[Split Thread] Inspection Culture & Applied Rules

It seems clear that the vast majority of RIs and LRIs already take this view, and I’ve seen more than enough evidence of that in the few competitions I’ve been to. When we show up with an explicit rule violation, they’ve been extremely helpful doing whatever it takes to get us on the field. It’s amazing and we love it.

This thread is about the small minority who are using their own interpretations of certain subjective rules to force you to change things that seem perfectly legal otherwise. Basically they’re taking their own gut reaction (“oh, I don’t like that”) and saying, “I don’t know what rule that violates, but I don’t care, I’ll find one!”

Some armed services have an offense called Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman or just shortened to “Conduct unbecoming”. The idea is that the military has all these rules, but just in case you avoid breaking any rules, but you do something the people in authority don’t like, they always have this catch-all rule they can use to nail you for a very subjective offense. As a low ranking officer you can never rest easy just because you haven’t broken any rules… you must also bend over backwards to please those higher in the chain because you can’t take the chance of offending them.

Subjective rules create an enormous power differential. That’s why RIs tell us, “teams really seem to love hearing all my suggestions about how to make their robot better. They even said ‘yes’ when I asked if I could eat some of their snacks because they were so grateful.” Of course they do! Just like everyone’s polite to a border agent because we all know they have a little room in the back of that building and a box full of latex gloves!

Just to reiterate some good ideas:

  1. Get rid of all subjective rules
  2. RIs only do inspection to the rules, keep bright yellow outfit
  3. Add a new group of volunteer mentors who help get you on the field, but give them bright red superhero capes

You can provide telephone booths where RIs can change into their super-hero outfits if you want.

I hope this was intended to be sarcasm.

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Of course! I would be happy to! I was intending to do so already. Would it be better to include it in this thread for continuity or should I start a whole new thread titled “Dear LRIs/Ris” to reach a broader audience and potentially reach any LRIs/RIs on CD that have possibly given up on trying to keep up with this lengthy thread?


New thread, and post a link here, would be my suggestion.


Agreed, and my rationale is simply visibility. Those who have chosen not to engage with this thread’s 369 posts (very wisely, I might add) would miss it.

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My thoughts exactly but I didn’t want to derail the conversation here in this thread if it was preferred to stay here in line. I have created a new thread here:


You are putting words in my mouth, I didn’t make any of my comments based on what team you are with, I hadn’t looked it up, as it makes no difference to me, or the point I was making.

Seems like you do understand at least some of the benefits of inspection being divorced from practice time at District events. Because that is what happens, the teams send their robot and a handful of people that are needed to get the robot through inspection. There was a definite noticeable change in the levels of team stress associated with inspections when we made the switch.

By divorcing inspection time from practice time the vast majority of teams are ready for their scheduled practice time. I do fully understand the benefit of a full set of robots on an actual field and how the filler line system works in regionals as I’ve been participating since before the PNW district was formed.

I can’t say about your area but in mine if you see a pit of a struggling team filled with members of other teams huddled around the robot it is highly likely that an RI or LRI started that ball rolling. Yes for many of those problems the high resource/top tier teams are the go to teams. I’ve been there multiple times when a team shows up with 2 or 3 students a bunch of parts, some of them that may have been partially assembled and no adult. The only way I’m able to get teams like that through inspection in time for their first match is with the help of a number of the teams at the event. (And I do that not just for the team’s experience, but for the experience of their alliance members) The RI’s involvement is usually things like checking off some inspection items as they are completed and coordinating the timing of the helpers. And yes I’ve sent teams to the field and told them I’d meet them fieldside with their sticker. That is simply part of the RI or LRI’s job.

As I said previously the problem with letting teams opt in to such a thing means that it is highly likely that there will be teams that could benefit from help that won’t opt in for one reason or another. (Stubbornness, viewing inspectors as adversaries, they don’t know what they don’t know)

Again you are trying to put words in my mouth, I never said the majority of teams need RIs to be competitive or pass inspection. I said that the majority of teams could benefit from things like unsolicited advice and ice breaking idle chit chat.

I don’t have the time to find and quote the exact comments but Eric H seems to have read some of the same things I have.

I’m not sure what your point is about having a half decade more experience in FRC, while FRC experience does matter, so do other life experiences. I’ve got lots of skills gained outside of FIRST that I regularly use in aspects of FIRST. One of those that I have to use far too often is making lemonade.

I do appreciate that you do listen to advice from RIs and thoughtfully consider it. Many in this thread have implied that every thing an inspector says that isn’t about checking a box goes in one ear and out the other.

