2018 Day 5 & 6: Solutions Come, Solutions Go

No official team meetings on Day 5 / 6 (we meet Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday).  Some of the design group did sit down on Thursday night to flesh out some of the concepts the full-team presented for climbers.  Sometimes a problem which seems "solved" when discussing it on a whiteboard, falls apart when you look at the details.  We've definitely got a lot of that happening.

I'm the type of person that can be consumed by a fun problem.  When I'm driving... I'm thinking about solving the problem.  When I'm lying in bed... I can't sleep until I think of some "workable" solution.  I spend every free minute thinking about the problem, attacking it from new angles, researching inspiration for new solutions, thinking through the details of potential solutions to see if they fail.

I think the greatest example of this I've dealt with was on our climber in 2013.  The team asked me to lead the design group which would do the climber design.  I literally couldn't sleep.  Each day I'd finally go to bed thinking: "This is the way we're going to solve it."  Then the next day our design team would test out that solution in CAD, and inevitably there would be some "gotcha" making it impractical.  "This works great... except we can't actually phase THROUGH the bar as we climb to level 2."  

Billy Madison Engineering

The design team would find the flaw, and start thinking of another new idea.  We must've gone through 10+ different (wildly different) concepts in the first two weeks before coming to our somewhat unconventional solution.  Our solution would admittedly have both big highs, and also some very low lows.

Now, what's interesting about that problem... it was mostly self inflicted.  We were trying to solve it all with only two major actuations.  It turns out, with a little more complexity, you get greater simplicity.  (Re-watching that video makes me giggle.)

So how does that apply to this year?
When I left our "Climber-stravaganza" meeting on Tuesday night, I thought I had a good idea of what our climber mechanism was going to turn out to be.  "We just need to check a few geometries in CAD, do a little prototyping, and after that it will be plug-and-chug design -- no system risk."  Turns out, a little bit of geometry investigation made this solution not viable.

By the end of last night, we had another concept which seems like it may work.  ("It works in my head" is only a small step above "it works in CAD").  Once we do some investigation, maybe this one will work... or maybe we'll come up with another idea.

Has your team run into this?
How do you respond?
Does your response depend on what point of the season you're in?

The worst thing that you can do is not bother checking, or disregarding early indicators.  Many teams will say "we decided we're doing it like this, and we're going to make it work."  While that can sometimes be powerful, it's a little early in the process for that kind of thinking.  If you have a prototype that fails... if you have a concept which isn't fleshing out like you want... if you've painted yourself into a corner you don't like... don't be afraid to start over.  Everything is iterative.

Some teams can continue to hold this mentality all the way until the Championship event, with great results.  It's inspiring to me to watch a team pull off a dramatic and full re-build of a robot just before Championship in an attempt to "join the banner race."  Not all teams are capable of this, but some are... and fortune favors the bold.

The good news is... it's only Day 7!
Fail, and find a new plan.  Don't commit to mediocre.  If you get comfortable with this mentality, you're going to be successful at whatever you do next.