2017 FRC Kickoff

Question: What questions should I ask during/after kickoff to ensure the best results for the 2017 competition season?

Each year the kickoff event leads to the release of a brand new game for thousands of FRC participants around the globe, including our 75 teams in the PCH District. While we have to wait until March and April to see how successful the teams of our district will be, most of this success is determined by the questions these teams are asking after the game is released.

Here are a few of the most important questions teams can ask themselves before designing a robot:

What are your team’s goals?
List out your team’s goals and objectives. Be sure to focus on building on past successes while keeping your team’s capabilities in mind. These goals will dictate the strategy your team chooses and will be unique from team to team. 

For newer or less established teams, good goals would be building a consistent drivetrain that works every single match, play in eliminations, and/or earn a qualification the the District Championship event. More experienced veteran teams might establish goals to win a district event, be an alliance captain at District Championships, and/or qualify for the World Championship event. 

Again, make sure you focus on building on past successes and expand your skill set gradually. It is also important to set team goals for expanding these skills. Adding the capability to design your own parts, program an autonomous mode, add camera tracking, or gaining a manufacturing sponsor will add serious potential to your team.

How does ranking work?
Examine the game manual to learn how ranking works for the new game. Some years, ranking is very straight forward. The standard ranking metric is linked to winning a match. In this format, you would earn 2 ranking points for winning a match, 1 point for tying, or 0 points for a loss. 

Every so often, there will be bonus ranking points made available through particular tasks within the game. These would be tasks such as Breaching or Capturing in the 2016 game Stronghold. If your team set goals to win an event or be an alliance captain, understanding these ranking points is crucial to your team’s success.

How are points scored?
If it is found that ranking is directly tied to winning matches, the next question is, how do you score enough points to win your matches? Again, examine the manual to learn how points are scored. There are commonly several ways to score points with higher point values being assigned to more difficult tasks and lower point values for easier tasks. Do an analysis to make your best estimation of how long it would take or how difficult it would be to score the points available. 

At this point, it is important to factor in your team’s capabilities. Take the 2016 game for example. Many teams identified that the high goal was worth more points, but failed to identify how difficult it was to score those points. Only a few teams in the PCH district were capable of scoring multiple high goals in a single match. Most teams would have found more success via scoring multiple goals per match through the much more accessible low goal. Point being, focus on the easy points unless your team has the capabilities to consistently succeed at the more difficult scoring functions.

How do I begin to design a robot to accomplish these goals?
After determining how ranking and scoring work, start to develop list of specifications for your robot. These should be categorized as Demands, Preferred, or Wish. 

Demands are things your robot absolutely needs such as a control system, drivetrain, etc.. Preferred specifications are those that would be very useful to have but are not required for basic function. For the 2016 game, Preferred specs would be the ability to cross the more difficult defenses or score goals, either high or low. Wish specifications are those that are not crucial, but would be nice to have. For the 2016 game, this would be the ability to hang. 

Check out a paper written by JVN from FRC 148. This article, Using the Engineering Design Process for Design of a Competition Robot, provides a great overview of how to implement the engineering design process with your team.

Now that I know how the game works, and the type of robot I want to build, how do I go about building it?
The most important thing to do is keep things as simple as possible. The best teams in the world, along with teams just getting started up, are best served by avoiding overly complex robots. Whenever possible, try to accomplish multiple game functions with a single mechanism. As the build season goes on, focus on the priorities. The six week build season tends to fly by. Reassess during the build season as needed to ensure all high priority items are addressed.

As your team prepares for the upcoming challenge of FRC STEAMworks, remember that there are thousands of other teams gearing up alongside you. Look to them for help if needed and provide help and assistance to other teams as you are able. 

Another paper we recommend is the 2010 build season journal for FRC 148. This is a thorough paper that provides great insight into the build process of one of the most successful teams in the world. Use this paper as inspiration and as a resource for the upcoming season.

As always, should you have additional questions, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.