stupid rookie questions. need definitions

Hey Im from a rookie team in san francisco. Im head of electronics and itd be nice to know what all these are. In simple terms!! Dont say “The Digital Sidecar is a breakout module that is designed to adapt a single cRIO 9403 32-channel digital I/O module blah blah blah” Thanks!

Digital Sidecar
Is it in any way wired to the speed controllers or the cRio, or does it only recieve and emit signals to those?
What does I/O mean? input/output?
What is a breakout module?
What is a compression? (if it has to do with pneumatics then idc)
Should I find out what the converter and d-link does or is it enough to just know wire the converter to the pd board and the router to the converter?
How do solenoids connect to the rest of the circuit and what is their role?
Any other really basic explanations on how stuff connects would be useful

I like to think of the digital sidecar and the breakout modules as converter cables. They take the multi-pin serial connector on the cRIO, and convert it into something that you can easily plug your own devices into. There are three types:

  • The analog breakout is used to connect analog sensors like gyros and Potentiometers to the cRIO, and connects directly to the analog module
  • The digital sidecar is used for a number of things, including sending signals to your speed controllers from the cRIO, taking input from digital sensors, operating the robot signal light, and controlling spike relays. The digital sidecar connects using the 37 pin ribbon cable
  • The solenoid breakout is used to control pneumatic solenoids, using a 2 wire output. It connects directly to the solenoid module, much like the analog breakout.

Remember though, each breakout and sidecar needs its own power supply from the power distribution board.

I/O is input and output. The I/O ports on the sidecar can be used for digital inputs, like switches, or for small digital outputs, like lights. Larger digital outputs are best done using a relay.

Do you mean the compressor? If so, yes, it’s used to refill the pneumatic system. Electrically speaking, it is connected to a Spike relay, which in turn is driven by a signal from the digital sidecar.

The D-link will be used for wireless communication between the Operator Interface and your robot during operation, allowing you to drive it. The converter ensures that the D-link receives the correct voltage.

Solenoids are connected through the solenoid breakout, or using relays. They are used to control pneumatic cylinders.

A lot of useful information on these parts can be found here.

I’m really glad your team found this forum…We didn’t find it till half way through our second year.

[Check out this link and carefully follow the directions…it will help a lot!]( up your robot)

This one id also helpful

The sidecar is a breakout board for the cRio…It is a place to plug all the other stuff in.

IO means input/output…comes in two flavors…digital and analog…analog is 0-5 volts…digital is on or off…

The breakout modules are board that plug into the cRio…

The compressor is for pneumatics…It is a pump that pushes air into your pneumatic system.

The converter takes the 12 volt output from your battery and makes it into 5 volts that the dlink needs…

the solenoids are valves…They decide when air gets sent to your pistons…
You connect the two little wires from the solenoids to a “spike relay” which is really just a switch, or a pneumatics breakout. which plugs directly into the cRio.

If I might make a suggestion…Have your mentors call FIRST to see if there is a local team that can mentor you guys. Rookie year is hard.


I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. The proper person “at FIRST” is the Senior Mentor or Regional Director for your area. (From the link later in this post, there’s a link in the paragraph above the colorful bar to get you to the RD contact info.)

  2. Knowing that there currently isn’t really a veteran team in the immediate vicinity, you have a couple of options:
    2a) There is a veteran team in Rohnert Park (about an hour to an hour and a half north, for those that are unfamiliar with CA geography).
    2b) There are a fair number of veteran teams in the San Jose area (about the same distance south if I recall correctly). Teams like 254 (one of the three defending World Champions) and 1868 are down that way.

  3. You could also use by selecting Teams for Rebound Rumble in the FRC box and searching in California. A city search ought to give you some idea of the closest team; if their number is under 3900, then they have at least one year of experience.

  4. You can always ask for help right here on Chief Delphi. You might get more than you asked for, but that should be perfectly fine with you guys, right?

I didnt understand some of what you guys said

@joe what are gyros and potentiometers?
do we still need the solenoid breakout if we arent using pneumatics?

what are the differences between breakout modules and digital sidecars?

