The last set of sheet-metal is here. Critical parts from all over the country have arrived. I'm turning slowly into "bad cop" because... It's full speed ahead in production mode. Let's get this thing built so we can test it, break it, and make it better!
"Give us the Update First... Jokes & Rants Later"
We've had a good few days. We're still dealing with "The Slump" but everyone seems to be well rested and in good spirits.
- We had to go to Rev2 on the Battery Box. When we were doing initial physical systems integration (putting the first one together) no one was happy with the layout, and everything seemed like it would be better if we flipped the battery 90-degrees.
- Sigh. I think if you looked through history at the most iterated part on 148 robots - it would be the battery box. For some reason we never quite get it right the first time, no matter how many nonagons are cut into it.
- Madison points out: "Bolt's battery box was right the first time." Thank you, Madison.
- My typical battery box failure is "John, why do you need a hammer to get the battery installed?" The battery has not changed size in the 18 years I've been involved, and we have all the old CAD from previous, correct, battery boxes. We still get it wrong sometimes.
- #1 Drivetrain is wired and fully functional. We turned it over to the programmers for initial auton testing / tuning. (Of course, they enjoyed doing some sweet jumps with it off the platform before starting to do the real work.) Right now #1 is at the center of the field, propped up on milk-crates while 5 people are clustered around a laptop in the driver station. I don't understand programmers.
- #2 Drivetrain is mechanically complete, and waiting for lift integration.
- #1 Lift is almost done, and will hopefully be mounting up on #2 Drivetrain during the Day 29 meeting (Saturday 2/3/2018).
- Mk5 Intake is Assembled... AND IS NOW IN BLACK LEXAN! The #AllBlackEverything construction makes it 148% better. Hopefully we can get it mounted up on something and tested tomorrow!
- What are the odds that the Mk5 intake ends up on the #1 lift, sitting on the #2 drivetrain and we have a scoring test sometime tomorrow? I'd say 33% chance. We'll see.
- The Mk5 Intake now includes a crucial component...
First, some background...
In 2015, Rachel Doby a student on the Robowranglers designed the intake for our robot "Batman" using the Fairlane Flex-Grip-Drive Rollers as intake wheels. We didn't like these. They're expensive. The steel hub is heavy. They're kind of a pain to use. When we saw the Robonauts' robot in Dallas that year, we noticed they were using some custom wheels cut from a sheet of neoprene.
For years, the Robowranglers have referred to everything from the Robonauts as coming from "space" (or more accurately "spaaaaaaaaace") I don't actually remember where this started.
When we borrow grease from 118, it is known as "Space Grease". Duct tape becomes "Space Tape". In this tradition, we referred to these wheels as "Space Wheels".
"Does it come in Black?" Rachel asked the Robonauts for a favor, and they agreed. They were kind enough to water-jet some 5" diameter "Space Wheels" for us, and we used them at the Vegas regional, and at the Championship event.
We love Space Wheels. We wanted Space Wheels for our robot this year. We used extra 2015 Space Wheels on our prototypes this year, and they work great. Good compression. Good grip on the cube. Easy to integrate in our designs.
One problem: "No Government, No NASA, No Robonauts, No Water-jet." Of course... it all worked out, but for a while there we were trying to figure out how to help our white-and-gold wearing friends, not borrow some of their resources... Instead of bothering 118, we bothered someone else!
Hella Space Wheels
We asked our friends at West Coast Products if as a favor to 148, they'd fire up their water-jet and cut some NEW wheels for us. We really like their 1.625" and 2" intake wheels and used them on our robot Rogue in 2017. You can see them appear in every revision of our intake evolution.
"Yo, RC... can you make me some sweet 5" and 3.5" Intake wheels? Do you guys have Space Wheels out there?"
"Of course Bro, for 148, we got Hella Space Wheels out here in Cali!"
(Note: NOT a Real Conversation... But it could have been.)
(Note 2: If you read that 2nd part in RC's voice... you know what I'm talking about.)
Since these next-gen Space Wheels come from California, and since that above conversation happened in my head: we call them "Hella Space Wheels".
If a supplier in New England made them, they'd probably be "Wicked Space Wheels".
Fun Fact for RC: The last team to make us intake wheels went on to win a World Championship. Maybe this is 1323's year?
Hella Vielkind Brownies
Winston the Corgi: Shop Dog Mk2
Shop dogs are an iterative process. We loved having Matilda visit out shop last weekend, but on Day 28 we got a visit from Winston the Red Corgi.
I mean... it's not even fair. This dog is way too cute. He even has his own instagram. All productivity came to a halt. While I'm partial to the adorable grumpiness of Matilda, the rest of the team seems smitten by the Corgo doggo.
Shop dogs have become a great new addition to the 148 build process.
Meanwhile, in my head I'm desperately trying to convince myself: "I will not get a dog. I will not get a dog. I will not get a dog."
148 at the Highest Level
Some news to share! The Robowranglers have recently accepted a spot at the Colorado Regional in Denver, CO! We've been hoping to get in off the waiting list since early in the regional sign-up process. Everyone is disappointed to miss out on the fun in El Paso, but we know Denver will be a blast. Looking at the team list, it may be one of the toughest events of the year.
