Update 6

Team update #6 has been posted.
http://www2.usfirst.org/2004comp/tmup6.pdf

They have clarified the ruling on making spare parts. They do not mention anything about after the 6 weeks as we have been able to in previous years. They say in the six week build and at the competition only.

So we don’t get like a week after the build to make spares like we did last year?

Warning!! LONG POST!!! As I started to really think about this, I realized that I was going on way too long. I apologize, but I was really just capturing my thoughts about this, and it turned into a stream-of-consciousness ramble.

First, let’s consider a few heuristics that may factor into the current rules:

  • Many corporations that have supported long-term FIRST teams have expressed concerns about changes in the FIRST program that have moved it from a 6-week-long-“lets-build-a-robot” activity to a nearly year-round program. For those companies that donate their employees time to participate, this can add up to a considerable cost. This can be a major consideration when they contemplate future involvement. FIRST is trying to ensure that a 6-week corporate commitment to the build season really means 6 weeks.

  • The vast majority of teams (>90%) do not have access to anything near state-of-the-art manufacturing capabilities. Many teams don’t even have a lathe or milling machine. Teams with access to advanced facilities already have a competitive advantage. Allowing those teams to utilize their facilities to manufacture parts after the ship date just results in widening the competitive gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.”

  • Several teams are now outfitting mobile machine shops and using them to their advantage to build new parts (as well as replacements) at competition events. This is a great capability! But it also increases the “have/have-not gap,” potentially introduces additional liability issues, promotes hoarding of resources, and subtly urges more teams to sink money into similar mobile facilities to “keep up with the Jones’” and remain competitive.

  • Whether we want to admit it or not, some very small number of teams cheat. They manufacture parts of their machines after the ship date, bring them to competition events, and bolt them on as “replacements.” Rules in past years have been fuzzy enough that they can justify it in their own minds. FIRST needed to clean up the wording, and make it more restrictive, to limit this practice as much as possible.

  • For years, FIRST has been saying “make sure your robots are ROBUST!” but most teams have never taken them seriously. The answer has always been “if it breaks, we will just knock out a replacement and slap it on.” At a fundamental level, this is not a good philosophy, and not good engineering practice. Is this how we are teaching our students to think?

So now let’s try to understand what the rule really says:

  • You can manufacture all the spare parts you want - just make sure that you build them all during the 6-week build period. When the ship date arrives, that means put all your tools down, no more construction is allowed. Period. No exceptions. When the ship date comes, build season is over. Everyone go home and get some rest before the competition season begins.

  • You can assemble all the spares into as many sub-assemblies as you want, as long as they are completed before the ship date and put in the crate with your robot. There are no limits on this.

  • If you are going to keep your spare parts after the ship date (ie. you will have access to potential parts of your robot after everyone else has shipped theirs off to the competition), then the parts must remain as “raw pieces” until you bring them to the competition site. No fair building or assembling parts after the ship date.

  • At the competition site, you can build away to your heart’s content. You can assemble the spare parts you bring with you into sub-assemblies and add them to your robot, make new assemblies, make upgrade parts, even make a whole new robot if you want. But you have to do it on-site in the pits or at facilities available to all teams. No sneaking off to “Crazy Willy’s All-Night Machine Shop And Robot Emporium” around the corner that no one else knows about.

  • Teams can still bring their mobile machine shops and set up camp in the parking lot. But the heart of the new rule is that if you are going to do that, you must be willing to share that resource with other teams as well (note: this does not mean that you have to let someone else use your machine tools - the liability issues would be overwhelming! - but it does mean that your machinists will make parts for other teams as well as your own). This promotes sharing of resources, is good sportsmanship, helps level the playing field, and builds inter-team relationships.

  • Everyone is now really working on the same timeline, and with the same resources. The competition starts to get back to a place where the best teams are the ones with the most creative/innovative approaches, and not just the ones with the best/fanciest fabrication capabilities.

  • Finally, the teams are going to be forced to take robustness seriously. If a robot design hinges on “whizz-bang widget XX” that requires a 6-axis CNC machine to manufacture, then maybe the team needs to re-think their design. Robustness counts! Serviceability matters! Simplicity is important! Our robot designs should virtually SHOUT OUT these concepts. Applied properly, this rule will help get us there.

Personally, I like where this rule puts us all (and, no, I didn’t write it!! :slight_smile: ).

-dave

p.s. but, of course, I could be entirely wrong (at least that is what Tony Norman keeps telling me :smiley: )

I’ll accept Dave’s interpretation of the rule if FIRST fixes its grammar or logic come Monday. As it is, I’m confused a statement talking about the 6 week build period also talking about a robot that you have already shipped. That combined with previous years’ rules makes me think they might have meant “After” instead of “During” or something.

Mostly, however, I think this would be cleared up be a large, bolded statement by FIRST that building anything at all for the robot after the 6 weeks is or is not acceptable, outside of the 3 days you spend at regionals and nationals. Kinda hard for lawyerly types to misinterpret that at all.

