TI and future Jaguars

My wife was strolling through the FIRST website this morning, when she found this:

http://www.usfirst.org/uploadedFiles/Robotics_Programs/FRC/Game_and_Season__Info/2012_Assets/RequestforProposal-Jaguar.pdf

I’m not sure what to make of it. It looks like a several year commitment to the Jaguar, but it also looks like Texas Instruments is going to punt :confused:

– Len

From what i saw it just looked like a two year commitment but i really just skimmed through it. My team personally likes to use jags so i dont have a problem with them being more available. By the way congratulations for winning the RCA in Vegas it was a really fun regional.

Thank you very much! We had a great time, and we are proud of our students.

We exclusively use jaguars, now, so we are all for Improving their function, quality and availability.

– Len

Page 6 of 11:
“TI is donating all aspects of the Jaguar product (rights, design, firmware, etc.) to FIRST for continued use in and management by FRC. Furthermore, TI has committed to working with FIRST and partners to transition the product effectively and efficiently. This RFP solicits support from outside organizations for help with hardware, firmware, and software support, manufacturing, sales, warranty, and FRC and community technical support.”

Well this document is signed by the KOP team members, procurement and a Director, but not TI. The KOP team members would have to sign off.

I know because:

On 3/29/2012 I sent a request to FIRST to discuss the requirements to create an approved electronic speed control including the relevant costs and timelines. The request was directed to KOP at FIRST corporate request. I had considered manufacturing a CAN enabled electronic speed control with community input as to it’s design and wanted to get an idea of the obstacles.

Further, interesting because I’ve had several private conversation regarding the limitations of even addressing firmware issues with relation to the Jaguar. I am neither surprised by what appears to be TI’s decision to hand this to FIRST or by the fact that at the core of the issue now becomes who is going to handle the relevant details.

I guess what is confusing me a little about this RFP, is that it looks like FIRST is not soliciting a contract manufacturer, but a full-service company to completely take over all development and support of hardware and software. TI chips are to be retained, as is the Jaguar name.

What I am missing, is why this isn’t a more open-ended solicitation, where applicants could propose totally new designs that meet the requirements. It reads as though they want an improved Jaguar, in a Jaguar package. Whoever wins this will be responsible for support of the new Jaguars. Will they also be responsible for supporting the tan and black Jaguars? That could be quite a burden for a small company.

If I were to change or add features to the current model (one part of the proposal), I would probably focus on software features to add more configurable parameters for the PID controls. For the hardware, I would add a pair of 7-segment LED’s to the current single multicolor LED, to indicate CAN address, error states, or operation mode. As an educationally focused motor controller, this would be a valuable addition for troubleshooting. I think the cost of adding this could easily be offset in reduced support calls for ambiguously blinking LED’s.

– Len

I would add a diode to the control board, so reversing input power wouldn’t fry the jaguar. It’s a cheap and effective fix to a problem that has cost many teams hundreds of dollars.

Ooh, and how about the ability for one Jaguar’s PID to slave itself to another. Because we often use two motors on one shaft and one encoder.

I agree, an open opportunity to make a new motor controller could really benefit teams, which would further FIRST’s goals.

Actually it appears to be plural or singular. So either a single company to do the whole thing or several companies each accepting a part of the greater project. See page 3 of 11, the section RFP Component Responses, the first paragraph.

What I am missing, is why this isn’t a more open-ended solicitation, where applicants could propose totally new designs that meet the requirements. It reads as though they want an improved Jaguar, in a Jaguar package.

Well if you think about it you’ve got (now less than) 30 days to respond or you are cut out (page 7 of 11, top, due May 11, 2012…page 3 of 11, see sentence with e-mail address to send response to) I’ve already tried to call FIRST on this matter and gotten no response at all (very disheartening). Even if I wanted to propose something no communications means it won’t happen.

