a large number of people from different universities about starting a Ri3D team. It’s seemingly becoming commonplace for FRC students to graduate, go to college, and form a Ri3D team. The allure is obvious… “we get to keep playing robots which we had so much fun doing in high school”. If this is your reasoning for starting or joining a Ri3D team, I urge you to keep reading.
Ri3D started in 2013 and was originally conducted by industry professionals and longtime FRC mentors for the purpose of mass mentorship. In 2014, VEX joined the fun and Buildblitz became a thing. World class mentors like JVN and Paul Copioli built world class robots in 72 hours. 2015 was when the first college Ri3D teams came into being, and since then there have been more and more teams with more and more content (some useful content and even more not useful content).
Ri3D will reach a breaking point (some will argue it already has) where useful information is drowned out by an ocean of substandard content. This problem will only become more obvious as more college teams pop up (and they undoubtedly will) and produce Ri3D content. If you’re a FIRST alumni at a university, and you’re thinking about starting an Ri3D team, it’s very important that you carefully consider your reasoning for wanting to do Ri3D, and the implications.
If you just want to do Ri3D to relive your high school days, you’re not doing it for the right reasons, and you’re probably not ready for Ri3D. You’ll hear people say similar things about mentoring your high school team during your Freshman year of college. Listen to them. As somebody who didn’t listen to anybody, I can say from experience that you’re best off not mentoring your high school team during your freshman year, and you’re certainly best off not starting a Ri3D team.
If you want another reason why you shouldn’t do Ri3D during your Freshman year, watch any of these videos from The GreenHorns’ first year of Ri3D. It was a train wreck. And you know the best part? Those videos never go away. I get to look like an idiot on the internet for the rest of my life! Although I do a good enough job of that on this website…
I don’t mean for this post to discourage you completely. There are positives of forming a Ri3D team. Ri3D is the perfect activity around which to build a University level robotics student organization, or to recruit more people to an existing robotics student organization. This is exactly what I did with Bison Robotics at NDSU. Ri3D was the bait, and once people were lured in, I tricked them into volunteering (which should be a primary part of any collegiate FIRST robotics organization in my opinion). Additionally, volunteering is the best activity through which young FRC alumni can give back to the program. Become a volunteer, see the other side of the curtain, and once you do that you’ll gain so much perspective. After volunteering my Freshman year, I became a significantly better mentor for my Sophomore year (still not a good mentor, but better).
Ri3D has also been a place where longtime friendships are formed. Most of the friends that I made in college came through Bison Robotics and most of those friends were either met during Ri3D, or sucked into Ri3D by being my friend… Many of my favorite college memories came from Ri3D, and I would be lying if I said my Freshman self would listen to my advice above. But with that said, here are some tips to make your Ri3D experience a positive one for you, and for the FRC community as a whole:
Focus on local impact:
Rather than trying to create “helpful” videos that you post online, think about the teams in your immediate area and how you can benefit them. One thing that The GreenHorns did with the help of 4607 was provide access to our Ri3D robots to more than a dozen teams in the local area. We also loaned our robot to pre-rookie teams for them to use at offseason events. These small, off-camera things have an immensely greater positive impact on the FRC community than anything we did on camera.
Focus less on the final robot and more on prototyping:
It took 4 years for The GreenHorns to finally get this one right, but ultimately all people care about is robot mechanisms. What works? What doesn’t work? What’s a huge waste of time and what’s worth teams putting their time into prototyping? The reveal video is flashy and cool, but ultimately teams learn the most from your failed prototypes. Embrace your failures so that everybody can learn from them!
Strategic design is important, but your strategic insights are less than valuable:
You have about 12-24 hours to determine the strategic direction for your robot. It’s important that you take time to consider the strategy of the game before building your robot, but if you’re going to release a white paper with a strategic analysis of the game you’re wasting your time. One day isn’t enough time to figure a game out. I thought the dominant strategy for Power Up would be 2 Switch robots and 1 Scale Robot in our initial strategy white paper… slaps forehead… You’ll be able to help teams much more significantly by failing at more prototypes than spending extra time on the strategy of the game.
Always remember your audience:
254 isn’t going to take your ideas from Ri3D. Rookie and low resource teams are the target audience for Ri3D while mid-level teams learn from it as well. You shouldn’t be trying to build an Einstein contender in 3 days. First of all… you’re not JVN or Paul Copioli. Build something that you know a struggling team in your area can build. Keep it simple and do one or two things very well. There are Ri3D teams out there whose goals are to build a robot that can win a week 1 event. The GreenHorns and ‘Snow Problem both fell into this category last year. As a result, when I was working with a struggling team in my area, I couldn’t point them to my Ri3D robot as a resource, and that sucked. The GreenHorns’ 2018 Ri3D robot was undoubtedly the best we’ve built, but it was also less inspiring to Ri3D’s target audience as a result of our objectives.
Documentation is everything:
Finally, Ri3D is literally worthless without documentation. If you’re starting an Ri3D team, and you aren’t putting as much or more time into planning how you’re going to document everything as you are on how you’re going to build the robot, you’re doing it wrong. Ri3D means literally nothing without documentation. You won’t help anybody unless you can help them learn from your failures and successes through documentation.
If you’re a FIRST Alumni and you’re thinking about, or in the process of starting an Ri3D team, please reach out. If you’re going to do it (and I know you are) then do your best to do it the right way in order to have the largest possible, positive impact on the FRC community that you can.
For FRC Teams Looking to Learn from Ri3D Teams
I’ll try to keep this brief as this turned into a much larger wall of text than I anticipated… If you’re on a team that learns from Ri3D, it’s important to understand how to best utilize Ri3D, and that there are many other resources out there. Ri3D is far from the only early season resource. Others include Basic Bot Design (BBD)](https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=161337&highlight=basic+bot+design), 118 Everybot](https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=161168&highlight=everybot), MCCC](https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=161333&highlight=mccc), and more. Each of these projects has a similar goal of providing resources to help FRC teams. I’d say BBD and Everybot provide the best information targeting low-resource teams, while MCCC provides the FRC world with an early look at how matches might play out (which is valuable for everybody). It’s very important that people understand that these resources are out there, possibly for your own teams and possibly for the team next door that’s struggling to assemble the kit drivetrain.
The Compass Alliance](https://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=160614&highlight=tca) (a fantastic resource if you haven’t already checked it out) also has Ri3D reviews. If you’re drowning in Ri3D content and can’t figure out where to begin, Karthik and Justin do a great job of filtering out some of the noise and cutting into the real content.
I’m assuming each of these programs/events will be going on again for 2019, and if they do, they will help immensely with getting your 2019 season off to a good start.