Dave… the intent of the rule is now clear and the reasoning behind it is sound; however, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever agree with it. You talk about the edge of the haves over the have-nots and I think of the fact that the haves will be the few able to manufacture meaningful spare parts during the 6-week build. Think of it, how many teams build down to the wire just trying to get their actual robot put together and working? The have-nots, who manufacture their robot all themselves, would never have the time necessary to make spare parts while making their actual robot. Eh, FIRST rules are FIRST rules, and I guess I’d better start trying to adapt (though I’d say this is a pothole on the road of common sense being built this year).

Keeping with the haves and have nots, since you can keep your control electronics and continue programming, if you don’t have anything left on site to test with, it would be difficult to continue programming. But, the have teams will have the facilities to continue development, and even non-rookie teams will have victors and motors lying around to test with. It’s a shame that this rule has been laid down - it really hurts the rookie teams in my opinion and supports the non-rookies :: quite the opposite of what is probably more necessary - giving the rookies more time in this area.

Oh well, so be it.

[long post]

You don’t need victors and motors to test…

Since you have THAT much time to spend on programming, you SHOULD be able to get a dynamic autonomous program (such as the beacon tracking or line tracking) code going that’s pretty independent of things like motors in the long run. All you need for that are sensors (which might be included in the controls? That may be something that FIRST needs to clear up…) and the RC. We’re doing our auto programming with just that right now.

I think the rule about building spare parts is perfectly fair. If you make something, make another one. It’s that simple. The machine or whatever is already setup to make that part so it won’t take nearly as long to do. If resources are a problem, then you probably shouldn’t worry too much about doing it later either.

I also have to support the new mobile machine shop rule. I didn’t know of any teams turning away a team from their mobile machine shop last year, but then again I never heard of anyone asking. Please…if you have a mobile machine shop, put big sign on the side that says “MACHINE SHOP HERE. COME ON IN” and let people use it. I know of a couple of teams (don’t remember their number or name) that in recent years have “hidden” their shop in trucks and trailers in the parking lot giving no indication the facility was available unless you happen to catch them with the door open.

In any event, I must admit I support these new rules. Thumbs up to FIRST.

[/long post]

How is FIRST going to enforce this?

They’re not going to enforce it. You are.

Sensors are not controls. How in the world can you be certain of how your program works without having motors attached? Particularly for rookie teams. How can you see how fast a line driver is going to work - how choppy it will be? anyone who writes a computer control program without testing it is doomed to failure - that is SOP for any app. If you don’t believe me, try writing a C program that is over 100 lines and don’t debug it. If you can get it to work first try - and it controls everything the way you expect, well, you are a DARN good programmer- better than anyone on a rookie team that we are trying to support.

They give you the code to track the beacon. All you have to do is use the dashboard to make sure your motors are turning at the right time. Move the beacon around to make sure the sensors are giving the right input and outputting the right PWM’s.

I’m not saying don’t debug it. I would be a fool to say that. I’m saying there are other ways of doing everything and there is another way of testing it other than using a victor/motor setup.

Of course, this is all relevant only if you don’t have time to test it beforehand (which if you’re REALLY on the ball about it and serious about getting a GOOD auto program done, you will be).

A few years ago FIRST banned Mobile Machine shops in the parking lots due to insurance and safety reasons. Has the insurance industry changed? The same risks to lawsuits still exists if someone were to get hurt. Why now is this not important?

If FIRST is trying to narrow the gap between teams that have resources this rule is definatly not doing it. The “Sharing” aspect of the rule will not work. While most if not all FIRST teams are willing to share there are limits to sharing.

Who will staff the truck doing the work? Can teams use the machines themselves?
Who will pay for supplies?
What if there is a line up, and the team that owns the truck needs repairs, what order will they be done?

Having a mobile machine shop favors the teams with big $$$$ as they can manufacture parts on site while others cannot given the new rules.

I think what FIRST is trying to convey is, if you want to win in this game

then win by being clever and innovative - with an eye towards the golden rules of engineering: ie simple is better than complex and why spend a million dollar to develop a pen that writes upside down, when you could use a pencil!

if your sponsor has > $50k to spend on a team, then instead of pouring all that money into one team, sponsor more teams, sponsor a new regional - put up money and mentors for teams that have no resources

instead of spending $200,000 on a mobile trailer machinshop, give that money to your students as scholarships, or loan a few of your mentors to another team for the 6 weeks - even if you have to put them up in temp quarters in another city.

FIRST started out giving teams a box of junk with the challenge to create a working machine - by being creative and innovative - not by dumping $100k into it.

I think these new rules are making the message coming from FIRST perfectly clear - engineering is about what happens between your ears, not what comes out of your deep pockets.

This came up in our team meeting today:

I’m not sure that this rule helps the “have-nots” and hurts the “haves”. Think of the “haves” with the CNC machines. It’s trivial to make spares of every thing. Thus they have no reason to work after, unless they were redesigning stuff, which has been legal in the past.

Now, think about the “have-nots”. To make spares of every part, they have to work almost twice as hard. They are the ones that benefit from being able to make spares. They are the ones that benefit from being able to make spare parts after the 6 week period.