The Use Of Practice Robots At Off Season Events

The purpose of practice robots in off season competitions has become a hot topic in the 2012 Texas Robot Roundup thread. It is an interesting topic and deserves some exploration. How have you used your practice robots in the off season? How have you seen them used? How have they benefited you or other teams that you know of?

This is slightly different from the discussions that question the importance of the practice robot but, that is certainly an element of this discussion and is welcome to be explored/discussed, too.


I have seen some teams loan their practice robot to new rookie teams to use during the off-season events. It sounded like a really good idea. The new rookies get to experience driving on a full size field, and the lending team can get practice coaching the rookies on how the robot operates.

As posted in that thread, we have entered 2-3 robots in every offseason event except IRI since 2009.

2009 Fall classic
-Practice bot was shared 50/50 between our new students, and some prerookie students (who were terrified to drive it).

2010 Fall classic
-Practice bot was shared 50/50 between our new students, and two prerookies (one turned out to be 3512). Communication issues limited this to only a handful of matches I believe.

2010 Madtown throwdown
-Practice robot was driven by our new students
-Another practice robot was driven by our new students, and then was Given to team 8 after their robot was unable to run despite the objections of a WRRF volunteer (the people from 1323 running the event were fine with us helping out another team).

2011 Fall Classic
-Practice robot was split 50/50
-Prototype robot was driven by our kids.

2011 Madtown Throwdown
-Practice robot was driven by our kids.

At every one of these events, we gladly would’ve rotated in more pre-rookies if they had been there.

We feel offseason events are a huge bargain, and try to get the most out of them for our new students. Entering multiple robots ensures that EVERY student has to drive, be on pit crew, etc. without sacrificing valuable competition practice time for the dedicated drivers. Even with multiple robots it’s hard to make sure everyone gets some time in.

Most of the time these two events we’ve attended are low in team number, so we’re not denying anyone opportunity (rarely is a full 8 alliance bracket even full). I feel that if capacity is a non-issue, every team should be encouraged to enter multiple robots, even if they aren’t used for prerookies; the driving experience is valuable and fun for the new, less experienced, or just less involved members of every team. It’s cool being able to claim nearly all of our students have driven a competition match.

Adam, THAT’S exactly our sentiments on this… and 16’s Ozark Mountain Brawl is operating to allow this and I’m assuming Cow Town ThrowDown (KC) will do the same when they announce…

The discussions on TRR (Texas Robot Roundup) is paced by the desire to be in a class with IRI, which is a GREAT goal, by adopting the IRI format for NO practice bots NOW?!

I think its a great thing for teams to share practice bots, as Adam has already described. We will be doing the same with our practice bot in the Fall events.

Michael, I think the question you asked here is what confused me “as long as they don’t have an expectation of driving/operating it in matches” and rotating only human players.

If you’re not really willing to give a pre-rookie the full experience by driving/having a pit crew, then I don’t think you’re actually contributing as much to their experience as you could, just your own team’s. It is the offseason, and if a team like 973 is more than willing to help out a team have a great experience then I would expect others to as well, or simply respect the wishes of the event (since I’m assuming in Texas, space is a problem with all those new teams running around). If space is not an issue, I don’t see why a team can’t compete with two robots though.

What Adam said they do by letting teams rotate in and out is a great experience for all. If there are pre-rookies, there is limited space, and you do not wish to let a team operate/work on the practice bot, then I think it would be best to respect the wishes of the event coordinators.

Just my $0.02

We first entered a practice bot at an off-season back in 2001 when “Petunia” was brought to BattleCry at WPI. I think that was also one of the first times a team made it clear they built a second robot to a large population of teams.

Other years if we built a full second robot we would have entered it as well, but in the last few years we swapped parts between our practice bot and real robot using witholdling allowance so we never had 2 functional robots at the same time.

I don’t have a problem with teams bringing as many robots as they like, of whatever design they like (2012, post-2012, 2006, 2012 practice: it doesn’t matter), provided that the event has some way of equitably dealing with whatever capacity limits might exist.

For example, if they want to guarantee 6 matches per team, but adding the extra robots might make that impossible, some of the extra robots need to be on a waitlist instead of taking the place of a real team. (With the waitlist teams given at least a couple weeks’ notice before the event that they’re being added to the event, if registrations don’t fill up.)

The same goes for pre-rookie teams using someone else’s robot, except that they should either be grouped with the existing teams, or at the front of the waitlist (with one robot per pre-rookie).

Also, if the event has subsidized the entry cost for teams (even if that subsidy isn’t clearly stated), that same subsidy shouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed to second entries. If that’s the case, the team should be prepared to pay full price for their extra robots.

So here’s a naive question or two:

If your team fields more than 1 robot, then your team has more than 1 chance of winning, right?

Say teams bring a bunch of robots and start fielding more teams - can’t they basically dominate the event?