@eric h we already have a mentor from ronhert park but we wasnt in the electronic dept and i need a little more help

Thanks so much for all your help!!

also, what is an analog module?

There are 3 modules that plug into the cRIO. Each requires a breakout board to adapt between the many-pin connector on the module and the things that you want to connect to the module.

  • Analog Input Module (NI 9201): required; breakout board is a small circuit board that plugs directly into the module; for taking inputs from analog sensors (where the signal varies from zero to five volts)

  • Digital I/O Module (NI 9403): required; breakout board is the Digital Sidecar; outputs PWM signals, for controlling speed controllers, as well as a simple on/off signal for controlling relays (like a Spike) and takes inputs from digital sensors (where the signal is either on or off).

  • Solenoid Module (NI 9472): only needed if using pneumatics; breakout board is a small circuit board that plugs directly into the module


A potentiometer (or pot) is a variable resistor which can be used to give a analog signal based upon the position of the knob. The knob on a stereo is a potentiometer.
A gyroscope (or gyro) is a type of sensor that gives a signal that changes with rotation. Most gryros give an analog signal, but some can also give a digital signal. For example, a Wiimote uses gyros and accelerometers (a sensor that measures acceleration) to track its movement.

I’m pretty sure this is the link eedoga meant for his first link, it and the other he provided are both very useful and here is the official technical resources page for the 2012 control system.

this has almost everything you will need and more…it along with the part specs on the first website were a great help for my team (thank you team 358)

The digital sidecar is the blue plastic board

that you connect to the digital I/O (input/output) module in the cRio, using the big cable that has 37 pin connectors on both ends. The digital sidecar is used to connect some types of sensors (like limit switches), motor speed controllers (like the Jaguars), and relays (like the Spikes) to the cRio so it can “talk” to the parts of your robot. The cRio is the robot’s “brain”, and the wiring is kind of the “nerves” that connect to it.

The analog and pneumatic bumpers are the little modules that plug into the analog and pneumatic cRio modules, they look like this, but they say right on them “analog” or “pneumatic”

Compression is a word used for several things, if you tell us the context where it’s used, we could help you understand what it means.

Pneumatic systems use compressed air to do stuff. The pneumatic solenoid valves are used to control air flow, so you can make it do what you want, when you want it. So if you plan to use pneumatics to move something on your robot, you need a solenoid valve for each thing you want to control.

Hey, I’m from Team 3013 in Vallejo, CA. If your team ever needs any help don’t hesitate to come down. We have 4 years of experience and would have no problem helping out.
For contact information email [email protected], one of our mentors.

Thanks everyone! I think i understand now. @alex thanks for the offer, i will ask my team about how many would be willing to drive down to vallejo. how many people are on your team? how many would be willing to help out? i assume you guys are also participating this year?

Please ask any question. You can contact me direct through PM if you wish. I know there is a lot of info to get through. Please take some time to pick through the FIRST website. I suggest you download any info you find there, and that is a lot.
One additional thing, the digital sidecar is connected to the digital module in the Crio via a 37 pin connector. It is the DB37 extension cable shown on page 15 of the KOP document.

One additional additional thing: the cable may be assembled incorrectly and require rework.

thanks but i havent even started assmebling yet just planning out the space

The cable reassembly is kind of important to get to if it’s needed; without it, the Sidecar won’t work properly (and at a Kitbot Build Day, I seem to remember a minimum of 4/6 and more like 6/6 were assembled wrong).

We have around 20 members and we would all be willing to help out where needed.

2 kit bot build days, 20 teams, 100% of the DB37 cables were wrong. Be sure to follow the instructions in EricH’s post except you should swap the female end of the cable, not the male (less chance of damage).

The choice of which end to swap is irrelevant to whether the finished cable will function, but it would be nice to keep the red stripe indicating Pin 1.

Especially for us old guys who used to play inside computers, back in the prehistoric days when they used parallel disk drive interfaces.

The reason I suggest swapping the female end is that it holds up better when compressing the connector in a vice. The shield around the male end wants to crush during the compression.

Although I do agree with your statement that it doesn’t affect functionality.