Frank Answers Fridays: July 25, 2014
Today’s good question comes from Adam Salem, from FRC Team 3419, The Rohawks, out of New York City, New York, USA:
My name is Adam Salem and I am a mentor on team 3419. I read your note about increasing the size of nationals and think it's a terrific idea. I have a suggestion about how to select some of the additional teams. One of the awards for engineering the robot (either the Excellence in Engineering Award, the Innovation in Control Award, the Industrial Design Award, or some combination of those) should come with an invitation to nationals, in the same way the Engineering Inspiration award does. I think this would help to solve two major problems I see transpiring with FRC:
- The popularity of the "Robot in 3 Days" videos has led a lot of teams to build very similar looking robots (how many loaders did we see this year which were almost identical to each other?). These videos have taken a lot of the desire to innovate out of the students. I think this generation of students - who have had things like Google at their fingertips for most of their lives - are used to immediate answers and don't see much value in researching a problem themselves when another solution is promptly available. By having an Innovation in Engineering award that gets you to the finals, it would encourage students to think more out-of-the-box rather than taking the easy way out and copying what they see on the videos.
- Every year my team faces at least one design decision wherein one option would build a robot more likely to win the game, and the other option would present a more interesting engineering challenge. The students always push for the former, as they are focused on winning. I always push for the later, as I am focused on the educational and fun nature of the build process. I know other teams struggle with the same thing. By allowing teams to get to nationals via an innovative robot, I think you'd see a lot more unique and interesting robots get built. In the extra 200 robots at nationals, you would see a way more diverse set of designs. One of my favorite parts of every tournament is walking around with my students and talking about the interesting designs other teams have and seeing how they solved the same challenges we experienced in different ways. By encouraging a wider variety of robots, it would make this experience more enjoyable and educational for everyone.
Mentor, Team 3419
SVP Of Technology, AllianceBernstein
Thanks for the question, Adam.
We currently have an eleven-person task force working on the question of FIRST Championship FRC eligibility for 2015 and beyond. Four of the task force members are volunteers, and the balance are FIRST staffers, both from HQ and the field. We plan to be able to announce the eligibility criteria to teams by the end of August.
The system used in 2014, under the 400 team FRC limit, was ‘almost broken’. With only five waitlist slots awarded, we were very close to being overbooked for the FIRST Championship. While it would seem that the significant increase in slots we’re looking at for the 2015 Championship - exact number still TBD – will solve this problem to the point where we would actually have too few teams attending Championship on merit, this isn’t necessarily the case, at least longer term. Districts get a percentage allocation to the FIRST Championship based on their representation in FRC. So, if a given District has 10 percent of all FRC teams, they get 10 percent of the slots (excluding pre-qualified slots) at Championship. This means that as we increase the number of teams we can host at Championship (and add Districts!), the number from Districts increases as well.
Under the existing system, we typically qualify 6 or so teams for Championship from each Regional. In practice, it doesn’t average exactly 6, because we occasionally have multiple award winners – who use only one slot - or 4 team winning alliances if back-up robots are called. If I understand you correctly, you are proposing an additional award that would raise that number to about 7. Based on current estimates, and some educated guesses, while we could accommodate this approach for 2015, in 2016 we would be close to being overbooked again, even assuming we have 600 teams at Championship. I appreciate your interest in encouraging design diversity, but I think it unlikely the task force would be taking this specific approach. We are looking for a solution that will serve us comfortably for several years.
Thanks again for your question.