Why is that ok? And how does the coaching work?


A common problem at off-seasons is that one team will have to drop out at the last moment when it is too late to pull someone from the wait list, there is no more wait list, or there just isn’t enough registered teams to make a full 24 or 16 robot elimination round. Having an odd number of teams also effects the way matches are evenly played. Most games are hard to win when you are short a robot in your match so it is a problem when you don’t have a proper number of teams.

For instance, at Battlecry team 190 has sometimes provided a basic kitbot named “The Placebo” to used in matches when six robots are not present on the field as long as the alliance who is missing their partner provides a second drive team. I remember in 2009 the robot was used a lot and when one teams cRIO died with no replacement to be found they used the Placebo for the rest of the event. In 2008, 1519 brought their Speed Racer to Battlecry which competed on Friday for teams who did not show up. Later in 2010 BC was short on teams so 1519 used their practice robot dubbed 1915 for the weekend and team 40’s practice robot was used as The Placebo (also used a lot that weekend).

I have seen several veteran teams use their practice robots to train new students/give existing students a chance to be on the drive team as well as offer to pre-rookie teams to compete and both are extremely commendable.

The only time I would have a problem with a team using two robots at an event is if it meant other teams couldn’t compete. Practice/secondary robots should be entered into an event last or after registration closes so to speak.

I would also recommend that if a team has a practice robot, bring it to the event and let the organizers know in case there is a team that doesn’t show up. I remember River Rage 2010 when the hosting team pieced together a robot at the last minute to make up for one team not showing up.

EDIT: Jane, personally I don’t believe teams will show up with multiple robots with the intent of dominating an event. While it is true if you have two extremely capable robots the goal of the program and off-season is preparing new students for 2013. I’d recommend letting secondary robots in last, and the event organizers can determine if they feel a team is acting unfair (though I feel that won’t be the case). Having worked in elimination rounds with an odd number of teams, what is more unfair is going up against another alliance with only one other partner because only 23 teams registered. :frowning:

As for coaching, this is even better with two teams because you can have students leaders step up as “coaches for the day” if you are running low on mentors/coaches or have other coaches step up to the role. Only the team with the two robots will know what they are capable both with student and coaching power.

I’ll use the california events (Calgames and Madtown Throwdown) as an example. At both events, there were twin robots, more so at Madtown, but Calgames had a 254 and a 252 (254 twin). Madtown had several 973s, 2 971s, 2 254s and maybe 2 1323s. There may be more, but I dont remember exactly and dont want to get the info wrong.

Anyways, at these events, it was pretty clear, for example, which 971 was the “real” 971 and which one was the practice robot. It may seem like it would be strategic to pick yourself from 1st seed, but as we saw at madtown, 973 picked 254 instead. Similarly a 254, 971 alliance won the Calgames iirc. Most times, the practice robots are made for practice and aren’t as well tuned as the competition bots. They do what they are designed to do at the competitions and provide “practice” for new drivers.

At times, it felt like some teams were always playing because they had multiple robots entered. In some respects though, I felt like I could easily differentiate the robots even though they were twins. As many people have mentioned, there are basically 2 subteams that drive each one of the robots. I would think it was unfair if a team submits 2 robots, then uses the same drivers for both driveteams… that would be “having one more chance of winning.” As long as these teams dont do that (and they don’t), I would encourage multiple robots from teams.

Something else to consider is that there are schools that have multiple teams from the same school during the FRC season and are allowed to compete

And how does the coaching work?

Once again, someone from a team who has done this can chime in, but what I recall seeing at Calgames last year was 254’s coaches split between the two driveteams. I think EJ was on one side and Travis was on the other. The team in the stands was cheering for both sides and was really supportive of both driveteams. This is a fun picture from the finals

Every time we won, our most competitive robot won.

Especially when we only had 11 students, competing with multiple robots actually made competing much harder and more difficult; everyone was stretched really thin.

Entering more robots that are less capable than the first (often mechanically less capable, in worse shape, driven by lesser/new drivers, etc…) doesn’t really increase chances of winning for our team. The cost of running more robots (especially on batteries) far outweighs the slight numbers advantage.

what’s the legality of building a first spec robot in the off season and entering independent of your team?

Don’t think anyone can answer this question except the people running the offseason event you want to go to. Sorry for not being able to help really… I just think there is no universal answer to what you want to know

Back on 173, we entered our practice robot at a few offseason competitions. It was always used by another team either a pre-rookie or a team that broke or couldn’t transport their original robot.
The instance I remember most was at Bash @ the beach in 2005 when we loaned it to team 1099. Their drivers drove it and I coached them since they had never used the bot. They also did all the fixing/prepping. It so happened that 173 got paired with their practice robot (2nd partners were picked from a hat) in the eliminations.

