Frank Answers Fridays: August 16, 2013

Blog Date: 
Friday, August 16, 2013 - 15:42

Today’s good question comes from Carl Springli, from Team 20, in Clifton Park, NY:

***
Question:

Dear Frank,

Based on research performed by Jim Zondag and presented here:
http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1273768&postcount=204

It seems as though the 45 day (6.5 week) build season and robot access period rules that are currently in place in FRC are an archaic hold over from previous years’ rules.  The robot build/access period rules came about for practical and logistical reasons.  However, they continue despite the fact that the circumstances which seemingly gave rise to these rules no longer apply.

This leaves FRC in a situation where teams with enough resources to build a second practice robot and a full size practice field (my own team included) have a sort of arbitrary and, in my opinion, unfair advantage over teams with limited robot access.  It seems as though this presents FRC with an opportunity to increase the quality of competition by raising the floor rather than lowering the ceiling through increasing robot build/access time for all teams.

There is already plenty of discussion happening here:
http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=116658

But it is mostly speculative in nature and has little to do with what FIRST may actually be considering regarding the future of FRC.  The fact that there are over 400 posts in this ChiefDelphi thread is evidence of how important this particular matter is for our community.

Why does FRC continue to have a 45 day build season, and is FRC giving any consideration to alternative robot build/access period rules?

Thank you for your consideration,
Carl Springli
College Student Mentor
Team 20: The Rocketeers
Clifton Park, NY USA

***

Answer:

Carl, thanks for the question.  This certainly is an important matter for the community.

I wasn’t part of FIRST when the build season rules were created, so I can’t speak directly to the reasons why they were put in place at that time.  Regardless of what the reasons were back then, I can tell you what I believe to be the main reasons we have it in place now:  to give students on teams a successful experience with a challenging, short-term, high pressure, deadline-driven engineering project, and to reduce the chance of mentor burnout. 

Even if these were not the original reasons for putting the build season rules in place, I think most people would recognize these are worthy of consideration.  Caring, knowledgeable, thoughtful individuals may disagree about how valuable these reasons are, but I don’t think they can be dismissed without giving them a good think.  I believe the number of posts on ChiefDelphi about this topic speaks to this – from my quick check, it didn’t seem like all 400 of those posts were in agreement on what the build season rules should be!

Still, the short build season does have it’s downsides, and you raise a good candidate: the issue of second practice robots.  Teams with good resources – good resources in every sense of the term, mentors, students, build space, equipment, sponsors, etc. – who decide to build and use one do have a competitive advantage over teams that must put their one and only robot in the bag by midnight on Stop Build Day.  Some would argue that this, too, is a real-world experience.  When FRC alumni graduate from college with their technical degrees, they may end up working for a two person start-up with $1.52 in the bank, or for a multi-billion dollar company that’s been around for decades.  Others would argue that well-resourced teams probably work very hard to make sure they are in a position every season to build and use that second practice robot.  This, in my mind, is another aspect of this issue upon which caring, knowledgeable, thoughtful individuals may disagree.

This topic has been on my mind lately, and to answer the second part of your question, FRC is carefully exploring it and our alternatives.  We are constantly looking for ways to improve all aspects of our program.  I don’t want to get everyone excited, though, no change is imminent, and any significant change to this aspect of the program, which represents a core part of what it means to be FRC, would need to go to the very top for approval.

Frank

Frank Answers Fridays is a new weekly-ish blog feature where I’ll be answering ‘good questions’ from the FRC community. You can e-mail your questions to goodfrcquestion@usfirst.org. Please include your name, team number and where you’re from, which will be shared, if selected.

Comments

In this debate, I am strongly on the side of keeping the 6.5 week build process. I know what first hand this could mean for some teams. My team struggled with snow days and school communication issues. Although we built a 2nd robot, we were not prepared. However, we came out of this as a stronger team. We accomplished something because we had to work hard in a small and difficult time frame. No matter how much I complain about the time length to my friends, I never want it to change. The team means that we must work harder and closer in order to succeed. Another well thought out part of FIRST.

I agree that the short build season has ups and downs, but in the end I think it is good. My issue is with regional proximity for some teams. We're fortunate in So CA to have many regionals within driving distance, and can enter later regionals as our first choice (weeks 4,5,6). This benefits us in hat we can see what is working, winning, etc. at 10+ other regionals/districts and develop a strategy and build replacement parts during those 4 weeks. Other teams might be forced by funds/location to go to a week 1 regional.
I know its reality, but it seems like something we can fix.

Since the 2010 Season the number of competition weeks & events has increased (see chart). CMP has been pushed back as far as it can go. More events to be added. FiM has 11 District events scheduled for the 2014 season, while PNW has 10. Once FiM, PNW or ? reaches 13 District events, I think 1 or 2 more competition weeks will be needed = Dec start.
Season Weeks Dates Regional District CMP
2010 5 4 Mar-3 Apr 44 7 15-17 Apr
2011 6 3 Mar-9 Apr 49 9 27-30 Apr
2012 7 1 Mar-14 Apr 54 15 26-28 Apr
2013 7 28 Feb-13 Apr 60 17 25-27 Apr
2014 7 27 Feb-12 Apr 58 36 24-26 Apr

Of course the way to level the playing field is to prohibit the building of a second robot. FIRST makes teams bag and tag, prohibits building of mechanisms prior to kickoff, etc, it doesn't seem much of a stretch to say you may only build one robot.

And the 6 week build is extremely hard on volunteer mentors. Our team's lead mentor spends 6 days a week after work during build season. Burnout is huge unless you are a teacher whose job it is to mentor and are associated with an integrated school program. One reason I far prefer mentoring my FTC team and give it more of my time.

I think that the build season length is fine it gave us a challenge with time constraints. Normally we have off from school during the last days meaning we can work longer but this year with hurricane sandy it was different. Also for the first time in many years our team built a second robot it required many more hours of fundraising on our part but we pulled it off shipped the first robot and the second robot helped us see mistakes, train the younger kids, and practice changing out parts quickly which helped out. My team learned to succeed without for the past year but this year it helped.

"...to give students on teams a successful EXPERIENCE with a challenging, short-term, high pressure, deadline-driven engineering project, and to reduce the chance of mentor burnout."

Even if these were not the original goals, I think they do a good job of summing up what FRC should be all about. I especially like the mentor empathy. :-)

Due to limited resources and logistics challenges of a community team, we've had to go through every season with a single robot. We've even made it to the finals a few times. The 6 week build provides a rich experience while limiting mentor casualties.

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