On an up-and-coming FRC team? Want to be part of an Einstein Alliance but not quite ready to go 1 vs 1 against the big guns? Curious what to focus on this season to make yourself a desirable partner? Here's my take on what inexperienced teams should prioritize this year...
I had a team email me and ask for my opinion on what their robot focus should be. Here is that list. Note: Many of these emphasize ways of making your robot a desirable playoff partner, and are listed earlier in the priority list since the "effort-reward" is very good.
JVN's Robot Priorities:
- Drive reliably, every match. Never "die" at any time.
No thrown chains, no dropped bumpers, no lost comms, no popped breakers, no low batteries, no broken wheels, no excuses...
- Repeat #1 - NO EXCUSES. The Simbots will still get chosen if they don't move in a match, you may not be forgiven as easily by judgmental scouts.
- Drive forward in autonomous across the line, every time.
- Have the ability to add a delay for the start of your autonomous mode to coordinate with partners who have "places to be" and need to to go first.
- Drive everywhere on the field, including up on the platform without getting stuck. This will enable you to drive up for points in the end-game, and enable you to get into position if one of your partners has a "lifter" mechanism. They'll be looking for teams that are able to get up there repeatedly.
- Be small, be lightweight, be a microwave NOT a fridge.
Space is at a premium on the platform, and on ramps. There are lots of teams who will be looking for small robots, especially if they have some method for lifting their partner. In past games teams frequently recorded size/weight of robots and other "fixed" physical characteristics as part of their scouting data. If you have some removable functions which might make you desirable for support roles.
I know this is a weird thing to think about... but we (and others) have worked with our partners to sawzall off parts of robots to make them fit a special elimination strategy. If you're modular, that makes you desirable. If you're small, that makes you desirable.
- Be able to climb ramps. Even poorly designed ramps. There are tradeoffs in building a drivetrain to do this, but these tradeoffs should be no-brainers for a team trying to "move up the pyramid" with smart choices.
- Mounting points near your frame perimeter. If a team wants to attach something to you for eliminations, it's nice to have good infrastructure in place. The Robowranglers are already talking about how we may even ask partners to add simple features for qualification matches - we probably aren't the only ones.
- High ground clearance for "forks". If some teams are building forklift type lifters - maybe you'll want to be able to be fork-lifted.
- Be able to collect a cube from a Human Player (and/or start with a cube) then dump it into a switch or on the ground. (See 118 - Everybot)
Ok, let's take a break here. If your robot can do all those things, you're already in GREAT shape. Seems simple, right? Maybe you're reading this going: "But JVN, we will totally be able to do that stuff, we want to be more ambitious." Look man, I get it. Fortune favors the bold. You want to step it up. My advice? You'd better be REALLY sure you're going to nail the above list (especially #1-5) before moving on.
Feeling good? Then let's continue...
- Detect the field red/blue state and drive forward to score a cube in a switch if the switch in front of you is the right color.
- Detect the field red/blue state and drive to the correct side of the switch (from the center position) and score the cube.
- Drive on the far side of the field without getting penalties. There are some danger zones over there - some teams will be practiced at playing over there while visibility is low, others will get their alliances in trouble.
Do you want the scouts watching your robot to say things like: "Those guys are SCARY good as a deep threat, I'd totally trust them to handle the far switch" or do you want them saying things like: "we call that the 'Captain Penalty' robot".
Would you pick Captain Penalty? No, you wouldn't. Don't be Captain Penalty.
- Plow a cube on the floor controllably to a specific location. (So you can push cubes into protected places where partners can grab/score them). This is actually harder than building the Everybot. Just because your robot is "designed" to plow a cube, doesn't mean it will be able to reliably do that in a match.
- Grab a cube from the "stack" in front of the driver station (without knocking the whole stack all over the place so the protected cubes can be stolen by sneaky opponents) carry it to the exchange, and give it to the human players in the driver station. (This one will be much harder than most people think). Just because your robot does it great in CAD, doesn't mean you'll pull it off consistently in a match.
I almost made the list stop there. If you build a WELL EXECUTED version of a robot that has all this stuff, you'll be in great shape. GREAT shape. GREEEEEEAT shape.
Just build it, and practice like crazy with it, and make it do the same amazing thing EVERY MATCH. Also make sure you've got spare parts to make sure you're ALWAYS going to be able to do this stuff even when fate tries to stop you). Instead of spending time adding more functions, spend time contemplating the phrase "EVERY MATCH".
The Robowranglers use "EVERY MATCH" as a mantra when we design, and prepare for competition.
Here are 5 more things, which you probably should just ignore... Read below at your own risk:
- Pickup a cube off the floor and drop it into a switch.
- Lift your robot up on the bar.
- Build a ramp for 1 (or 2) partners to drive onto. (Don't do this. It'll break your heart and make you worse at all the stuff above which is WAY more important!)
- Lift your robot up on the bar, off to the side, completely out of the way of a partner.
- Score cubes on the scale. (Maybe instead of doing this, instead you could NOT do it. Focus on being amazing at the rest of the list.)