Why aren't teams allowed to reuse fabricated parts?

Along the lines of other recent discussions: what is the point of this rule? For whom does this make the competition better?

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suppliers of increasingly complex COTS parts

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In theory, everyone starts from scratch on kickoff. In practice, teams who know they’ll be using for example a hole-patterned AM drivebase can have that done by end of kickoff, before the KoP arrives.

In theory, the games are different enough fabricated part wouldn’t be useful. In practice you get 2018 and 2019.

Also it probably helps out the vendors who can sell another robot’s worth of parts modified after kickoff.

Specifically we are talking about the rule that establishes the start of the window for legally creating fabricated parts… Right? A couple of very narrow answers:

  • This rule helps us be relatively strict about tearing down old robots to conserve our limited storage space. Currently we only hold onto old mechanisms to use them as occasional teaching tools (and for nostalgia).

  • It also helps the game designers: They don’t need to worry that teams will take old mechanisms out of storage and directly apply them to the new game.

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How much of a worry is this, in practice? It seems that the population this would be important to consists of “teams who have a stock of old, potentially-usable robot parts available, but who don’t have the expertise/capital/whathaveyou to easily replicate them.”

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It’s one of the oldest rules in the book, back to the days when teams shipped their robots. (So it’s NOT to benefit suppliers, they weren’t around then. Not to put too fine a point on it, but COTS parts that aren’t modified are also exempt.)

Given that context, it’s to enforce a 6-week build season, and a “level” playing field. (Combine with the “public design” rule for maximum impact.)

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The reason for a rule’s original creation isn’t necessarily the reason for its continued existence, though. FIRST could have relaxed this requirement at any time.

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Agreed this should be a small worry for the reasons you identified.

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I think it’s a wasteful rule. Just change it to say no reusing major mechanisms (reuse nomenclature from updated cheesecaking rules). Things like 3D -printed spacers, 3D-printed almost anything, even custom cut gears & gearboxes, etc. should be reusable. The downside of the waste > any benefits I can think of.

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Or, more likely: the rule hasn’t been relaxed because that block of rules hasn’t been looked at in a few years if at all, or if it has been, FIRST has decided that the rule and its known effects are not an issue.

Theoretically, HQ looks at all the rules every year. Practically, I’d bet that they really only look at game-specific rules and rules that have been complained about.

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Recall that they have relaxed this rule, beginning with the 2020 season, to allow pre-fabricated parts where it’s possible to replicate the old features in <= 30 minutes with hand tools.

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This is a depressing thought.

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This neat swerve module my hypothetical team designed isn’t exempt though, and we’re questioning why we should even make our own if we can just buy new COTS ones every year with the same functionality.

Not saying that’s a bad thing necessarily, but this rule has contributed significantly to the creation of these markets, and thus sales of COTS products.

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This is the part that annoys me. We can buy 4 $499 dollar COTS swerve units and use them from this year until the heat death of the universe. But if you actually do the work to design & construct your own, it’s a one and done. How the heck is that inspiring anyone (except swerve vendors)?

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Some may argue that the engineering is inspirational. Students can be inspired by evaluating all of their options and choosing the most advantageous, arguably the core of engineering. I don’t particularly agree with that angle, as First is tipping the scales there (intentionally or not).

A rule about being allowed to reuse COTS-equivalent products would be interesting, but near-impossible to enforce and introduces new issues.

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I agree with @troy_dietz. We have continued to use our custom swerve for the past couple of years even though the COTS modules available today are easily as good. Investing in COTS modules would allow us to focus more time on other aspects of our robot during the build season. But owning the design allows us to continue to develop and tweak the design and try new things. Each of those iterations (both big and small) teach very valuable lessons about integrating a complex system module into a larger vehicle. It also instills a sense of pride in a solid design with many features that have been cleverly integrated into the design. In some ways, it has created a sense of history for our team as each generation of students passes down their knowledge to the next generation.

Would we like to be able to re-use those modules year after year? Yes, of course we would. Are we willing to accept the time sunk into building them from scratch each season for the advantages listed above. At this point, we are. Perhaps at some point in the future, we will bite the bullet and invest in some COTS modules that we can re-use each season. We’ll see.

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That’s the full rule from the 2020 manual.

This was a good start but I agree it should be expanded to more items. The limit on major mechanisms seems like a better standard to me. Allowing teams to cut their own gussets and reuse them, reuse of 3d printed parts, etc seems like an obvious thing to do to me.

I’m fine going further and understanding that all teams are different and if a team needs to reuse a drive train or other major mechanism from one year to the next the compassionate thing to do would be allow them to do that. Very rarely will any team gain an advantage using previous year’s mechanisms compared to designing and building a new specific mechanism for the new game.

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More than this - reusing actual mechanisms is, for a lot of teams, probably the only financially feasible way for the students to have access to a proper multi-year iterative design process.

For teams with access to a lot of capital, the persistent design work is effectively decoupled from the actual physical mechanism. For teams without, the actual mechanism is often all there is.

FIRST should be encouraging this, not making it impossible.

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This.

I can’t think of a game where you could revive an old major mechanism to play a new game other than a drivebase and it would be equal to or better than what was needed to be competitive. HQ does a good job in the game design mixing up items that are similar, but not identical.

Alleviating the rules recently to allow for > 5 minute operations on COTS parts really only made something that was being done in a gray area legal for teams particularly those with lower resources. It was a great move, and should be expanded.

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My concern is this gives teams (particularly limited resource ones) an option that may not be very inspiring to students. Option (a) reuse this old mechanism because it’s easy / low cost, even if not very competitive. Option (b) it’s more work, but higher risk, and get the learning/inspiration from designing and fabricating a new mechanism. I could see some teams feeling pressured to pick option (a) for various not-so-good reasons.