The trailer is packed. The sub-teams are set. Plans have been made, resources meticulously arranged. The Robowranglers are ready to compete in the last-ever Dallas Regional Competition!
You can follow along from home through The Blue Alliance. Or check this blog, or follow on Robowrangler Social Media to get periodic updates.
In the last 5 days, we've had time to get a lot of work done for the Dallas Regional Competition. I sometimes talk about the "Robowrangler War Machine". To me, the way an FRC team prepares for competition is incredible and feels almost like a living thing. The robot performance on the field is the result of an entire army of people doing things behind the scenes in real-time to support it (not even to mention the days, weeks, months, and years of work which lead to it's creation).
On the Robowranglers, we have many sub-teams, each with lots of moving parts. We do lots much extra work to try to mitigate the effects of bad luck. We always try to go above and beyond in supporting other teams at the event, do some extra "fun" things at each competition, while still competing like heck to win some gold.
- The scouting/strategy team designed our 2018 scouting sheets. These sheets are what they'll use to collect information on other teams & robots at the event. We gather details both in the pits, and from watching matches.
- In particular this year, we're going to be working to understand which teams will work best with our Robot-Wrangler mechanism. While we designed it to be as versatile as possible, it certainly works better with some robots than others. Many teams at the Dallas event will work perfectly. While other teams would need to tweak a few things to work well.
- We prepped a bunch of resourced to use to help make the Robot-Wrangler more compatible with different partner types, and prepped resources to help adapt partners to work with the Robot-Wrangler. (Including that key component which makes it all work.)
SIDE NOTE: I LOVE the experience that comes from walking up to a new partner and in a short period of time making modifications to both our robots to make them more compatible. Every year when we get to do this, it's a lot of fun. "Ok, so if we move our attachment point like this, and then if you're able to add a cross bar here... PERFECT!" Every interaction is an opportunity for a mini problem solving session, and each time we get to work with someone new. I always learn so much, and I know the other Robowranglers feel the same way.
- Originally the rules said that to legally throw cubes into the goal, a robot needed to be touching it. Team Update 13 says you can throw the cubes, if any part of your robot is hanging over the edge of the goal, even if your bumpers aren't touching it. So what did we do? We added some really silly floopy** fingers on top of our intake carriage that stick all the way out to the very front edge of the legal robot expansion limit.
- We think these fingers are really funny. They're (of course) black, and they should make it pretty obvious to refs that we're legally scoring cubes.
- We finished our initial set of autonomous modes. We have some pretty basic ones completed that should be good for the Dallas competition. I love them. We used path-planning for the first time this year, and the programming team really hit it out of the park. I giggle like a school-girl every time I see the robot zip off the line at full speed, make a hard turn in a graceful arc without slowing down, and cruise over to it's scoring position.
- We started some of our initial "advanced" autonomous modes, but since these haven't been tested very much we probably won't use the for Dallas. We'll have them ready for the Denver competition in a few weeks - and REALLY ready in time for the World Championship.
- We made the sheet-metal reinforcement bracket which will get installed on the competition robot during our practice day. This will help prevent the failure that occurred on the practice robot (I mentioned this on Day 48). While we assume the additional "intake cradle" that is on the competition robot will protect it, we are not too good for doubling up on risk-mitigation.
- We completed, installed, tested, and mass-produced the Mk7 intake.
- Our primary goal for the Mk7 was weight reduction. While the robot is FAR below the legal weight limit, we are always trying to make it lighter. In addition, since this mechanism is at the very top of the elevator when we are extended - we want to reduce the weight as much as possible to make the robot more stable! We took 2.6 lbs of weight out of the structure alone, without any "significant" structural loss.
SIDE NOTE: "Wow, you guys had that thing way over-built! You're bad at this!" Yes. Except this was part of the plan. I talked in a previous blog about how sometimes you build risk-mitigation into your iteration. We intentionally build a "too strong" version of the intake as our safety net version. We knew all along that the Mk6 was good enough for competition. However... we also knew we wanted to do better.
Having the Mk6 (and spares) all bagged up gave us the confidence to experiment more aggressively with the Mk7 - this was always part of the plan. I'm very happy with the end-result, but I suspect we'll have even more improvements to make for the Mk8. Design is iterative, after all.
- We did some minor "variable" tuning on the Mk7 intake. Things like adjusting the hard-stops, adjusting the wheel positions, adjusting how much spring-tension is on each arm, etc. Our goal is always to make sure the intake holds the cubes SECURELY (in all orientations), while still functioning as a "touch-it, own-it" mechanism.
- We also experimented with some different wheels. We LOVE the Hella Space wheels on the intake, but in the interest of due diligence, wanted to try a few other configurations out. My favorite was one nicknamed the "Hella Stupid Wheels" which seemed like they might work pretty well, but in the end didn't pan out. Maybe the name should have been a clue?
