"Spare Parts" Rules Are Broken

Preface: I truly believe that one has to be VERY VERY careful before posting something like what I am going to post, but I think that what I saw this weekend at the Great Lakes Regional gives me little choice. There needs to be some very drastic changes in FIRST’s rules about “spare parts.”

There were a number of teams that brought their “practice robot” to the GLR. Personally, I think this is a smart move. Since your practice robot and your competition robot should be identical, it’s great to have EVERY SINGLE spare part with you and available at a competition. For the teams that decide to invest the additional manpower and resources into such an endeavor, the benefits are VERY significant. The fear of missing a round due to not having a spare part available takes a great deal of stress off during the competition. [Edit]However, it should be noted, that this is NOT ALLOWED PER RULE R09[/Edit]

What I found to be absolutely frustrating, terribly ungracious, and incredibly heartbreaking is the teams that brought in their “practice robot” which was actually a SIGNIFICANTLY UPGRADED machine and replaced ENTIRE MECHANISMS on their “competition robot”.

I consider myself to be rather lenient on a lot of rules. If you didn’t have time to get some cool colored Lexan sides before your robot shipped, and brought those along and swapped them out, which I saw a few teams do, I have NO problem with that. If you even brought powder-coated parts that were identical to those on your robot, I turned a blind eye. Honestly, if you had a part that you even wanted to “tweak” because, it just wasn’t working right by the time you shipped, I’ll get over it.

However, there were teams that had non-functional robots, who brought in their “practice” robot’s assemblies, and suddenly had a not only fully functional robot, but one with an additional 2 weeks of upgrades.

Has anyone else noticed this?

I think that there’s only one way to ensure the fairness to all competitors, by adding the following rule:

  • You must ship all spare parts with your robot, and you are responsible for the associated additional shipping charges. You may only bring in raw and “off the shelf” materials to the competitions.

FIRST counts on teams to be gracious and professional, but from what I saw at the Great Lakes Regional, I was truly discouraged. There’s no way to fully monitor the “spare parts” system that is in place now, and teams, both well respected veterans, and newer teams, are blatantly cheating.

I understand that teams with a well thought-out game plan can get a non-functional robot up and running with a whole Thursday of hard work- I saw this happen. A lot of teams bring in raw materials and finished the last touches (or even the main functions!). Congratulations to them for quick work! However, let me ensure you that this was not the case for a number of teams.

While perhaps it’s too late to make changes now - I firmly believe there needs to be a complete overhaul of the spare parts system for next season to ensure fairness for all teams.

I plead that we remember six weeks is six weeks.


any system is good as long as the rules are followed - if someone wants to cheat, they will find a way.

according to the current rules, you were allowed to bring spare parts as long as they were fabricated BEFORE the ship deadline (thats why its called a DEADLINE! if you miss it, your team is DEAD! :ahh: )

I think the provision to bring spare parts with you, instead of forcing teams to ship them in the crate, was simply to keep shipping costs down - esp since FedEx was SO nice to give teams all that free shipping this year.

Ship the bot, carry your spares with you on the bus

but as stated in the present rules you are not allowed to bring any assemblies: period!

Personally I would like to see the rules stay the way they are - making everyone ship all their spares will only add to the shipping costs for all teams - and if someone wants to cheat and sneak in assemblies that were built after the deadline, we would have to go through an exhaustive inspection process where a judge must be present when you open your crate, and inspect your bot and mark each part, then inspect all the boxes you bring into the arena to make sure you did not sneak any assemblies in.

Do we really want to do this? thats starting to sound like a robot building contest - thats not why we are here (remember?).

FIRST is aware of the situation that happed at the GLR, and should be taking steps as we speak to correct the problem.

The major problem was an unnamed team using their practice robot all day on Thursday during the practice rounds. The referees conferred, and though there is no rule against it, we all concluded that it should have been an obvious understood that the practice robot does not go onto the playing field. However, there being no written rule about it, we could not disqualify said team.

As for the question - did they use prefabricated parts from their pratice robot on their competition robot - the referees asked the team, and hopefully they showed gracious professionalism and were truthful when they answered that they had NOT made a parts exchange. Unless anyone can bring proof that they were not honest, there is nothing that FIRST can do about it.

On a personal note, I am shocked at the lack of respect this team showed the competition. Other teams were forced to skip their practice rounds to fix and upgrade their robot, and I think the team gained a significant advantage by skirting the rules with this move. As Dean said - we should look at the rules as engineers would, not lawyers. It is my personal belief that the robot you practice with on Thursdays be the same one you are required to get certified for the competition.