If you are a company who manufactures power electronics, and you follow these forums, when you do your due diligence do you think you will submit a proposal within 30 days? Basically you’re taking the risk that you’ll be asked to accept production volume on a product you don’t get to design at all (page 7 of 11, the section Specifications, the second sentence…the only requirement they want separate is coating the boards, see item M…and they need that because of SWARF!). A product that you’ll have to produce in quantity in possibly short order from documents that have typographical errors in them (let’s just assume that the images on the pages can be reversed and scaled to Gerber). Never mind that I can’t even tell if you will inherit all the injection molds (and that’s not cheap tooling) (see page 9 of 11, the section Available Project Resources, item C).

If the request is for me to make the Jaguars precisely the way they are and agree to that in 30 days, I would say no. I’m sorry but I’ve already expended $4,000+ dollars just trying to get information about the Jaguars that you can’t read in the manual. I know how to use them and when they should not be used. I can’t in good faith accept liability on this product and I’m not the sort that hides behind my disclaimer.

I suspect I am not alone in this concern and it’s purely a business concern so I suspect this means that in 30 days FIRST is going to be short support vendors. Otherwise the section Proposal Evaluation Criteria (page 10 of 11) is FIRST telling the vendors they are already courting the ground rules and this process is just perfunctory. The item I of the Proposal Evaluation Criteria specifically jumps out at me as hoping they’ll not have someone that already makes approved speed controls unless they can assure that diversity.

This may be the last ditch attempt to push the life boat clear.

Whoever wins this will be responsible for support of the new Jaguars. Will they also be responsible for supporting the tan and black Jaguars? That could be quite a burden for a small company.

I read it as hopefully make the existing product now and improve on programming first, then incrementally in hardware later. If my interpretation is correct this is actually potential liability you accept if you pick this up as one piece. More importantly this is not good news if you’re a Jaguar junky and this dies without response.

Personally I have a website I constructed that I never brought public about the Jaguars. I’d put that up for this request but without communication from FIRST I won’t. I’m still talking with Linuxboy about his project and I’ll fund and support it if he wishes, but what future can it have if FIRST can’t provide more Jaguars or something that needs CAN termination?

If I were to change or add features to the current model (one part of the proposal), I would probably focus on software features to add more configurable parameters for the PID controls. For the hardware, I would add a pair of 7-segment LED’s to the current single multicolor LED, to indicate CAN address, error states, or operation mode. As an educationally focused motor controller, this would be a valuable addition for troubleshooting. I think the cost of adding this could easily be offset in reduced support calls for ambiguously blinking LED’s.

– Len

There are a great number of things that can be improved on the Jaguars including the size, shape. weight and features through modular design. If you must squeeze new life in that exact box you’re not going to get incremental change. However, if you happen to have lots of plastic parts for Jaguars (and I bet they do) you’ll save money on making more. I bet that to cover the cost of the molds for the injection molding process a significant number of plastic components were made.

I will publicly commit to this: if I can find out from FIRST the criteria and process to make an approved speed control assuming FIRST doesn’t object I’ll provide the information to whomever requests it. I’ve been trying since 3/29/2012 so basically it’s an existing project.

If they open this door I’ll do my best to try to catalog the feature requests so perhaps a more universal design surfaces. I actually have something I already made as a prototype that works and supports CAN but I can’t call something community support with a straight face if I ignore community feature requests.

Oooooooh! I forgot about “follow me” mode. You can do sync groups now, but that doesn’t link outputs.

Master - slave could be done with making PWM ports bi-direction configurable. I would hate to flood the CAN bus with all of the sync traffic.

What about multiple bridging CAN buses. Instead of having a passive daisy chain link, make both ports terminated buses, where traffic is repeated across from one port to another. With this, each network would be automatically terminated (like 10-BaseT vs. 10 -Base2 Ethernet). For master - slave, you could un-bridge the two CAN networks on the master node, and use the second CAN bus for sync traffic, exclusive to the pair.

Just more thoughts.

– Len

My read is that they want the same Jaguars in a Jaguar package, but responders are welcome to suggest changes as well.

