The Unnoficial Constitution - A Real Inspiration

This is an e-mail I sent to my team that turned out so good I thought I’d post it here. Just to fill you in, our last year’s robot name was Heather and this year we will not be able to attend mroe than one event. Last year we attended two.

Also, I don’t mean to put down any rookies in this posting. I believe all rookies are incredible teams who can accomplish incredible teams.

It is probable that you will find mroe than a few spotlight worthy phrases or sentences in the following. :wink:

Well, without further adieu, here is the message.

Hey everyone,

This only took me a little over five minutes to read including corrections so it’s not that long. Read it in a commercial break if you absolutely must.

I’ve drafted my own sort of Unnoficail constitution part two. I thought of naming it Past Problems, or Best Practices but I didn’t think those names did it justice. This should be accepted as my proposed part of the constitution. I appologize in advance for this message being very unorganized. I do not appologize for the length because every word here means something to me and it should to you too. I’ve spent hours thinking about this and a couple more writing it so read it and appreciate it. I don’t write this for me, I write it for you.


I don’t want this message to detract from your focus on the other one but I’ve been thininking a lot about robotics recently and I wanted to e-mail this before I forgot it all. And, I do want you to take the time to read it and understand it.

First off, I watched the special on the Discovery Science channel tonight and it was amazing. The quality and level of competition of some of the teams (254 Cheesy Poofs in particular) was very inspiring. If you missed it, it will be on again tomorrow (saturday) at 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM. If you don’t get that channel, I will have it on vhs for us all to watch at a later date.

Anyway, I got to thinking back at a lot of things - our robots, our team, our matches, and our pit time. Clark Kent was an amazing machine, especially for a rookie team. It was robust and simple and well suited for the compeitition of that year. It performed very well and was a fine work of engineering talent. In 2002, robotics had their own tools and students did a lot of the work. The robot worked well, and was quite simple, but was intended to do a lot more than it actually did. The way it came out was below most people’s expectations of what it was going to be. It was great at the time but looking back at it it really wasn’t much. This past year’s Heather was a marvel, she performed outstandingly well and gave and took some very hard hit and kept on motoring through. However, here are the problems I see looking back on it:

>>Here comes the important part of this e-mail

The machine from point one was in a state of “barely gets the job done” Heather was not a whole lot more than a bunch of good luck covering up some bad engineering on the inside. The drivetrian was better than ever before. It was still horrible. But it worked, and we accepted it as good. If we had to do it over, it would be considerably different and better planned out. The arms were simple, in this case too simple. They were too fast and not powerful enough. They should have had a gear reduction. The suction cups were extremely well engineered but very poorly tested.

See, you could look at your robot the way it is, and think it is absolutely great. However, you should look at your robot the way it can be and think it sucks in it’s current form. That, is what builds great machines.

What is Heather anyway, a few pieces of extrusion, some motors, some chains. A bunch of wires and some electrical components. Throw in a couple wheels axles and sprockets. If we had to build that exact robot over again the same way right now. It would take us 4 days, not 4 weeks.


It is all the talking and debating and mainly uncertainty that make it take so long. I think a realistic goal would be to have a complete robot by week four. Everything complete and awaiting adjustments, tuning, and programming time. I mean completely done. It does not take 6 weeks to build this thing. We all need to have a good understanding of the decision making process and stick to it. Before anything is built, it needs to be planned out. Inventor drawings, many of them. The robot should be a virtual model with any dimension and clearance available by the end of week one. Every fastener size and placement will be known.

We can do better with the time we have. There is no reason that a CMR robot should not look like it rolled right off a showroom floor. Not just clean, but designed properly and built correctly.

Clark Magnet Robotics is a fourth year veteran team. There is no reason we cannot produce professional grade work. We need to have an understanding for a set of procedures and practices to be follwed when building a robot.

We have been in FIRST long enough. We have survived our “three rookie years” Our fourth year needs to be pure veteran.

Since we will not have two regionals to show off our performance, we will need to show off our performace and engineering quality in only one event. That is why it has got to be good.


No more “hold it up and mark it” No cardbord templates for production parts. No drilling through multiple pieces at once. No using whatever fastener is available. No measuring by eyeball (unless unpractical to measure precisely). No, “just cut a piece of angle” to mount things. No filing to make parts fit. No adjustments to make things work right. No spacers to make things fit right.

Measurements will be taken with calipers, not tape measures. Every part will have a tolerance. Nothing will be “about 7 inches” it will be 7.000 in. Everything will fight correctly in the drawings, and when it is assembled. No gaps, no spaces, no tight fitting parts.

We have done terribly SHOTTY work in the past and I’m not for that this year. We use mills and lathes, not hack saws and files. Hack saws are for hack work, the kind we don’t do. If any work shall be done using standard tools, it shall be cleaned up and brought to specification on precision machining equipment.

I understand that many tasks can be more easily accomplished with the tools on hand because it will work just the same. But the bottom line is, in the end if it doesn’t look good and it doesn’t fit good, it will not work good.

