Why not the Innovation Challenge?

It’s pretty telling to me that there isn’t a dedicated discussion thread for the Innovation Challenge like there is for the IR@Home and the Game Design Challenge. In surveys here on CD, and informal surveys I’ve conducted on some of my FRC friends, the Innovation Challenge seems to be the third most popular option…

In a season where teams are almost universally battling limited resources, and limited engagement, I suspect a large majority of teams will consolidate their efforts on one or two of the challenges rather than spread themselves too thin, and end up with a mediocre showing in all events. This approach completely makes sense, and anything that gets students motivated right now is a huge win. I believe this set of facts will leave us with relatively few submissions for the Innovation Challenge.

For teams who are looking to achieve accolades and advance to the next level of the competition, the Innovation Challenge may be a great opportunity to stand out in an event where there are far fewer submissions. I also believe that the Innovation Challenge serves as a great opportunity to enable the students to solve new engineering challenges, rather than a challenge we solved last year (even though optimizing for the at-home challenges does create a fun engineering challenge in itself).

Are there any other reasons teams are choosing not to do the Innovation Challenge? Is the theme/topic not interesting?

If your team is doing the Innovation Challenge, why are you choosing to do it, and is it your team’s top priority?


We are participating. A project we’ve been working on since last summer is a solid fit, this is a great way for me to get the students to fully build out the business case and get to Production.

As it’s extremely team-specific, I hadn’t had a reason to post to Chief about it yet.

To your point about “pick (one or) two”, we are not participating in Game Design.

Personally, I would be a bit less pessimistic about things, and heavily edit your lead post here to be less dismissive of the innovation challenge. Maybe just notice that no one’s posted about it and make an open ended space to talk about it?


It’s quite the opposite really…

I’m extremely enthusiastic about the Innovation Challenge. I love the idea my team is running with. I think it will provide experience to our students that they could never get in a regular season. It could really be our primary focus depending on how things play out.


A topic “Why not the Innovation Challenge?” That leads with

And framing your first question as

Combines to create my impression of your thread expressing pessimism about the challenge.

Say you focus on why you’re excited about it and ask if other folks are as your first question - instead of your second. Then if someone wants to come into the thread and be Debbie Downer about it being the worst challenge, that’s on them, rather than on your topic post.

Anyway, now that we’ve gone all the way down this rathole about structuring communication, yes, I’m excited to see if my team can put together a simple device to help our teachers with distance learning at school and present it for the challenge (prioritized in that order).

Dude, numbers are numbers. It’s not pessimism when there is data…


We’re doing it, but it was definitely the one with the least amount of initial enthusiasm. I suspect it’s because the kids that would generally be most inclined towards this are heavily focused on our traditional award submissions.

We’re choosing to do it because we endeavor to provide a breadth of opportunities for our students. It’s definitely not our top priority, but there’s a set of students who are very interested in it and I’m sure that they’ll have a great experience pursuing it. Can’t force people to be enthusiastic about it. We have plenty of other interesting things to do-- there’s really something for everyone this season.

While we’re giving out unsolicited communication advice, I’d recommend… not. Frankly this comes off more as projection on your part than anything else.


Are you implying that asking the opposite question of “Are there any other reasons teams are choosing to do the innovation challenge” would be a positive, optimistic question?

The original question reads to me as trying to understand why it’s not a more alluring option to teams, because in the post itself @Ryan_Swanson clarifies that

For teams who are looking to achieve accolades and advance to the next level of the competition, the Innovation Challenge may be a great opportunity to stand out in an event where there are far fewer submissions. I also believe that the Innovation Challenge serves as a great opportunity to enable the students to solve new engineering challenges, rather than a challenge we solved last year (even though optimizing for the at-home challenges does create a fun engineering challenge in itself).

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Yes. That’s a much more constructive way to word my point, thank you :slight_smile:

I was also getting hyperbolic earlier - my apologies, Ryan.

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My team will not be participating in the Innovation Challenge because we believe team members will be more engaged if we do IR@Home. Additionally, we’re building a new robot this season to boost engagement and to ensure the continuity of knowledge.

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We have seven students currently on the team, and the Innovation Challenge is the least directly applicable to skills and abilities applicable to robotting more gooderer, so of two to focus on with such a small team, it was an easy (and unanimous) choice.

We are doing it and it’s our only priority. We can’t do IR@Home. The team felt the Game Design was kind of “meh” but honestly they only feel slightly better about the Innovation Challenge.

I like that there is very that little needs to be done for the initial submission. That doesn’t mean that we won’t strive for more, but its nice for teams like ours that don’t have access to much and are doing things virtually.