I also agree that there are lots of problems with RIs and maybe even some LRIs who are not making a perfectly clear distinction between a suggestion that could help a team and something that isn’t compliant with the inspection check list. I personally make those suggestions after I have checked the box in question and make it very clear that it is a suggestion I think could help them but it is not a compliance issue.

I prefer to do it this way rather than lump it all together at the end for a couple of reasons. #1 I’m old and I don’t want to leave out something important, and I don’t want to waste time making a note so I don’t miss something and #2 I think it is more effective for the team to hear it while we are talking about that particular item. #3 a small snipet with time to sink it is usually better than a larger number of comments all at once.

Way to mock the hat. I don’t see how this adds to the discussion or furthers correcting the problems that teams are experiencing. In fact if anything it serves to further the divide and is exactly the kind of post that keeps many from becoming active participants on CD

But hey if you are going to throw lemons my way I’m going to make some lemonade.

The original intention of the Yellow and Orange hats was to make it easier for teams to find someone that could answer a robot question, provide help or know who to find to provide the needed help or correct answer. They are called out by hats, particularly neon colors to make it so teams can find that help quickly even in a crowd because FIRST knows that when an RI or CSA is needed time is often of the essence.

The secondary benefit is that it is a subtle reminder to the wearer (with a little help from the LRI) that the hat comes with responsibility. Every time they fiddle with it they should remember that by wearing that hat they are there to help teams get that sticker, not try to prevent it. By putting on that hat there will be some students that view them as role models and as such they should act accordingly.

No one said that you are out of touch because you are on CD. I said that many people on CD are out of touch with the big picture.

Jokes at the expense of teams is something that has been brought up in this thread repeatedly, but apparently jokes at the expense of an RI or LRI like the Skinner Meme are acceptable on CD. Yet another example of a post that keeps some people from becoming active participants on CD.

I still go through the pits at each event I’m at, no matter what my “official” role may be at an event, and do my best to talk to some students and mentors from every team. Ask them how their season went so far, what struggles they had and what can be done to make things better. YES I have heard complaints about the inspection process or a specific inspector, and they do mirror some of the things posted here, but they are far and few between and far from being universal as is portrayed by many people here. Let me be clear a single instance of many of the things mentioned here is one too many.

I disagree.

Making someone come back later, try to remember the comments they had about that particular robot and hope that the same people are in the pits and remember that you actually have looked over their robot in more detail is bad enough. The inspector at least has looked closely at the robot, teams aren’t going to want another person poking around their robot who’s sole purpose is to tell them what they are doing wrong.

That would make a much more adversarial interaction and much less useful than it would be if done wearing the yellow hat, in line with the particular line items of the inspection.

I for one can confirm I’ve heard those and similar statements when I’ve attended LRI trainings and I do take those words to heart.

I can say I’ve done many of those same things, some many times, and I know other RIs and LRIs have their own similar stories.

Very well put and I hope everyone takes this to heart and takes advantage of this excellent opportunity to reset the culture.


Ha, no, but it was certainly an oversimplification of my earlier post. Let me clear that up…

As I said earlier, I understand the need for subjective catch-all rules. However, I think FIRST should aim to invoke subjective rules as little as possible, and FIRST could commit to this by a small process change:

  1. Usage of a subjective rule (i.e. “can’t be dangerous”) should automatically be escalated to an LRI (I suspect this usually happens, but there are stories here where it clearly hasn’t)
  2. If the LRI decides the robot is in violation of a subjective rule, the circumstances should be documented and forwarded to the rules committee (I assume there is such a thing)
  3. The rules committee should review these cases between seasons and update evergreen rules as needed to make the situation in question explicit so it doesn’t happen again

Honestly I think the explicit rules we have would catch almost any real danger I can think of, but I do have one obvious example which seems to come up here over and over: protecting the battery. RIs always seem to have their own interpretation on how much protection is enough for the battery. The original thread was kicked off by just such a question. As I said in a previous comment, it happened to our team in 2019. It seems to me the simple solution is to require some kind of battery box so everyone could just relax about it. Include one in the rookie KoP and sell them through vendors.

That’s what I mean when I say “get rid of all subjective rules.” It means slowly but consistently, over time, through a process of refining the explicit rules, but with a dedication to actually making it happen.


I assumed that a concise statement would be preferable to a lengthy anecdote from my long career as an electrical/computer engineer about the perils of ignoring even the most seemingly misguided design feedback from ANY quarter. You seem to have fixated on the arbitrary source of the quote rather than its meaning or its helpful intention.

That is so meta…

Best of luck to all teams!

Naturally, for electrical safety, we would want this battery box to be non-conductive. So, hear me out here: what if the battery had some sort of plastic case with just a pair of connectors exiting it?