I always enjoy attending tough regionals as good preparation for a Championship run. We still talk about the amazing experience we had getting the stuffing kicked out of us in Waterloo 2016: we would not have gone to Einstein that year without Waterloo's trial by fire. We went up there for a reason...
NEW #AllBlackEverything Swag Alert!
"Everything seems great!" - JVN
"Yeah. I don’t know what’s bad yet." - BJC
Competition Robots vs. Practice Robots
I've had some questions about "#1, #2, and #3" in my updates - "What do those numbers mean?"
For our viewers at home... let me explain a subtle aspect of our competition everyone may not understand.
Since before I've been involved in this program, teams have been building "practice robots". As part of the engineering challenge, we need to stop working on our robots on a specific day (6-weeks after kickoff). In the past, we had to put the robots in big crates and ship them to our regionals: so old-timers refer to this as "Ship Day."
Now-a-days, we put the robot into a giant bag, close it up with a serialized zip-tie, and then pretend it's not sitting in a corner of our shop taunting us. This is called "Stop Build Day" or colloquially "Bag Day".
So why build another robot? Well, originally it was for practice, hence the term "Practice Bot". Teams would build clones of their robots so student drivers could get additional experience using the robot, and playing the game. This was a huge advantage. Imagine the difference between someone who only has 1 or 2 hours of practice and someone who has 100+ hours. It's noticeable. This method is now EXTREMELY common.
In 2003, FIRST gave us another reason: Autonomous mode!
At the beginning of the match, the robots must operate solely based on pre-programmed... blah blah blah... There's a lot of code required to make this work. How much time do we give the programmers with the robot during the 6-weeks to get the autonomous modes ready? Not enough. How much time can we give them after "Stop Build Day" but before the competition? Still not enough, but a lot more.
So the practice robot is now useful for practice and programming.
Lately... FIRST gave us another reason: Iterative Development!
Readers of the blog and Robowrangler fans will not be surprised to hear: we like to keep improving things, even after they're "done." ("Done is a 4-letter word"). In 2018 teams are allowed to bring up to 30 lbs of "custom" parts and assemblies into regionals. In addition, you're allowed to bring unlimited COTS components.
So, if the Robowranglers develop a new intake using less than 30 lbs of custom lexan/sheet-metal/whatever, we can carry those parts into our event and install them on our robot during the practice day, then get re-inspected.
How do we develop this new intake? How do we test it out? How do we tune it and practice with it? On the practice robot!
So the "practice" robot is now useful for practice, programming, and development!
"...wait a second, that's a lot of competing agendas for one little robot. How do you guys deal with dividing time between the programmers, drivers, and designers?"
"Ohh, it's very simple. As lead engineer I implement a very rigorous scheduling system in which everyone submits their requested time, and I set priority for..." (None of that is true).
The Robowrangler Triplets
Okay. So we historically have been very bad at dividing time between all these different needs. There is just not enough time to go around. A few years ago we started hearing about teams who build THREE robots: One competition robot. One robot for practice. One for coding & development.
This is very doable for us. Since we're a team that places a strong emphasis on "FULL CAD" we don't have very many one-off parts. Everything is being manufactured to a spec. (I talked about our manufacturing process during my Day 21/22 update.) We use sheet-metal as our primary construction method, and the primary burden on the shop is the CNC programming and bend setup time. Once the part is programmed, it is NOT much harder for them to make 100 than it is to make 2. (They're a production shop... they're probably happier making 100 of something.)
In 2016, 2017, and again in 2018 - we built 3 robots.
Some teams FULLY build their practice robot (even calling it a "prototype" robot) and then using the lessons learned from it, will build their competition robot. Other teams will build all their robots at the same time. We're somewhere in-between.
We build the robots staggered. We start with #1, then as we learn lessons from it, will follow up with #2 about 1-3 meetings behind it (depending on the system being built) before #1 is ever completed.
Some teams use partial frames from old robots as the basis for their practice bots. On 148 we build "fully identical" practice bots. In fact, we try to make sure you can't tell the different between the three.
Which one will be the competition robot (sometimes called comp-bot)? In theory, they're all identical. However #1 usually has some "lessons learned" during construction, and is usually the worst one. #3 is typically lagging a little bit behind... so #2 usually "goes in the bag."
After Stop Build Day, things get even weirder. Typically since #1 is the primary practice robot, it gets the HECK beat out of it by the drivers. That's the robot which shows us failure modes, and while we say #3 is for programming + development, #1 will also have a lot of development done on it. "I only have 1 prototype of the Mk9 intake... I'm going to put it on the robot which is getting the most drive time so we get the most testing out of it before we build more."
It is often a challenge to keep track of where all 3 robots are in the development cycle, and also to make sure we have good plans to keep them all up to date. "Does anyone remember what we need to do to the robot in the bag? What level is the comp-bot at?"
For any teams that have the resources, I'd highly recommend a practice robot. I used to say "you need it to be competitive" but I'm starting to realize everyone has different definitions and metrics for "competitive." I'll say this - if you want to avoid being "Captain Penalty" you should strongly consider it. Give the drivers time to improve!
Day 29 should be a fun one. We're moving along, morale is high, and we've got some exciting testing to be doing. We're also receiving some visitors again! Hopefully we won't need to lock them in the bunker with Beatty-Krunch.