Transporting Robot to Detroit

Our rookie team (6802) qualified for the Detroit Championship at our District Championship this weekend. I have read the robot transport information in the 2018 Resource Library, but I’m still a little confused about how the process works. Could anyone offer some insight?

Do we have to have our robot shipped to the venue, or can we transport it ourselves?

If we do have to ship it, do we pay for shipping charges? If so, how much does this generally cost?

Do we ship the robot still in the bag, or take it out of the bag before crating?

Do we leave the bumpers on, or take them off?

Are there any good guides on how to build a robot crate?

Any other advice would be greatly appreciated!

From here, second bullet:

All teams attending FIRST Championship must build and use a crate to ship their robot.

There’s a section on shipping there further down. You’ll ship it in the bag, just as it is. You will receive shipping documents both ways, but there is a provision on that link for transporting your robot home yourself if you need to (say, for a demo the very next week).

A team near you that’s been around since about 2011 (the last year we ALL shipped robots) may have one, just make sure it still meets the criteria. (PDF link)

Hope this helps with some of the questions. Congratulations on making it to the big show!

Ok. That’s what I thought, but all the stuff about Robot Transportation Exemptions threw me off.


I know you must ship the robot in a crate and I think it has to stay in a bag. The crate also has to be labeled with your team number (which we typical spraypaint onto all sides of the crate) and have some documents attached to it, though I am not sure which ones. Some advice I will give is to fit as much stuff along with the robot as possible (robot cart, bumpers, etc.), this way you save as much space in whatever vehicle you are taking there as possible (Because your tools and personal belongings will take a lot of space).

Ah, yes. THOSE.

That would be for teams that for whatever reason need to ship their robot to a regional (or other non-Champs event). Ordinarily you put the robot in a bag, then in your robot transportation vehicle, then drive to the venue and unload. Sometimes you just have to ship the darn thing.

You’re looking for the crate specs. Also check carefully on weight and/or allowable contents.

Note that in the guidelines this year it states,

Be filled with ONLY your robot, bumpers and batteries.

So I wouldn’t recommend shipping tools or robot carts in the crate as well.

I’d hate to be an international team that had to deal with those requirements. It would seem to me that as long as the crate complies with all the size and weight restrictions it shouldn’t matter what extra stuff you put in the crate, but that’s just my opinion.

It’s bad enough international teams have a hard time getting batteries across the boarder, but having to transport all of your pit equipment and tools on the teams dime must be incredibly expensive. I wonder if you could still build a crate that converted into a pit space like some teams used to do but then just not fill the storage? Technically, it would still be “part of the crate” I would think. That might at least solve some of the problems.

I agree. The rule as written puts international teams & even US teams (we’re a 42-hour drive from Houston), in the position of either not bringing what they need to the most important event of the year for them or dealing with very high shipping costs. Maybe the rule should be more like this…
a) a crate weight limit (e.g. 450lbs) under which there will be no overweight charges (with no rule about contents other than the robot must be in there)
b) an ability to go over that default weight limit (up to some shipping service max) with an ability to project the overage cost (presumably provided by the shipping service). And then a decision could be made - bulk shipping stuff in a crate should be cheaper and easier than alternate means. (Anyone just shipping an extra crate somehow?)

Or is it the case that the rule as written is intended to be broken, and teams generally will still cram the crate full with no regard for weight? I’m still fairly new to all this, but if that’s the case then it seems out of character for FIRST given the laser focus on all other types of rules.

The consequences of the current rule seem to include…

  • having to ship things in an excessive amount of checked airline luggage that are not terribly appropriate for that, and high associated costs
  • or dealing with the logistics of secondary shipping services that will charge a high (non-volume) price to get stuff to the location on time
  • and possibly buying throw-away (or more likely donate when done) stuff like a Costco wagon for a robot cart in Houston or Detroit - wasteful use of funds for teams that already face the high price of running an FRC team.

I would not expect FIRST to take all shipping costs & logistics onto their shoulders. It’s unavoidable that each team must figure out what to do for themselves. But the above seems like the kind of inefficiency and wastefulness that we teach our teams to try to avoid. Is it possible to do better (volume pricing deal with a secondary shipping service teams can use, for example)?

