This week has been all about building, building, building. Now the team takes one last deep breath before the plunge into the final weekend. 4 days left!
With "Stop Build Day" coming up on Day 46 (Tuesday, February 20) the team is slogging towards the finish line. Of course... (as discussed in the Day 28 update) we have two practice robots so we really don't need to actually "stop building" until we pack for the Dallas regional on Day 54.
Some Updates & Musings:
- My "HeadCAD" is still calibrated for the old-school 30" x 36" robots. Sometimes we've been working on something in CAD for weeks, and when it shows up in real life it's shockingly small. "What is this, an intake gearbox for ants?"
- For North Texas this has been (what feels like) the coldest, rainiest, miserable-est winter we've had since I moved here from NY. On Day 41 we finally had a meeting where we could pop the hatch and open our outer garage door to let some fresh-air in. One of my favorite parts of our shop is the fact that we can do this on nice days.
- We enjoyed seeing Team 3355 unveil their robot on Chief Delphi. There is just something about it which we like. I can't put my finger on it....
- In all seriousness, I love teams who decided "We should build and improve the Everybot." I think you're in for a great, GREAT season. See you guys in Dallas! If you seed #1 and pick 148, we'll try not to let you down.
- Ohh... for 3355 and other teams deciding their robots look more stylish in Black... I do have a message for you:
- The Mk6 intake design has been completed, it is 100% lexan, the parts for the first two are done, and the first one has been fully assembled.
- You read that right... we made parts for more than one intake. We think the Mk6 may be the one we use for Dallas. Are we right? Is it misplaced confidence?
- Testing the Mk6 intake is a top priority for Day 42 and the results will determine how the weekend goes..
- The #2 robot has been mostly used for autonomous mode testing, and tuning driver-control code.
- Since the programmers have the #2 robot... the #1 robot is mostly sitting idle. We've been struggling to produce the #3 lift, due to a major issue with a supplier. That's what we get for not buying from VEX. #1 may not get a full lift mechanism until after Stop Build Day.
- The #3 robot is almost done. It is fully wired, and just needs a Mk6 intake, and a next gen climber.
- We're doing a lot of "fiddle bits" type design. Little things on the robot to make it better. Guards, and guides, and little mounting brackets.
- I copied and pasted into the wrong cell in an Excel sheet when we did a sheet-metal drop early this week. That error cost us 24 hours of build since we were missing a crucial part. If you know the pain of a "copy-paste error" costing 24 crucial week 6 hours, you're now my brother in arms.
- Anyone else miss Friday nights? I miss Friday nights. Not that I don't LOVE spending my Friday nights at the Robowrangler shop eating popcorn, but we all need some "me time" sometimes. #NoDaysOff
- The next generation climber (final revision for Dallas?) is mostly built, and should be installed on robot #2 and robot #3 sometime during Day 42. Based on the testing from Day 37, we feel pretty good about this one... (I really hope I didn't just jinx it.) Ohh well, if it fails, it fails.
What's in a Name?
"That which we call a Renegade, by any other word would look as black?"
Another notable news item... THE ROBOT HAS A NAME! We typically rely on consensus building for decision making, but when it comes to the robot name: we vote. This is the one of the only items we vote on each year. ("Vote is a 4-letter word.")
Our process is multi-tiered.
- Anyone on the team can nominate a name by writing it on the "Name Suggestions" whiteboard. We encourage "serious nominations only." Trolling is a way of life on 148, and once that floodgate opens, it never stops. People try to out-do themselves with ridiculous name suggestions. So, anyone can write something in, but they had better be willing to see that as the final robot name.
- "The Boss" and I get to go through and veto names. We try to make sure anything which is against the 148 brand is removed. We try to remove all the inappropriate names, or names with subtle inappropriate meanings.
- Everyone submits their top 3 favorite names by anonymous ballot.
- The top 3 names with the most votes go back on the whiteboard.
- Everyone votes on their favorite name. Most votes wins.
What is this year's name? We'll be unveiling our 2018 robot at our Community Open House on 2/19.
Get the #3 robot "war ready".
