What to do Now?

What to do Now?
The 2020 Season may be over for most teams, but that doesn’t mean robotics needs to stop. There are many things that we can all do to give our seniors a fulfilling sendoff, and build our teams for the future. This has been a trying time for everybody, but with good planning we can all make the best of a bad situation. All the advice below is given with the caveat that first and foremost we need to do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and we should only take actions as they make sense in that context.

It’s critically important that teams don’t work outside of allowable hours. If your school is cancelled, it’s cancelled for a reason. Be smart, stay safe, and wash your hands.


How to Spend your Remaining Resources:

There are some big decisions teams will need to make regarding their resources. I’m going to guess most teams weren’t finished with their robots. With no bag, it was possible to continuously iterate and improve upon a design. Now that competitions are postponed indefinitely, there’s a good chance your robot will never compete in an official event again. The process of iterating on a design is an immensely valuable learning experience, but it takes resources that could either be saved for future years or spent elsewhere including on capital equipment, or other training/supplemental projects. Each team needs to make their own decision regarding how to best use their resources, but thinking about the implications of each option will help to make that decision easier.

Finishing your robot, or iterating on it further may help to give the seniors (and others) some closure for the season, and will help them to maximize the experience they’re getting from this program. Additionally these robots will make for an awesome demo bot that can be used to promote your program in the future. The process of iterating on a design is very valuable and doing so this season will make it easier to continuously improve in future seasons. There are a lot of reasons to keep working on your current robot, even if it never plays a real match.

Alternatively, continuing to work on your robot could contribute to mentor/student burnout. If that’s the case then you should strongly consider cutting back hours, or otherwise changing how you operate. In this environment, with nothing competitively at stake, it makes very little sense to burn people out, and potentially take away from their positive experiences in the program. There is also the question of how much money/resources you want to commit to a robot that isn’t likely to compete. This decision comes down to how your team’s resources are looking for the remainder of this year, and how they look going into next season. Making a decision to cut back on your efforts on this robot in order to carry over more money going into next season is potentially a very smart decision, especially if the economy takes a big hit due to the virus.

tl;dr:

  • Each situation is unique, and each team needs to make the decision that makes sense for them
  • Finishing/iterating upon your robot is extremely valuable in a lot of ways, and can facilitate a lot of learning and team growth
  • Conserving money/resources to spend on other things or to save for next year is also a valid decision that can be best for the long term health of your team

What to do to Fill the Void of the Competitions:

FIRST is about more than just the robot… but the competitions are what drives most people, and they are a huge part of what makes FIRST fun. Missing out on the competition is a huge blow for the seniors and underclassmen alike. Retaining underclassmen next year might be an additional challenge for a lot of teams since most underclassmen “buy in” during competitions. I believe teams need to do everything they can to supplement the competition experience so that seniors leave the program with a good experience, and underclassmen want to come back next season. There are a lot of ways to do that…

We have robots that can pick up and shoot dodgeballs at a high velocity. It would be wrong not to play dodgeball with them. I believe this is a great way to make up for competitions getting cancelled. It’s fun, uses your robot, and facilitates team bonding. There will also likely be online challenges coming out in which teams can see how they stack up against each other with robot skills competitions. These will be a fantastic way to celebrate your accomplishments, and show off your robot. I highly encourage participation in these online challenges when they start to come out.

There are many other aspects of your team other than the robot that deserve to be celebrated. You likely have students on your marketing team that created content that they want to show off. You may have a Chairmans team that worked hard creating content and practicing a presentation. These accomplishments deserve to be shown off! It would be awesome to see filmed Chairman’s presentations posted online. It would be awesome to see teams posting their essays, executive summaries, and marketing content online for everybody to see. Do something to make your team feel like their efforts were worth doing. In addition to that, use your media/marketing teams to create a robot reveal video! It’s the best of both worlds in which you can show off all aspects of your team in one project. There will likely be opportunities to show off these videos to the community in a public forum.

Finally, the best way to fill the void from not attending a competition might actually be to just attend a competition. There are many offseason competitions around the world, and the demand for participation in those events will likely be higher than ever before. Figuring out how to host an offseason event, or signing up for other offseason events will really help students to feel like this season was time well spent.

tl;dr:

  • Missing out on competitions sucks, but there are ways to fill the void
  • Robot dodgeball is a ton of fun and would help to turn this season into a fun experience
  • Sharing your team accomplishments other than your robot is a great way to celebrate what your students have done
  • Planning to host or attend offseason events might be the best medicine for missing out on official competitions

What to do to Prepare for Next Season

Next season will be one of the most interesting in FRC history. We’re still obviously awaiting a lot of information from FIRST regarding how things will play out… but knowing what we know now, we can make preparations to make next season the best it can be.

One important consideration for all teams to take is the economic impact that the coronavirus could have on the local and global economy. There’s a non-zero chance that things get tough in response to this global crisis. That impact, compounded by the shortened season this year, might make next season a challenge for many FRC teams. In order to mitigate those effects, spending some time this year to retain existing sponsors, and making a plan to recruit new sponsors would be very valuable. There are many resources available regarding how to recruit sponsors and retain existing sponsors… but generally taking your existing robot and using it to demonstrate the impact that this program has had on your students is a great way to go. We have robots this year that offer an amazing visual display, take advantage of that! Plan to demo your robot with as many companies/prospective sponsors as you can!

It would also be a very good idea to consider how much money you will be carrying over into next season. A good practice is to carry over enough funds to operate your team for an entire year. While this isn’t feasible in a lot of cases, getting as close as possible to that will help to improve team sustainability.

In addition to securing your financial position going into 2021, it’s a great time to work on team improvement activities. A lot of teams struggle to meet during the summer because everybody is busy… therefore offseason training is a major challenge. This situation offers the perfect time to do things that you always talk about doing during the summer, but never get around to doing. You can finally update/polish your team’s website. You can use the remaining months of school to recruit new members for next season. You can work on improving some processes within your team such as developing a new scouting system, creating engineering documents and standards (FMEA; Engineering), and developing branding standards (FRC 1538). You can work on offseason projects including drivetrains, or manipulators… or you can spend this time developing the ultimate t-shirt cannon/demo bot. You could also choose to save some money that you otherwise would’ve spent this season and instead make a capital purchase of equipment that will benefit your team for years to come. There are so many possibilities that many teams have never had before because the competition season has been in full swing, and everybody is burnt out at the end of it.

tl;dr:

  • The economy might tank, have a plan for that
  • Plan for retaining your existing sponsors while also going after new ones
  • Use your robot to demonstrate what your students have learned and accomplished this season
  • It’s the perfect time for team development - do those offseason projects you’ve always talked about but never got around to!

The season might be over for most teams, but we are all presented with an opportunity to make the most of this situation. We can feel bad about how things have gone this season, or we can seize the moment, and treat this like a rare opportunity for growth. I’m very excited to see how the FIRST community responds, and I have every hope that we will all emerge from this challenge as stronger because of it.

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Kernel module hacking: https://github.com/FRC900/gs_usb-rRIO

It works too:

Looking at device trees now.

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You have my interest (although I’m focusing more on PCI CAN devices for testbed use), but what’s the FRC application here? AFAIK, it wouldn’t be legal to enable motor controllers with anything other than the “normal” CAN interface on the RIO. Are you looking at an auxiliary bus just for sensors or something?

I suppose technically R70 merely says “sourced from the roboRIO”, but I’m pretty sure if you tried to connect motor controllers via a CANable they’d update the rule.

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