From now on we need to step it up a notch, or three. We are a veteran team. There is no reason to be doing rookie work. The quality of our team ultimately reflects in our machine, and that is why it needs to be of top quality itself.

Everything is to be finished early, to allow more than sufficient time for programming testing and theme-ing. Nobody remembers a plain metal robot. Every part that can be is to be polished, powder coated, anodized, or properly painted with correct procedure and product. Team numbers must be new and highly visible, none of the beat up ones from years past. The robot must have a coolness factor as well in case is performace is not up to par for whatever reason.

This year we will not get the chance to show our stuff twice. It will be only once, so we better make it good.

Now, this extra effort in the machine will undoubtedly take some time. That is why we need to get started sooner, and spend lees time talking and more time working. Everything needs to be decided up front and final so there is no need for configuration meetings in the middle of work time. Real engineers don’t design while building, they design, then build. We shall do the same. Now, nothing will get built without an approved design. No design will get approved after it is already built so don’t try. The designing and deciding process will go with consice input from the designer and deciding parties and be decided uppon quickly, correctly, and finally. Decisions should not impede the work flow, nore should theybe made in such a haste that a design is not complete and integrated.

Every part of the robot will be integrated with every other part of the robot before any part of the robot is built. This will need to happen quickly but effectively. This way, all the remaining time will be spent following the plan and building the production quality machine.


What I am proposing here is basically more work, in less time. We need to raise the bar. We are better than what we have been in years past. All we need to do to accomplish this is for everyone to make these two words part of their every action Do Better. Let’s do things correctly and come up with a quality machine that get us the kind of quality performance and quality attention we want.

Now, If all that wasn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is. Maybe I’ll show you the video and then you’ll understand what I’m feeling. We all fundraise dollars and dollars into this machine and feel a sense of ownership toward it. Make the machine make you feel proud!

WOW! So did you guys loose a sponsor or what? Have you decided what regional your going to attend, or are you qualified for the nats?

I have the same feeling, that if we have access to mills and lathes, we shoul use them. So if you don’t know how, now is a good time to learn. We are a 5th year veteren team, and this year im hoping to have a functioning, pretty robot.

Nice work,

We lost a $2500 sponsor (our school) and a $3500 bus to Phoenix. We haven’t yet re-established another $2500 sponsor that we had last year. We spent our budget very close to the “zero left” mark with last year’s two regional excursion.

Most likely, we will be attending the LA regional only along with the SCRRF events.

We do not qualify for nationals based on performance or awards or anything like that. Even if we did, like winning a regional this coming year, we would not have the money to attend.

It’s sad, we are now a fourth year team and have attended only one different regional once and nationals never.

Our team is only 18 students so we don’t get a lot of money too fast. The biggest sponsor we’ve ever had besides the NASA grant was $2500. Our largest current sponsors are two different groups each giving $1000 for this new year. That’s about it.

Do you realize that with a measily $5 million dollars from some large corporation or the government, every FIRST team’s registration could be cut in half for two years.

Anyway, I got kind of off topic here. What does everyone else think of my post above?

There’s no reason to build the entire robot by Week 4. Half the excitement of FIRST is putting the finishing touches on the robot 2 minutes before shipping. Spend every minute you have wisely—no robot is perfect. Everything can be improved.

Hey, were gonna be 10 year veterans this year, and we dont produce anything that looks super cool, or is finished 2 weeks early. We still manage to have a lot of fun and make a good robot. FIRST is really only like 20% about the robot you build. Some teams have the time and manpower and money to powdercoat, anodize, etc, etc. Does that make them a better team than everyone else? No. On the otherside, it does make them more visible to other teams, and like you said, hardly anyone remembers a really plain robot. Doesnt everyone try to make their robot look good? If we could be done in 4 weeks, believe me, we would be done. 4 weeks is a little extreme though since it does take at least 2 weeks to fully plan out everything, and if you are going to, do everything in CAD. This still leaves you with 3 weeks to build the bot, and hopefully a week to test, which works out well if you can actually follow that plan. Unfortunately we hardly can.


I think i will show the part about not bootlegging everyhting to my team. We need like a GIANT poster of it. Everything you mentioned not to do, we did last year. But then again, we built our robot almost entirely in the last 2 weeks, because we didn’t get our frame back from the welder until then.

It sounds like you have great dreams and ideas for your team. That is great. The key is to help make the ideas your teams ideas, not just yours.

The past 2 years we have done a post season review of our robot. We talk about the decisions that were made, the designs chosen and not chosen, what worked well, what could have been better. We also talk about other teams robots and how they worked, especially if the other team used an idea that we considered. After this evaluation, we then look at what changes can be made to improve this time around.

I agree with the statement that part of the excitement of the program is the last minute finishing. That adds to the excitement and increases the ownership and personal investment in the robot.

And, on a final note, you are automatically qualified for Nationals in 2004 - because you are an even numbered team. Work hard to come up with some more $$ to try and get there.

Good Luck -