Hopefully stop iterating for long enough to get a stable config into the bag.
Prep for the open-house. (CLEAN THE SHOP).
Maybe some scrimmage with a few of our local friends?
When Can I Stop Failing?
I've had a two or three people ask me recently about how we balance our "Celebrate Failure" iterative mindset with the "need to finish the eff robot." It's a question I struggle to answer.
"What happens if we just keep failing?!? Nothing seems to be working. People are getting restless and losing morale. It's hard to keep treating them as learning experiences."
I have a little bit of "Let them Eat Cake" going on in my thinking, and need to check my privilege.
A few comments:
148 is pre-qualified for FRC Champs, because we're an "original & sustaining team" (Established 1992, baby!) We don't need to qualify for Championship (although we usually do anyway). Do I understand this is an incredible luxury and privilege? Yes, and we don't take it for granted. Does being pre-qualified affect our thinking? Yes, probably.
We can afford to use the "Championship Run" as our end-goal, and scale everything towards that. This means we ALREADY KNOW our process will keep going until late April. It definitely takes some of the pressure off us, but adds different kinds of pressure.
"Wait... so you guys don't care about trying to do your best at regionals?"
NO. Not true at all. We're always trying to do our best. However we can build in tiers of functionality, with a long-term goal in sight. Sometimes we'll say "Let's focus on perfecting the simple autons, and we then have some time later to finish the other ones." We will just make sure there are always pieces in place in the short-term-planning which allow us to build towards our long-term goals.
"But... at some point you need to finish the robot. How do you make sure you have something functioning for your first event?"
1 - We build things in "tiers" of functionality.
2 - We have fall-back plans in place.
Maybe our ideal solution isn't coming together fast enough. That's fine... as we get closer and closer to the deadline the "next step" will be one with less and less risk.
Example: in case we can't get the intake concept to work right, I make sure someone on the team has plan in their head for a VERY LOW RISK intake design. "Okay, the 'Plan F' intake isn't everything we want, but at least we KNOW it will work." At some point, if things go badly we will switch to Plan F.
Then... once Plan F is working, we improve on it. We slowly work our way back to where we want to be. Would it be better to run the entire process this way? We do, somewhat. We just skip ahead a bunch of steps in the interest of speeding things up: sometimes this is 100% the only reason we're successful, other times it just causes a lot of aggravation.
Sometimes, we'll run on parallel paths. We'll build Plan F while we're building Plan A.
If you're getting sick of "celebrating opportunities for learning", get something built which you KNOW will work. THEN, it'll be a lot easier on team morale to iterate and fail in the quest for a more advanced version.
Believe in the Safety Net
There is wonderful moment every year, where I have the "Okay, we can compete at our first regional with this robot" moment. It is INCREDIBLY liberating. Maybe I'm not even that happy with the robot (I'm usually not)... but at least I feel like we'll be "in-the-hunt" and can go compete.
Getting to this point is important. Feeling like there is a safety net in place is important.
This year we've said things like:
"Well, if this fails, we'll just build the Everybot."
"If this lift fails, we'll just buy the Greyt elevator."
It's nice to know you have a fallback plan, even if you never need it.
Hit me up with an email if you have any thoughts on this. I've never verbalized this philosophy before, and so it's still a little raw.
This entire build blog has had a lot of... "How do I explain what we do, even if I don't understand what we do." and also "Do we even know what we're doing? No one should take our advice."
Delays & Stupid Mentor Tricks
For those people who've been asking "Where's the latest blog? You're not updating as much! Is everything okay?"
Yes, everything is fine. It's just been a little busy here in the House of Black and at RackSolutions so I've been falling behind. Things are also kind of boring right now. Until we unveil the robot, most of the posts will be along the lines of "We worked on finishing." Not the greatest narrative.
To my dear readers... I'm sorry for the delayed posting. Thank you for sticking with me!
Week 6 Stupid Mentor Trick... did you know the Ninebot can be driven remotely via smartphone? It's not very fast. James decided to tie some CIM motors to the top of his steering column and see if the performance got any better.