They clearly state that FIRST does not have the resources to do any of this, so a contract manufacturer is out - they need someone to own the product. The volumes are small (~10k) as well.

With the statement that they are only guaranteeing that the Jaguar will be used for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the long term “appeal” of this plan has to be even further diminished to a potential supplier.

I just finished speaking with US FIRST about this.

Basically here’s the deal:

A project could be started to make an approved electronic speed control. There are 2 ways this can play out.

  1. It could just be approved, if you want to use them you need to go get them yourselves. The process FIRST outlines will try to insure a supply chain healthy enough to make the product available.

  2. It could be included with the KOP. This would mean that FIRST might ask for them to be donated or offer up some cash if it’s vital to the KOP. There’s ambiguity here so let’s assume we might have to donate it. This wouldn’t stop you from getting more from outside the KOP.

In order to achieve this basically here’s what would need to be done:

A. A sample as close to production as possible (preferably) would need to be presented to the US FIRST KOP team no later than the end of August. This will need to have with it essentially a business proposal that describes the business aspects of what is planned and should consider both possible outcomes above.

B. If somehow the end product is selected to go into the KOP then deliverable products need to make their way to US FIRST by October for distribution. Otherwise, you can’t disclose the approval of the product until January because you will very likely be prohibited by an NDA. So you can sell it, build it, play with it…but even if you know it’s approved you have to keep a zipped lip about it.

C. If this is a community project (and that means we have a bunch of people contributing) this would mean that you’d better basically be ready to make something fundamentally ready for production by the end of August at the very latest. Sooner if you’re smart about it. So basically the time to brainstorm needs to roll to a close in probably 30-60 days from now (now being defined as mid-April). A modular design would enable later changes to those modules but they might not get approved for use as part of the electronic speed control system until next year.

So if you plan on trying to do this yourselves you need to realize that FIRST will expect a level playing field for COTS. So you must have an accepted plan to make these things and deliver them to teams all over the world for use at the very least. At the most you might get FIRST to feed funding if the the product is so outstanding that it becomes vital to get it into the hands of every team from the time the KOP is opened.

Some ideas I floated during my conversation:

  1. Using off the shelf rectangular polycarbonate boxes (think RadioShack plastic boxes) with necessary machining. It would seem as long as it doesn’t interfere with functionality it’s okay. It might not be very pretty however. Could fix that later. I suppose this would open the door to plastic welded boxes as well.

  2. Raising or lower the current limit. I proposed this to bring this product closer inline with the Victor’s performance. They said they’d have to see it work with proper technical review.

  3. Making the unit modular. As long as all the parts that could be approved are provided for review that seems okay. It means we could expand the functionality later, but the only approved parts are those that the unit was reviewed with.

  4. I mentioned being CAN enabled. This seemed to be okay. I was very clear the point was to add diversity not demote the Jaguar.

  5. I mentioned reverse voltage protection and we discussed a little about that issue as well.

So I kept my commitment and shared what I discovered.

Is there community interest in creating an electronic speed control?

Recommendations on how to get started with this as a community project?

I’m willing to fund making some speed control prototypes within reason.
Should we gather prototypes from diverse sources or submit everything to be built centrally?

The commitment to possibly have to donate enough to fulfill the KOP needs, is enough to kill a community project. At least one without a very generous benefactor.

Techhelpbb, what exactly do you mean, when you say modular? Are you talking about add-on modules for CAN, or other controller-specific IO, or perhaps exchangeable H-bridges, to handle different peak loads? Or are you talking about having a rail mount, or backplane connected set of motor control modules?

– Len

Did I miss something? Not to offend anyone, but is there anyone on these forums who really has the expertise, time, capital, manufacturing connections, and means to mass produce an entirely new speed control in this timeframe? Nice idea, but realistically, I just don’t see it happening unless it is already significantly underway. Feel free to prove me wrong.

I recall hearing of something similar happening once…
Maybe even twice.