If one team can bring a bunch of robots to a competition, why don’t they just hold their own competition? As Adam said, when a teams bring multiple bots their either using new drivers or less stable bots, so your chances of winning don’t go up.
The entire reason for bringing multiple robots is to give less experienced members more experience whether its a pre-rookie team or a new student on your team. As long as more students are having fun and gaining experience, I don’t have a problem with it.

Thank you to everyone who is participating in this thread. I think it is helpful.

Another couple of naive questions:

If something breaks on the loaner practice 'bot during the competition or in the hands of the team that is borrowing it - what happens?

Does the team who owns the robot, help with mentoring/repairing/replacing? Does GP work like it would normally, and anyone who can help, helps? If something is broken and can not be repaired or replaced, does the loaner team basically suck it up? No hard feelings because they know what can result from loaning the practice 'bot out?


Probably doesn’t count: In 2007, 1618 (of Columbia SC) loaned their robot to the pre-rookie 2458 for the Brunswick Eruption event (in North Brunswick NJ). 1618 provided some tools and one mentor (me) to supervise.

How it went at SCRIW last year was a little different. 1319 campaigned a “B” entry using the defunct 3371’s robot (they built twins, and the latter disbanded at the end of the school year). 1553 built a robot entirely unlike their in-season entry under the banner of “1554” (apologies to the Oceanside Sailors of Long Island). 2751 picked 1319 and 1554 and won over an alliance that included 3371.

SCRIW’s policy is that full-fare teams go first, then pre-rookies as space allows, then B-teams as space allows. We haven’t had a capacity issue yet, but we’d be more inclined to shoehorn a pre-rookie in than a B-team because we feel it’s important. Nobody’s ever asked to field more than one extra robot, though I think we’d be receptive assuming we had the space and they weren’t just putting flowerpots on the field.

As noted, that’s up to the competition organizers in the offseason. (For the regular season, I can think of a couple of rules that would prohibit this.)

That’s something to be worked out before the event between the teams. I would hope that there’s a massive multi-team mentoring repair group in that pit, though. If something was broken beyond at-event repair, that should also be discussed beforehand; however, if I were on the loaning team, I would call it a “well, at least it didn’t do that to us in eliminations” experience and invite the team the robot was loaned to over for a session of identifying and solving the failure point.

This is the first year that we have a practice bot to bring to an off season competition. If we do, it would be to allow a pre rookie teams to have an experience driving. The practice bot has some short cuts and is not at the same level as the competition bot anyway. Having said that it would be embarrassing to have a prerookie team beat us with the lesser bot, :slight_smile:

In terms of breakage. Short of intentional damage, we would accept the risks of putting the robot on the field includes the possibility of damage. Small risk really. The electronics are hard to break. The mechanical is very fixable. Nothing we have not made before.

228’s Practice robots has been used different ways.

At Bash at the Beach in the fall it has been used by pre-rookie teams to get excited for their upcoming rookie season. Our team’s students have acted as pit crew, and drive coach in the matches. We handle repairs, maintenance between matches, and other issues with the pre-rookie students to get them used to the routine at a competition including the occasional emergency repair between matches.

At Where Is Wolcott Invitational which we co-host with our sister team 1071 Max, we have also loaned out in the early years to pre-rookie teams, but now that the event is reaching full capacity regularly that probably will not happen much. Pre-rookie drive teams would probably just be rotated in with our own students. This year, our practice robot will be taking over the role usually filled by team 230’s practice robot, that of being team 666 “The Tormentors”. This fictitious team has been used as a fill in or placebo robot for no-show teams and driven by volunteer mentors, but this year we hope to use it during the lunch break as a fundraiser for CT FLL programs. Mentors from teams can pay a fee to compete against their own students and their robot for bragging rights. This should be fun!

Also, the last unexpected sighting of 228’s practice robot this year may be at Battlecry filling in for team 195’s still AWOL robot, if Fedex can’t get their robot home by this Friday. I’m sure our friends would much rather compete with their own machine, but not competing isn’t an option. I still think Fedex will come through.

Yes, if Gus is loaning out their practice robot, we try to always help with repairs and upkeep. Afterall, we willingly loaned it out. Why would we expect a pre-rookie or other team to repair our robot? We usually have spare parts and plenty of COTS parts to keep it running for this type of off-season use.

Yes, GP still flourishes at the off-season events we have attended. Other teams are usually more than willing to help with repairs or spare parts if the practice robot needs help. Especially where pre-rookie teams are involved. It’s great for them to experience an emergency repair, but it won’t leave them excited to compete, if their first taste of competition is to just sit there because we can’t keep them in the game.

There are certainly useful and helpful ways to employ a practice robot at off-season events. Just use some GP!

I will announce the Brawl’s official policy on practice robots here after meeting with the planning committee Friday. We want to have a full 24 team event and it is not likely we will have that many unique teams (close, but not quite). So we should allow teams to run practice robots as another “team” to make 24.