If its gonna cost more to ship your fabricated spare parts then you should just do some more fundraising. It doesnt cost too much more to ship more weight, an extra fundraiser would cover your costs.

I myself am dissapointed in the way some teams can opperate. I right now want to fix a problem we had with our wench system, but if we do you’ll see us fabricate the parts at our next regional.

The major problem was an unnamed team using their practice robot all day on Thursday during the practice rounds. The referees conferred, and though there is no rule against it, we all concluded that it should have been an obvious understood that the practice robot does not go onto the playing field. However, there being no written rule about it, we could not disqualify said team.

I know the team you speak of, and i disagree with this. They also used the practive bot for something else, but I won’t elaborate. I diagree with this hole heartedly, especialy the act that was worse than just using it during the practice day. But I can’t complain, my team went to the semi-finals, so it obviosly didn’t effect us!

I would like to see some type of provisions for this in the rules, however. Pictures of part you will be bringing shipped with the robot maybe? Negligable wieght, and proof of prior construction. Also, maybe more stickers on the robot to prove it has passed inspection, there for no worries about switching out a part that has the sticker on it.

This is correct. Just for clarity:

I think that this clearly means that “practice” robots of ANY SORT can not be brought to competition unless it is 100% disassembled. This rule was most definitely not enforced at the GLR. I hope that we can make sure that it will be at the remaining regional events.

As best as I can tell, it looks like any “spare part” should not have any fasteners, which includes bolts, pins, set screws, string or keys.

I’m glad that we’ve got this out in the open as a refresher for teams that may be planning on bringing practice robots to the competition - it’s not allowed unless it’s completely disassembled.


Wouldn’t bringing a practice robot be against FIRST’s rules? Even if it is identical to your competition robot?

<R09> During the six week period following Kickoff: You may fabricate spare parts for replacement purposes of items on yuor robot as long as they are exact replacements of parts on the robot you shipped to the event. They must be brought to the event in a completely disassembled state as individual components (no bolt-on assemblies)

Even if a practice bot is identical to the competition robot, you can’t bring it to competition unless it is completely disassembled. So the team(s) that brought their assembled competition robots to the event were actually breaking the rules, werent they?

We brought our practice robot to Ypsi, but we left it in the hotel the whole time and never brought it to the competition site. Great for midnight programming and driver practice :stuck_out_tongue:

You can bring a practice robot to the competition, you just can’t use parts from it. Let’s say that the real robot is in bad mechanical shape, so the pit crew is frantically working to make the components perform properly. Meanwhile, the programmers could be working on autonomous mode, or any kind of programming, and debugging everything on there, so that when the real thing is “done” they know what exactly they need to do to get it to 100%


But what’s to stop a team with two identical robots (one working perfectly, one having a lot of mechanical issues) from placing the “perfect” one in a match rather than the broken one?

I’d like to think teams would be more professional than this and know it’s completely against the rules. But I know there are still some teams out there who would do this.

If it’s not illegal to bring your practice bot, fully assembled, to a competition, I think it should be.

I’d agree with you by the way the rules are written… but it’s something I wouldn’t want our team to do.

I wouldn’t (personally) want any shread of doubt in anyone’s mind about our teams intentions and use for that spare robot. It approaches a grey zone, and when it comes to reputation… I wouldn’t want to mingle 461’s name along the very few bad apples who might have other intentions.


I also have a problem with practice bots at competition. The only way I believe to allow this is to have said bot shipped with real bot. They should be identical in all ways. If you then want to change out parts that would be OK. However if they are not identical then the rule of weighing in all other functions must be followed. I believe that if FIRST knows about this problem then they will fix it. It may not be this year but they are very good at listening and fixing problems.

BTW - Last year I did see a practice bot at comp that was shipped with original.

The biggest problem I see with this is noticing it. Unless the team is involved in the elimination rounds and their robot suddenly goes from battered to perfect shape, very few people would notice a difference, and the team wouldn’t be punished.

I don’t like the idea of putting the practice robot out onto the field, but I don’t see a problem with building a practice robot…Still, if it’s just meant to be used by the drivers and programmers, build it that way. Our second robot - which I don’t think will be traveling with us to Detroit or South Carolina - is literally a chassis and a drive train. None of the manipulations, none of the pneumatics…just the basics, along with added weight so it handles more like the real thing.

