254 has pulled off an amazing feat this season with a perfect record, walking away with the world champion banner.
What do you think were the most important factors that led to their insane success? I see a robot with perfect design philosophy (stable, fast robot with predicable handling, fast elevator/intake, quick and accurate cube placement, and 100% reliability for the entire match.) However, other factors were a huge part of this as well, like their alliance readiness team.
What can other teams learn from 254’s season as they try to replicate it?
Consistency and reliability. Even the some of the greatest robots of all time had failures has in at inopportune moments (71 in 2002, 1114 in 2008, 469 in 2010). This 254 robot had no such issues, or if they did they weren’t large enough to have an impact on a match. The only other robot that was in this territory is 71 in 2001, although that game was so different (4v0), it’s really hard to compare.
Not every team has the number of students needed to pull off a Citrus Service or 254-style robot prep team, although it definitely helps to know what your partners are capable of on the mechanical and software sides. An important part of 254’s (and others’) success this season in my opinion was their strong autonomous modes. Having the ability to get 3-4 cube advantages over most alliances in qualifications and even playoffs is huge. Couple their autonomous dominance with their optimization, quality software, and skilled driving and you get a recipe for success. Every aspect of their robot seemed to be planned carefully and maintained an high degree of external elegance and simplicity. In the end I think that is what gave them the upper hand over other great teams: their clean consistent, and optimized performance.
This year’s game is more heavily auto dependant than any previous one imo. Among other strengths, 254 came out earliest with the strongest, most reliable autos - especially ones that did both the switch and multiple cubes in the scale.
Past all the obvious technical stuff (fast elevator, good control, good intake), keeping the cube in the center of their robot body is probably the best decision of the season. Great stability while driving, and I’m convinced it is what made their 3-4 cube autos possible at the given reliability. It also allows the cube passthough to be possible, which is stellar for filling the vault and switch, allowing them to double back after taking the scale, taking the vault as easy as collecting mail from your letterbox.
Having been right across from them in the pit at champs there were 3 things that stood out to me, and all of them kind of have their roots in the same thing.
First, their robot was never in their pit
Second, when their robot was in their pit, it was being worked on
Third, they didn’t leave anything in a match to chance (I will explain more later)
The first two go very hand in hand. 254 works hard. They were on the practice field more than not, they never stopped all weekend. I think that part of this is the hard work, but a large part of it is that they build a robot capable of lasting 17 consecutive elims matches and it shows. When you do that, there’s not reason not to head straight back to the practice field in between matches. Unless the robot breaks, why go back? There’s work to be done, and when there’s work to be done 254 is doing it.
As far as the third point, they constantly were trying things like lifting their upcoming partners (either on the practice field or testing their forks in their pit). When we were asked to test driving onto their forks on Friday afternoon, they were all incredibly nice. Nick, Travis, EJ, and all the students involved asked and helped us work through in an incredibly gracious, professional, and timely manner. I can’t inagine any team declining to work with them and ensure something like driving forward or a buddy climb with the way that they worked with us.
Being next to 254 was an incredibly valuable experience, and it was very eye opening as to what makes them so good. They build something understanding that the robot becomes more valuable over time if it doesn’t break because it gives you a chance to constantly practice, and always be ready, and they do it in a polite but thorough manner when the time comes for on field execution.
I believe 254’s main success factor was their successfull analysis of the game rules and point system. They understood:
how important it was for the alliance to control the swtich and have all robots cross the Auto Quest goal line. In some matches where The Poofs were not sure alliance partners would be capable of gaining switch control in Auto, they took the task on, then went on to the scale;
How critical it would be to take as great a lead as possible in delivered cubes on the scale during Auto;
the importance of speed, accuracy and reliability in picking up, transporting and delivering cubes to any of the portal, both switches and the scale;
that a three robot lift to Fight the Boss was unnecessary if you gained the Levitate bonus, and that other bonuses were secondary to the above; and
the only good defence in Power Up required an alliance to be ahead in scoring.
Much of the above went far beyond just building a brilliant robot. i admire 254 for that this year. I’m sure their performance will remain an epic story that will be told for many years hence.
All of the above plus early collaboration with all teams they were scheduled with. It takes a very special crew to convince others to accept help these days for their own and the common good, and this was the ultimate coopertition based game. They realized that and went the extra 400 miles it took to reach both the auto line for almost all their alliance partners, for a very near perfect 4 RPs per match season long sprint. And they successfully reached that finish line also
Quick history lesson: In the 1980 Winter Olympics, Team USA’s hockey team beat the Soviets in a historic upset called the “Miracle on Ice.” It is interesting that the Soviets, who won 5 gold medals in the previous 6 Olympics, did not pull their goalie, a strategy that involves exchanging your goalie for an extra offensive player in hopes of mounting a comeback. Most speculate that the Soviets were so dominant, that they were unprepared to play from a losing position.
254’s play from their robot’s inherent capabilities can be compared to the Soviet hockey team’s dominance in the mid 1900’s, but what really made the Poofs go undefeated this season is their adaptability to any given situation on the field.
Like Karthik mentioned after SVR, 254’s match awareness and ability to play the right power-up at the right time ensures that they will always have an answer to the opposing alliance. Foregoing the early levitate and using Force II is an effective but rarely used strategy. And this awareness is prevalent beyond just playing power-ups; in Hopper Finals 2, you can watch 254’s attentiveness to maintaining both the scale and the home switch. They place just the right number of cubes on the respective scoring platforms to maximize the use of each cube and cycle. The Poofs always know what they are doing on the field (and with calculated rationale), something that is lacking even at the highest levels of play.
To go back to OP’s question, every team can always be preparing for different scenarios on the field. Whether it’s just making sure your human player always knows when/what power-ups to play or running through the list priorities in different situations, no team has even come close to the level of play 254 showcases on the field.
There are two aspects of competitive robot play in FRC: the robot and the performance on the field, and this year 254 has executed both flawlessly.
I actually think one of the most impressive parts of their season was just how much their driving improved over the course of the season. They dominated their first event while frankly not driving incredibly well, with what seemed like a lot of dropped cubes and strategic missteps. By their second event they had clearly gotten a lot more proficient with it, and really weren’t making any significant mistakes. At that point no one else even had a chance.