Any thoughts here? What are faraway teams doing about shipping pits/tools to CMPs? Any shipping service recommendations? Thanks.

Call FedEx. See what they tell you.

I seem to recall they were much more flexible back in the day, there was basically a weight limit and they required you to ship the robot and at least one battery but didn’t really care what else you put in the crate besides that as long as it was under the limit.

From that same page

Shipping Your Robot Using Your Own Funds
Teams may ship their robot to any event at their own cost without receiving an approved Robot Transportation Exemption from FIRST, however, teams MAY NOT ship their crate directly to the venue. You must make other arrangements to get your robot to the event. See the section below: “Denied Robot Transportation Exemption Requests” for suggestions.

The way I read this, I can arrange my own drayage (my trailer) and arrange transportation from that location to the pits (roll my robot in with my tools and robot cart) at my own cost without dealing with FedEx. I don’t think this is the intent of the wording, but if it’s like the rest of the FIRST manual…

I suspect that that item about “without receiving an approved Robot Transportation Exemption from FIRST” nerfs that reading.

Basically, if you can’t transport the normal way, you can ask for a transportation exemption. (Normal way = bag). If you get one, you can ship a crate to the venue for donation rates. If you don’t get one, you can ship a crate to somewhere else and then haul your stuff in from somewhere else, at your own expense.

I don’t see how that would apply to Champs, where every robot is crate-shipped in. Though it would be quite hilarious for every team in MI and ONT (and, for that matter, TX) to request an exemption for CMP, because “we can drive our robot there for free, why make us ship”. Dare you to try!

Good suggestion.

FYI for others as a reference point: $1000 - $1600 to ground ship a 48x48x65" crate to Houston & back from Washington state @500-800 lbs. Conservatively, it takes 6 days to ship (as few as 3). I’m not sure if you have to pay extra if the crate arrives a few days early & sits there waiting for you to arrive.

For comparison, a single box 48x24x24" with 200 lbs of stuff in it will cost around $550 - 600 for the same round trip. Smaller but still mid-size boxes cost almost as much, so better to go with a larger reinforced box vs. a few mid-sized boxes.

The cost isn’t horrendously high, though I could see it being a problem for budget-constrained teams, and so I see why some teams try to save money by using checked luggage.

Back to original topic, I still wonder if there is plenty of extra volume in the robot crate, could that volume be used & a fair additional weight-based fee paid. Rules say no, but I’ve also heard it’s sometimes done, and I was curious how that works. At this point, I’ll let the mystery be (any Iris DeMent fans out there?).

Our robot crates don’t go directly to the venue, do they? I thought they went to a drayage company, who stores them, and then delivers them to the venue en mass.

But it’s been a few years since I’ve dealt with the issue.

There are a few other weird things in the instructions, particularly for Canadian teams. The emphasize the need for heat treated and marked wood for “international teams”, then reference a standard that is applied to ocean-going cargo and fail to mention the USDA exemption for “Canadian wood shipped from Canada”.

I dropped them a note a week ago asking about this and haven’t heard a thing… time for a follow-up, I think.


I feel like it would avoid a lot of confusion on that page if they actually defined what a Robot Transport Exemption is somewhere - preferably under the section Robot Transportation Exemptions (RTE).

It says any event - champs is an event. Why do we have to ship it in a crate that is too small for the robot anyway? I really don’t feel like wasting my time rebuilding our crate (tbh I have no clue what it’s current dimensions are, I don’t know if a 55" robot will fit) and coordinating with FedEx and arranging a pickup. Hoping it got to the venue. Also look at the environmental impact of FedEx shipping all these crates and the cost to them…

It is literally zero extra work for me to bring my robot in on the robot cart like I do at every other event. Instead I’m just rolling in an empty cart and dealing with a crate in my pit until it eventually gets taken away.

I hear you. You are being challenged to call FIRST HQ tomorrow and request a Robot Transportation Exemption to roll your robot in on a cart instead of using a crate. You’re also being challenged to get as many other MI teams as possible doing the same exact thing.

I get the impression that the RTE is for, say, you guys deciding you want to go to Hawaii for a little trip outside the district, and maybe you want to see if you don’t have to pay for shipping the robot.