What was there before AndyMark?

During the NYC Regional, I was talking to Andy Baker, and throughout those three days, I had made friends with him and his team (Team 3940 cybertooth). I learned that AndyMark started in the early 2000’s, but what I forgot to ask was what was there before. Was it just like every team for themselves, or was there an old AndyMark type store?

I remember reading that teams HAD to get their stuff from Small Parts Inc. aka Amazon Supply…

But mostly teams machined a lot and the average robot wasn’t as good as they are today

Up until shortly before Andymark started (2003 I believe,) FRC was much more closed off in terms of allowed materials. Teams were given a budget from smallparts.com, rather than the blanket $4k budget of today. As a result, teams were much more reliant on mechanical components of the kit of parts than they are today. Even so, there was little/nothing special built for FRC. The “kit transmissions” were retrofitted drill transmissions, for example. If you wanted shifting transmissions or anything of that nature, you built it yourself.

IFI was around before AndyMark IIRC.

but IFI was really small…like AndyMark when it started

It was before my time as well. From what I understand part of the reason CD grew was because people were coming here to exchange ideas, photos and design techniques. Papers like this were made and teams survived with the COTS parts they could find. There were no FIRST dedicated vendors and the robots were generally simpler.

I was there! Not quite.

Small Parts became non-required in the very late 1990s/early 2000s, when they simply could not keep up with the number of teams. Simultaneously, the “prohibited materials” list grew very short. (Would you believe… Titanium was once explicitly banned?) The “had to” was before my time actually on a team, I admit, but I remember seeing the Small Parts booth at a couple of events.

Anyways, before AndyMark, all teams got a 2-speed shifting transmission in the kit, or rather two of 'em. Two drill motor transmissions with motors, to be exact. And yes, teams did have to machine a lot to do anything. Many of the dominating teams today got their start back then, or before, and can remember that. (The kit frame was simply huge aluminum extrusion, cut to length. No joke.) IFI did provide a controller… but no robot parts.

Then came 2005. No drill motors in the kit, but 2 extra CIMs were allowed for the first time. Add in the IFI-provided Kitbot, and the Kitbot Transmission (1-speed, roughly the equivalent of the Toughbox), which as I recall was a joint effort between AndyMark and a couple other folks, and then you get AndyMark joining in with their Gen1 shifters…

The FRC world would never be the same.

I know that Skyway wheels use to be the official provider of wheels for FIRST.


IFI indeed predates AndyMark; I recall they started supplying the control system around 2000, while AndyMark launched in late 2004 for the 2005 season. However, IFI kept to control system bits until 2005 when it started supplying the kitbot. Optional sheetmetal wheels arrived in 2006 and other bits were added over time, but they didn’t really drop the bomb that is VEXpro until late 2012 for the 2013 season.

I wasn’t around for the Small Parts era, but I was around for one season before what I term the modern era of kitbots and significant off-the-shelf parts. In 2004, the “kit” drivetrain were those drill gearboxes, some bearing blocks, 2"x4" aluminum extrusion, and some other odd gears that we never quite figured out. It took my rookie team (1293) about five and a half weeks to drive, and there were quite a few teams that weren’t even that lucky.

Basically, before you had companies like AndyMark you had to make or modify from scratch a LOT more than you do today. If you didn’t have access to a proper machine shop to make your gears/plates/hubs/what-have-you, contending on any real level was a pipe dream.

If I recall, teams could only purchase materials from Small Parts, and were limited to a very short list of other allowed materials up through the 2002 season. For example, you could not purchase gears from any source other than Small Parts. In 2003, the short “materials allowed” list became a modest “materials prohibited” list.

Before AndyMark, teams had to actually THINK and design and fabricate things. Teams such as 716 and 45 published whitepapers on how to make shifting transmissions. Teams intricately studied the details of each other’s designs, rather than waking up and blindly asking dumb questions like “how many wheels does your robot have?”

It was a very different era, and some elements of it are certainly missed. As limited as it was, I do miss the old Small Parts and their old catalog. It may have been very over priced, and I probably didn’t buy much, but they had some neat unique items.

Now back to the modern day, what I can’t figure out, is you can essentially buy a very competitive robot, with the right combination of parts, but a very large percentage of teams still produce very poor robots, many of which are incapable of assisting their alliance or scoring any points at all. What gives?

There’s no essentially. Justin Foss often brags that 558’s robots (which won 2 districts this year) are made almost exclusively from COTS parts. There’s a reason any time I need to find something on McMaster that’s who I ask first.

I have theories to answer your question but this is neither the time nor the place.

I still have a small parts catalog from the 2000 season somewhere. Have to dig it out to remember just how limited it was. Back then we kludged a robot. Today we lead an engineering design build project. What a change.

I swear, if another person comes to our robot and asks “How many/what type of wheels does your robot have” without even trying to look at the poster we have hanging in the front of our pit or our robot itself, I’m going to go crazy. You bring up an excellent point about the COTS vs. old style stuff. Wildstang used to build the coolest things ever (swerve, arms, swerve modules that went up and down in 04…), and it seems that these sort of super complicated well engineered parts aren’t becoming more common.

We can try and remember when andymark was started or we can look it up on the website.


I think quite the opposite, there are so many teams doing so many cool things that you can longer just point to Wildstang as being the only cool one!

JVN had a great point in this thread.

Interesting picture

Ahh- the dark ages… I remember installing servos to drill gearboxes and boasting about having “two speed” transmissions! Back then you really had to be innovative in your designs to even make things work. Taking a motor spinning at 20kRPM and somehow getting it down to a speed and torque that could be used was often the pinnacle of your machine’s design, especially if your team was short on mentors. My rookie year doing FIRST I remember our team U-bolted drill motors to our frame and used chains to drive our wheels- we had no idea what “side load” meant and paid the price throwing chains every match ::ouch::

Things are much easier now. With just a little money you can log onto VEX or AM, find what you need in the gear ratio of your choice and in a couple days you’ve got a mechanism running. Sometimes I really do think things are too easy these days. The sort of problem solving and creative thought that used to go into designing a gearbox for a mechanism is somewhat lost.

Any Canadians on here remember Canada First? (Canadian spinoff of FIRST before they crossed the border)

I remember hearing about it, often in a negative light. 188 spent a few years in that competition before becoming the first FRC team in Canada in 1998. (See here for details.)

On the bright side, test-driving Woburn’s 1997 robot was a major factor in getting me to join the team.

I remember hearing about it, often in a negative light.

Yup, “negative” would be accurate- that thread pretty much covers all the bases. I don’t believe they were affiliated with FIRST at all. Unfortunately for Canadian teams who couldn’t afford to travel to the states, it was all there was back then and although it wasn’t nearly as well-run or set up as FIRST, it did serve to inspire and motivate many youth in its day.

At first, there was nothing.

And then Andy said: let there be decent COTS parts for FIRST!