Herein lies the disconnect between what you’re saying and what I’m saying. A robot advisor would have nothing to do with line items of the inspection–that’s what inspection is for.

Frayed wires sticking out of your weidmuller connectors? Probably bad, but legal.
Main bus vulnerable to game piece on/offage? Probably bad, but legal.
Battery wires way too long? Probably bad, but legal.

There’s a very finite list of things that will make a robot non-compliant with the rules, and a near-infinite list of things that will make a robot not as good as it could be but totally legal. The difference in these lists is that one prevents a robot from playing at all and the other does not.

Make the advisor optional–“hey, can I take a look at your robot?”–and utterly disconnected from the play/no-play approval process, and I think you’ll find the teams who typically need that kind of help more than happy to have them look around at their robot.


There is a inherit problem with the disconnection of the process.

How is that RSA going to notice those frayed wires. Sure they may have a robot where that is out in the open, on a cart where the robot isn’t on the floor, and not have a canopy blocking the house lighting. However for that team with the robot on the floor, a canopy making it very dark in the pit and that frayed wire buried the RSA is going to have to take a knee, get out their flashlight and start poking around in the robot.

Just because their hat isn’t yellow, doesn’t mean that someone will welcome yet another person poking around deep in their robot.

Meanwhile the person who is required to poke around in the robot will see a problem like that as part of the process and only take an additional 30 sec, while their flashlight is on the item in question to point out those frayed wires while they are on the wire gauge line item check.

Mentors could train the students to know the RSA is there to help, but it would be just as easy to teach them that the RI is there to help.

As CZB noted we have an incredible opportunity to reset the inspection culture. So lets take advantage of that and promote the fact that the people in the Yellow hats are there to help rather than add a position, the training needed for that volunteer and someone to police those RSAs so they also don’t become viewed as the bad guy.

Then there is the whole access thing. The teams are waiting in the pits with their robot for the RI and often don’t have anything to do until they get that golden ticket. The RSA would have to hope to show up when the robot is in the pit, relevant team members are present and they are not busy. This creates another area of inequality because some teams would miss out because they are not present any time the RSA is making their rounds.

Contrary to what has been posted here many teams are quite happy to hear the RIs suggestions like you mentioned and would be happier with it adding a couple of minutes to their inspection vs someone spending 5 min to look everything over.

Some of these statements are more inflammatory than others, but I would be okay with an inspector saying any of these things AFTER placing and signing the sticker on the robot.


I just want to get on the field. Having an inspector insinuate that a part of our robot is completely within the rules but they wouldn’t do it on their team so that “feeling” is going to make it difficult for them to pass us is frustrating.

Yes, inspectors are supposed to feel like they are a part of that team. But if they don’t understand a team’s culture, they can’t just assume they can bring their personal team’s culture into the conversation.

Some teams take design risks. Some teams don’t.


I just don’t get the sentiment of accepting the advice ONLY after the team has received their “Golden Ticket”.

For those teams where every second spent in the filler line is precious the RI has lost their attention the second they say you are good to go, and it is completely gone by the time the sticker hits the robot.

Even if you could convince the team that you were about to give them a helpful suggestion it would now ad more time to go back and point out the exact issue than it would have if it was done at the time it was noticed and the students were hopefully focused on what the RI was doing.

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And sometimes they still don’t want input :sob:

I have never worn the orange hat and still meet teams like that sometimes…

And that’s perfectly fine for those teams. Those teams clearly have different priorities and that’s ok. The teams that do value the input from the RI will hear it.

Providing advice to teams after the inspection sticker has been received takes a ton of pressure off the team, and eliminates the possibility that the team will take the “advice” as something they’re required to do to pass inspection.


The reason I’d like informal feedback after the sticker rather than before is because folks tend to think everything involved in the inspection process is Official Business, and if they Do Not Comply, then they Do Not Compete.
It took me a decade of competing before I stopped flop-sweating when a yellow hat entered our pit.


Exactly. “You passed, here’s your sticker, I have some additional thoughts if you are interested” What could be simpler?


I would like to point out that the filler line keeps getting brought up as a reason teams want their sticker quick.

In districts, we rarely see the practice field. We get our one practice match on Day 1, but on load in night we’ve rarely seen a practice field. Again, usually reserved for a lucky few who can make it through the inspection process and if the field is setup. Its happened to us maybe 3-5 times since 2014.

To be honest, I usually just want my sticker so we can go home.

Nothing has been worse than sitting around waiting to get inspected or being in the middle of inspection and the 10pm curfew hits and you need to roll out.

I’d rather have gone home and given our kids some extra rest than be sitting around waiting. Its part of being on pit crew, but it does stink when you can’t get that done.