SIDE NOTE: We talk about "intake slurpiness" as a variable and measure of effectiveness. As in: "Wow, that intake seems pretty slurpy." or "This change seems to make it less slurpy." Are we the only team to do that? Is this one of those 148-isms which we forget isn't normal for other teams?
- We did a bunch more driver practice and training drills. They're getting pretty good at harnessing Uppercut's speed and capability. As we practice the drivers challenge the mechanical designers to improve the systems. They help the pit-crew understand maintenance items. They challenge the programming team to make the controls better.
- We all reviewed THE RULES as well as the FIRST list of Rules & Expectations for competitors
- We experimented with a "Rear Deploying Hook" to make the hanging-sequence faster. This was a failure. We did two quick iterations, and neither one worked out like we wanted. So for Dallas, our plan is to use the "side deploy" hook we had in our unveiling video and potentially continue iteration for the Denver Competition.
- We completed the Robot-Wrangler Mk5. We had a few small geometry changes, but also had one big change. The Mk4 was almost entirely constructed from Lexan (to enable faster iteration). Some of you may have noticed in our unveil video, when we lifted the "worst case" robots, our forks flexed a little bit. This is good and bed. "Bend, don't break" is often a good design philosophy. However we wanted to increase the stiffness a little bit to make it possible to lift "the most fridgiest of fridges" in Dallas.
The new Robot-Wrangler Mk5 includes aluminum forks, and a reinforced joint. It also has some built-in modularity to allow us to tweak the Robot-Wrangler design depending on the partner we're climbing with!
- We finally made Red and Blue bumpers. While we spent a lot of time trying to figure out if we could convince everyone that "These are just a REALLY dark shade of Red" we ultimately realized the robot wouldn't always be clad in #AllBlackEverything.
- We prepared "the list" for Dallas Practice Day. For almost every competition we have some upgrades we'd like to make on the robot during Practice Day. We want to get these upgrades done quickly and efficiently. We plan our practice days meticulously (especially the ones like Houston 2017 where we rebuilt almost the entire robot). The pit bosses create a list of tasks, we divvy up the work, make sure everyone is trained for their task, and then attack the list as soon as the bag comes off the robot.
Our goal is to have the mods done, and robot inspected in time for us to be in the first practice match of the event. Will we succeed at this regional?
- We made "the shirt". Every event, the pit bosses put the to-do list on a t-shirt. (A tradition we stole 5 or 6 years ago from 177 - Bobcat Robotics). I wear the t-shirt at each event, and the pit crew gets to cross things off it when they're completed. Since I wear the t-shirt... the pit crew sometimes picks out a funny one for me. Usually the shirt is supposed to relate to the event we're at.
- The pit-crew preparations have been going on in the background (and foreground) for weeks already. The Robowranglers use two custom rolling carts as our pit setup. We custom fill these with a cross section of whatever spare parts, tools, and resources are needed for that specific robot and competition. The pit crew is ready.
- We made checklists. Lots of checklists. The pit crew has checklists for pre/post match. The driveteam has checklists. The scouts have checklists. The Media team has checklists. We love checklists. Did we forget something on each of these checklists? Yes, absolutely. Checklists are iterative. As we find problems, we add things to our checklists. We try not to make the same mistakes more than once... we just make new mistakes.
- At every competition we're allowed to bring up to 30 lbs of CUSTOM spare/upgrade parts into the event. (We can bring unlimited COTS components). We need to carefully choose what we're going to bring in.
What's in our 30 lbs for Dallas?
- A fully assembled Mk7 intake (just needs motors, and wheels).
- Reinforcement Brackets for the "don't let the intake fall off the elevator" problem.
- Some Hella Stupid Wheels
- Some Hella Space Wheels
- Some Thin Space Wheels
- Lexan Parts to Build a spare Mk7 intake
- A fully assembled Mk5 Robot Wrangler (just needs motors).
- Lexan Parts to build a second Mk5 Robot Wrangler.
- Floopy "Look Ref, I'm legal!" Intake Arms (2 sets)
- Some custom items for Partner Mods
- Spare "Karthik the Drinking Bird" hooks (to hold the cube in Auton - yes, it looks like a bird and his name is Karthik)
- Spare "A-Frame" Lexan Gussets (part of the climber mechanism)
- Other stuff that I'm forgetting, but it doesn't matter because the pit crew isn't forgetting it.
That's the question everyone asks. "Do you feel ready for Dallas?" It's a tough question. There is always more I wish we had done. There are always more items on the to-do list.
Yes. I feel ready. I think this is the best robot I've been a part of. The team seems to be functioning at a very high-level, and morale seems great right now. I'm excited to go compete, and see how this game plays and how this robot performs!
What is the Robowrangler Metric for Success?
- Have Fun
- Make Friends
- Chase Excellence