Sure, these might have had more time, but with more people, it could be expedited. The biggest obstacle is communications. The production could occur at several different locations, but distributing the work load based on ability and producing equivalent products at all locations requires a good deal of coordination.

I am aware that putting these things in the KOP as a donation is probably out of line for a community project that has yet to ‘prove itself’. As I said FIRST communicated that their ability to buy an item is ambiguous. In other words we should assume that if FIRST can’t justify making sure that these things are in every team’s hands the instant the KOP opens (in short that the new item is vital) to get them in the KOP might requite a donation of around $250,000 in electronic speed controls or even more. That’s a lot of money and commitment for a community project, or maybe not, sort of depends on how you look at the benefactors that fund so much of FIRST already. It also depends on how creative the community is with these things (consider the RepRap community as an example).

This being communicated, getting the electronic speed control approved does not require a donation anything near this scale. Personally I think it’s quite practical to produce a near production quality prototype to get into the approved components list. This would probably be a dramatically smaller commitment. In that environment you can produce the product in smaller lots and more accurately produce only what you might get money for.

Producing a community oriented electronic speed control is not without precident see the OSMC:
http://www.robotpower.com/products/osmc_info.html

More importantly the beauty of setting our sights on merely getting the hardware approved for use in the manual means that as we develop the product’s maturity we neither burden FIRST nor ourselves beyond what would be an otherwise ordinary business venture. If during the course of evaluation (be them for this year or later years) FIRST and ourselves discover the value of the project increases to vital to the FIRST mission statements we could then risk amped up production.

Again I am going to ignore that the Jaguar might be at the end of it’s run here. This is about diversity in our approved components. This is not about rushing to fill the void that the Jaguar might leave. It’s possible that the Jaguar might fall out of production this year and FIRST will leave it appoved for use (if you can find them to use). It’s possible that FIRST can get the Jaguars and this item would be an alternative to the Jaguar. It is safe to say that we can use the FIRST RFQ for the Jaguar as a guideline to frame what FIRST sort of expects in various aspects.

Possibly all of the above, but most particularly separating the high power section from the control aspect, separating the communications aspect from the control processor if viable, and possibly even separating the indicator functions from the control aspect.

For example we could use a cheap module with a PIC at the heart to make a PWM speed control like the Victor when it’s connected to the high power H-Bridge section. We could then make larger or smaller H-Bridge sections. We could also make reverse voltage protection modules for the H-Bridge section that could be used during initial setup and removed from the system during competition.

We could create another module with a TI Stellaris that can be connected to the same H-Bridge modules.

We could create another module with a Parallax Propeller that could also use those same H-Bridge modules.

We could create a ‘common denominator’ interface module for that H-Bridge section that could even enforce FIRST’s requirements while allowing teams to produce their own control sections for the electronic speed control. It would encapsulate the current limiting and provide basically a TTL interface to the front end drivers within the ‘common denominator’ interface module.

We could make it possible to interface LCD modules to the control boards. Think of all the user interface possibilities this would open.

We could make it possible to interface storage modules. We could possibly put memory cards on the speed controls for data logging. We could even put static or dynamic RAM on a module with a possible battery backup (that would be much faster than a flash memory card logger).

The idea here is to encourage diversity without explosive costs. Obviously it’s much more expensive to make 20 whole products than 20 parts of a product. Also in-line with the today’s FIRST approved choices, if you nuke the high power section you could just replace that part of the modular system.

Also a modular system reduces costs for the teams.

Originally the Victors were more expensive than the beige Jaguars.
The market pressure helped force down the price of the Victors.

However, that’s not all there is to the analysis. The original beige Jaguars didn’t have the RS232 bridge and that meant you had to get the 2CAN if you wanted to use that (at the time). So one can’t ignore that with the beige Jaguars if your goal was to use CAN you had to fork over an extra few hundred dollars for the 2CAN.

In effect the 2CAN was a module of the CAN equipped network of beige Jaguars. You could simply not use CAN and the Jaguars would at the time be cheaper than the Victors (let’s ignore other things about performance we know about the Jaguars with this analysis and stick to costs).

