After a well-earned Sunday off, the Robowranglers hit the ground running in week 4. Since the #1 drivetrain worked as expected, full production on #2 and #3 has begun... however we are facing one of our toughest challenges: "The Slump".
I've been involved in FRC since the 2000 season, and on the Robowranglers since 2007. In my time in this program I've learned there are some inescapable absolutes: one of these is the "mid-season slump".
I don't know exactly what causes it, but it seems to be fairly wide-spread among our team. In talking to friends from other teams, it isn't just a Robowrangler phenomenon. Morale can plummet. Pessimistic urges take root. People will despair. Ideas which seemed great just a few days earlier, now feel like they've been "hand-waved" into being. "Why did we ever think this was a good idea, is it too late to just build the EveryBot?"
Why? Why does this affliction hit even the most hardcore engineering-challenge veterans?
- Lack of Sleep? Is it because the designers are tired from the CAD push? When we're sleep deprived, we're more susceptible to emotional outburst. "I don't like that I'm able to feel feelings right now... I need some sleep to make this go away!"
- No more "new idea" excitement? We had a lot of energy in week 1 and 2 since we were in the "create ideas" stage of the process. Now that we're in execution mode that excitement is missing.
- No more prototyping manic energy?
"That's a cool idea, just throw some 2x4s onto the 2017 robot and let's see if it works!"
"Take your time and ensure quality. We need to make sure this is 'battle ready' in case it goes on the competition robot."
- Lack of enthusiasm for "the slog"? At this point in the season, we're in full production mode. We're slogging through the building. Production construction is not as fun as prototyping or iteration. It's just not. No matter how much you love lathing, you're not going to love lathing after hour 67.
- No robots running around? We're not doing as much testing on old robots, and we don't have the new robots running in any sort of repeatable fashion.
- Designer angst? "Yes, the prototype worked. Yes, the CAD looks amazing. Yes, the high fidelity prototype worked great. But until this DARN thing works in real life, my ulcer is going to continue to grow."
- Waiting to solve the next problem? "Okay, I know I need to figure out how to do XYZ, but I really can't dig into that until I see how ABC works on the production robot."
- Schedule panic? "Week 4? This is past the halfway point! We're over halfway done! We're never going to finish! PANIC! PAAAAAANIC!"
- To-Do List Panic? "Okay, so it's the middle of week 4. All we need to do between now and the deadline is... well... that's a pretty long list. Okay. It's not that bad. This is fine. I am okay with the events that are unfolding currently."
- Keeping up with the Jones' Anxiety? "Did you hear Zondag said they're already done manufacturing parts for their robots? We're so far behind the Bees! How will we ever compete with them?!?"
- Driver Training Angst? "We can totally finish the robot on time. We're right on schedule. Then we're competing week 1, so we'll have approximately 3 hours and 27 minutes for the drivers to practice before we go off to face the Robonauts in Dallas. No big deal."
- Autonomous Programming Apprehension? "So we've got all the different starting positions. We've got all the different scoring options that the strategists wanted. We've got the 4 different possible field configurations. So that means we have A x B x 4 = 254 different options. We've got enough time to program those if each one takes less than 17 minutes."
Big question... How many of those things exist only in our heads?
Second question... does acknowledging "it's all in our head" make it less scary?
Trust the process. Trust the process. Trust the process.
Side Note: there is also a Week 6 slump, but that doesn't usually affect as many people. (It hits me REALLY hard. So hard that my friends make fun of me for how irrationally hard I get hit.) We'll talk about that if it comes up...
2018 Progress Update
At the end of Day 25:
- #1 Drivetrain was fully assembled, but we already found some small tweaks we need to make.
- #2 Drivetrain is mostly assembled. Lessons learned from #1 are being implemented.
- #3 Drivetrain is just getting started.
- Mk4 intake testing has been completed on a "Rogue" testbed.
- Mk5 intake design is in-work. We expect to have a Mk5 by Friday's meeting (Day 28).
- Until the end of Day 25 we had no good idea of where the roboRIO would fit on the robot. We've finally got a good plan. Again... maybe you shouldn't take any of my advice on System Integration.
- #1 Climber assembly is mostly complete. Need to start testing ASAP.
- #1 Bumpers are done, and being mounted up to the #1 drivetrain. These bumpers come in the "too light blue" that we got by accident when we switched fabric suppliers.
- Lift CAD was completed and sent for sheet-metal on Monday evening (Day 24).
- Manufacturing of the other lift components is underway in the shop. Lots of part fab happening.
- Programmers have been running autonomous tests on historical Robowrangler robots. Depending on how the initial lift construction goes, we'll probably mount it on #2 and let the programmers use #1 for initial drivetrain auton work.
- We had BOTH Robowrangler lathes go down during days 24/25 - we currently have one back and running. This was a bit of a bummer. We don't do a LOT of custom turned parts, but when we need them - we need them.
- Field Construction is chugging along. It is really cool to see a full "bar" in place with 2 robots hanging on it. I think a few of us old-timers got a little emotional seeing those two up there (or maybe it was just me getting emotional... "I'm not crying, YOU'RE crying").
- ...I don't know who trusted Viper "staying on the bar" less, the people who were on the team in 2013, or the people who weren't.
- (Personally, I fully trust Viper. Once she's latched on, she isn't going anywhere!)
- We're already concerned about robot weight... reduction plans are evolving. Ugh.
As you may remember, we talked about Corbin and how he's doing during the Day 11 update.
"Hi Angela! Corbin is doing great. He and I still don't get to work together very much, but the other mentors say he's been having a good season. On Day 25 I asked him what he was working on, and he said he's been building the #2 and #3 drivetrain. In fact, he commented that he's been riveting so much that his arms hurt. He seemed in good spirits, and was wearing his aching arms as a badge of honor. I hope he's handling the slump well."
If there is a better summary of what life is like as a Robowrangler during this part of the year, I can't think of it: "Rivet until your arms hurt. Then rivet more."
Overall, even though I'm suffering from some serious "slump depression" I think the Robowranglers are in great shape. I'm eager to see a few things work in real life so I can get over my designer angst. Even if we have some things unsolved. Even if we need to redo some stuff, we have time to make it happen. Trust the Process. Keep Iterating. Chase Excellence.