Maybe FIRST should have a rule that your practice robot is JUST a chassis and drive train - if one of those goes out onto the field, I’m sure someone would notice. :slight_smile:

In my humble opinion, this is a problem that no rule will ever resolve or govern. This is a societal ethics problem. Unfortunately, we CURRENTLY live in a society where bending the rules is the norm instead of the exception. As one football announcer put it, “it’s only a problem if you get caught.” In general, the engineering community has always maintained high ethical standards. The defense of this last statement is a book upon itself.

The solution to this problem is to have open discussions just as Matt has done here (thanks Matt) and discuss why our community (& ultimately our Society) should follow the spirit of the rules and not the letter of the rules. One day, football coaches will be teaching their players NOT TO BREAK THE RULES REGARDLESS of the consequences. This will be a result of a lifelong mission of folks in various communities like FIRST, Ultimate (www.upa.org), engineering societies, etc. desiring to live in a society where there are more builders than rule makers.

The solution to the specific problem that is addressed above is for FIRST (maybe the regional director) to discuss gracious professionalism with the mentors of any team that chronically “bends the rules.”

This is the Reader’s Digest version of what I’d really like to say on the subject. Just egg me on a little and I’ll slam all the football and basketball coaches that teach their players how to hold without getting caught along with the prosecuting attorneys that ignore the facts to get a conviction.

Take care,

Well, please let me reply since I am sure that we are the team that everyone is speaking of.

  1. Yes, we brought our practice robot into the GLR.
  2. Yes, we used our practice robot during the practice rounds. 2 or three of the rounds I believe it didn’t even move.

I know I speak for my entire team in apologizing for breaking the rules about this. I was not aware of the rule but should have been and it is my fault and I am the one to blame. As soon as we were told we were in violation of the rules, we removed the practice robot from the building.

However, I can say exactly what I told the judges who confronted me. Absolutely no parts that were on the practice robot were used on the robot we shipped. ZERO.

This is what was done to our shipped robot on Thursday:

  1. One gear that was on the elbow was replaced to increase the gear ratio.
  2. The robot controller was swapped from the prototype electronics board to the real board which is not a violation of the rules.
  3. We added a pneumatic brake to our winch. This had been part of our robot before it shipped (someone from 469 might be able to remember it when they saw it), but we removed it because we didn’t think we needed it when we shipped. Later, we found that we did and on Thursday, our machinists re-fabricated the bracket in the PICO trailer (along with helping other teams make parts for their robots).
  4. We added a piece of aluminum tube to the bottom of the winch mechanism to stop the plate from flexing.
  5. We added the rubber rat to the control console.
  6. The rest was programming and electronics work which we did to the shipped robot as we debugged it in the pit on Thursday.

The first round on Friday, our autonomous mode was unknown, so instead of taking a chance of damaging the robot, we did not even bring a robot to the round.

Again, I sincerely apologize for our acts at GLR but can honestly say that we did not mean any harm. I take full responsibility for our actions.

If anybody wants to disagree with anything that I have said, please feel free to post here or email me at dfwjr1973 @ hotmail.com and we can discuss.

Also, No Remorse, I am curious to you comment, “They also used the practive bot for something else, but I won’t elaborate”. Could you please contact me. I would really like to know what you are talking about.

Donald Wright
Project Engineer for Team 830

I watched this exact thing happen last year at The Buckeye Regional. A team brought in their “practice” robot and I watched all day as they systematically took parts off it and put them onto their competition robot. They ended up going on to the finals I believe. It didn’t seem fair. I see that team went to GLR this year, I hope they didn’t do the same thing again.

This year, as always, we will be brinning a supply of backup parts, but they are identical to the ones found on our robot and hopefully won’t be needed. That isn’t unfair, it just smart. The only thing we put in our crate was the robot. We even took off the practice signs, & yes we made new ones. The team number is a little bigger on the new ones.

You just have to remember why you are doing this. Winning is great, but if you can teach the kids a good lesson, that is so much better. I don’t think this team you and/or I am talking about is teaching a very good lesson.

As soon as we were told we were in violation of the rules, we removed the practice robot from the building.

This is what I love about the engineering community. Team 830 is part of the solution and not part of the problem!!! We will all make mistakes; it is what we do after our mistakes that defines our character. Thanks for the explanation Donald.

Please see my post here:


Again, I’m sorry.

This same thing happened at St Louis. The fact that this happened at least twice (maybe more?) is a strong indication that FIRST will have to make the prohibitions against this practice absolutely clear and unambiguous. This may be intuitively obvious to some teams, but not others, so here we are…


I’d like to commend Mr. Wright for his full disclosure of what went on with his team’s practice robot at GLR. It takes courage to admit you did something wrong, and not just deny everything flat-out. Thank you for telling us the full story.