I am proposing a similar idea. If you want cheap versions you buy basically the PWM module and the power H-Bridge module. So let’s try to keep that near the sub-$100 price range with an H-Bridge that’s FIRST level of power handling.

If my team wants reverse voltage protection we fork over the extra cost.
If my team wants CAN we fork over the extra cost.

If my team buys the PWM modules this year with the power sections. Then next year decides to use CAN we can try to revolve a similar enough interface that we build a stock of parts over the course of successive competitions. So we might be able to remove the H-Bridge power sections from the PWM modules we bought the prior year and use them with the CAN modules we bought the next year.

This also saves money if there are unforeseen problems. Perhaps one model of one year’s power sections has a problem. Maybe the next year you already have the CAN modules, but you replace the last year power sections with the design flaw with newer less problematic H-Bridge power modules.

In the worst case if the product is generally very well recieved it’s possible there could be some economic bootstrapping for only new teams or new users to this product. For example last year only new teams got the newer cRIOs in their KOP. Perhaps there could be a discount for new users of the product to help them build up momentum. This might help drive the market acceptance of the product without risking a large donation of thousands of products into the FIRST KOP.

I’m interested in being a part of this project. I have been thinking about doing it myself for months, but have been waiting until build season winds down before doing anything. For my sanity, I was thinking of targeting getting something working for the 2014 season, so life wouldn’t have to be so rushed. But, that doesn’t have to be the case since you want to push for next year.

I have already designed a custom motor controller, fabricated boards, and soldered them. This was very low quantity (5), but I have some good experience already from them. Mine are only rated to 5 amps, but the circuitry for an h-bridge is pretty much the same regardless of the amount of power that it will be rated for.

From my point of view, there are a couple of things that jump out at me as necessary features. The controllers need to be able to take anything we ask of them and keep on ticking. Victors currently do this, but the jaguars have trouble with it (First hand experience, multiple times, multiple ways). The switching frequency also needs to be significantly higher (jaguar range) to provide better control. The power circuitry for the uC on the controller also needs to drop out below 4.5 volts, unlike the current Jaguars. That has caused us many problems in the past.

They should also be a lot smaller than the current Jaguars, and the same size or smaller than the victors. I think it would be interesting to try to make them sealed and potentially passively cooled, but that may be dreaming.

I’m not sure that modular is that big a deal, personally. MOSFETS are pretty cheap. $5 per controller at low quantity for nice ones. A CAN transceiver is $1 at low quantity. All you need for CAN is a transceiver, a connector, and a uC that supports it. Most modern microcontrollers now should also be able to support running PID and friends without much worry.

If you decide to go further, please let me know. I know a couple of people who might also help out, at varying skill levels.

Well, off to work. We should meet up at CMP and talk.

If you decide to go further, please let me know. I know a couple of people who might also help out, at varying skill levels.

Well, off to work. We should meet up at CMP and talk.

I intend to make a real effort to get this done. Several people are in contact with me about this effort now. It’s still just starting but I’m committed to giving it some money, a little nurturing and some support from my personal resources. I don’t know how far we’ll get this year either, but I think we can produce results that are more tangible than just ideas by those deadlines.

We might need to reduce the feature set to make best use of the resources in the available time frame which is another reason I had proposed a modular system. There’s nothing stopping us from making both a modular and non-modular system or only one of the other. There are certainly aspects of the non-modular system that could be valuable as well.

I’m going to try to essentially list features and ideas as this goes on. I think it might be wise to possibly enable a sort of voting process for features that lets people weigh in to some extent. That’s a bit of a project so I wouldn’t expect that immediately. The purpose would be to try to find the most important features we can deliver upon and then fit the resources towards that goal. It might be that people just really want mostly a CAN speed control like we’ve both been tinkering with and for PWM they prefer Victors.

I’m prepared to contribute to whatever direction the community wants to take it as long as we don’t go totally out of the realm of practical.