Yeah, that’s a hit to the motivation of the team for sure.

This to me has great deal of “CD bias”, probably there are more people interested in the Innovation challenge than it shows on the survey


We are not doing IC I suspect for two reasons.

  1. It’s not robots. Kinda the same reason it’s hard to get people interested in the “coveted” Chairman’s Award.

  2. It’s too open ended, so people have a hard time figuring out where to start. If it’s a competition are we really picking something that will make us stand out?

The same can be partially said for the game design. The new kids who don’t know are more “meh” but older one’s are pretty excited (though the chain element did dampen things somehow. still not sure on why)

I suspect if we were a much larger team where not everyone could be directly involved on the bot we’d get more interest, but that’s not us yet.

Right now it’s judging and skills for us. We discussed making a new bot for speed, but us mentors are trying to focus more on doing a good job on the judging which means tweaking as opposed to a new. More time to prepare presentations, showing that we’re optimizing what we currently have, and building within our means. We may even have time for game design after this.


It certainly does have a great deal of CD bias, but CD bias tends to swing in the direction of more competitive teams who could take on a greater proportion of challenges than the general team population. The overall percentage very well could be lower.


Exactly. The robots drive recruitment (come for the robots, stay for the community impact), and it’s a bit difficult to recruit with an open-ended design challenge, particularly for those teams that struggle with recruitment even during a normal year.


We’re doing all three (all four if you count improving the robot for a possible return to “normal” FRC). We have a largish and diverse team, so all aspects had kids interested.

Me personally, the innovation challenge is the least interesting (honestly dropping that was the best part of my daughter moving up from FLL to FRC). Handily we have other mentors with a better attitude.

Heh, I don’t know about other teams, but on 3928 every time they hear “Chairmans Award” they all respond “(the most prestigious award in FIRST)”. At this point I think it’s about equal measures of seriousness and snark. I, at least, am amused.

[and yes, they work hard on it every year]


I found this post when I was trying to figure out when FIRST was going to announce the Semi-Finalists. I coached FLL for many years before I became a mentor to our FRC team. In FLL, I coached the Project mostly because it was easier to find co-coaches if you told them they could coach the Robot Game.

I think most people think of FIRST as just a robotics competition, so sometimes it’s hard to get the students excited about the Project/Innovation. But it is my favorite part of the competition and I was so happy to see FIRST add it as an option in FRC.

The Innovation Challenge gives the students to do what engineers do - solve real world problems. The topics are open ended because a lot of life is open ended. The students get to talk with experts in the field and they learn that there are more questions out there than answers. My teams have talked with experts who worked at NASA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a fortune 500 insurance company, and many more. They learned about VR technology before the first commercial Oculus Rift was released and they learned about things like how to get graphene to adhere to surfaces.

In my last year coaching FLL, I had to try to encourage my team to work on the Robot Game because all of them wanted to work on the Project. I think part of the issue with teams not wanting to work on the Innovation Challenge is how we describe it to them. When I pitched it to our team this year, I talked about how if they ever thought about creating their own business, this was the challenge to pick. We would walk them through the entire innovation process and show them how businesses are created.

If anyone ever wants to talk with me about how to encourage their team to take on the Innovation Challenge, send me a message.

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For us it has a large part to do with just how small the team is. It’s why we didn’t do game design either. But I know for me personally, having come from FLL, and currently mentoring a team, it felt like big kid FLL. I always kind of hated the innovation project as an FLL student because that’s just not what I was very good at, and I never felt we had the resources to do it well. It’s a bit similar to when I did the invention convention. I did a simple little sewing thing and you had a kid only a few years older than me with a working prototype of glasses to help the blind navigate. I always felt dejected and like I couldn’t compete.

The challenge in general just always felt a bit forced and out of place to me truthfully. The theme being so limiting definitely hurt more than anything, even if it got rid of some of the open endedness. I think ultimately, in a year where students are drained by online classes and not seeing their friends, when forced to choose between robots (with some sort of hands on/in person element) designing fields for robots, and working on a more open ended challenge, I find the one robotics students are going to pick to be pretty obvious. Especially this year.

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That’s the big one. My students are in the SF Bay Area, our Innovation Challenge entry is app-based AI, and we (I) still didn’t successfully link up with professionals who could really size out and teach our students what would be required to build a prototype and succeed in that space.

This falls on the individual program, to a large degree, and how deeply networked the parents, mentors, and administrators are into global R&D. It’s not going to work as well for a program that doesn’t have a corps of professional adults leveraging their connections for their kids educational programs - just because of the sheer numbers game to finding a friend of a friend in the field.