thinking about FIRST

The team that I normally mentor decided to take a pass this year.
Left me with the opportunity to wander around the Toronto competition,
hands hanging, and chat with some of the people.
The first thing I noticed was that there were fewer teams. Last year it was packed. They had to run two competition arenas. So when the competition was going on in one arena, the other one was being set up.
This year, one arena and lots of empty space in the pits.
So I got to wondering why there were fewer teams. And what bothers me about the competition?
Here's my list of irritants/suggestions
1. Level the playing field.
I don't know about you, but I DO NOT like to have to compete with the likes of General Motors and other large corporations with vast engineering resources.
And whatever happened to the idea that the student team should do most of the design and build? It's obvious that in many cases the robots were done by the professionals "on staff".
And the students just went along for the ride!
2. Drop the cost.
Almost everyone I speak to says that it's too expensive. Even if you spread it around on a cost per student basis, it still comes out as a big number.
There are many ways to improve this equation. One of them is to allow for a wider range of parts and the use of some that were supplied in previous years.
3. Try something different.
Maybe it's because I've been down to the Hershey Center for so many years, but I did get a certain "same old, same old" feeling.
The formula seems to be... Wheeled robot moves object to goal. Bonus points if you can do something special at the end. Throw in fifteen seconds of autonomous so people can't say it's just radio control.
Somehow I feel that the boys at NASA can come up with something a little more creative.
4. Ease the design/build time pressure.
Sure it can be done. It happens every year. Six weeks from start to finish. Easier if you have professional help. (See item 1.)
But I would like to meet ONE person on an active build team who wouldn't like more time.
And notwithstanding suggestions to the contrary, six weeks of intense work does interfere with studies, social life, vacations...
5. You only get one shot.
Unless you can afford to go to several competitions, if your design isn't quite right or it takes more than an hour or two to fix a problem you're cooked.
All that time and effort just went down the drain.
Better luck next year.
6. What about the little guy?
Not everyone wants to be on a team and do the "rah, rah! group think" thing!
What about individual competition? Smaller robots? Different classes? One girl one bot?
7. Turn the volume down.
OK. Maybe I'm just too old. But has anyone actually checked the decibel level at these events? I'm betting it's well over 100. (hearing damage territory)
DOC
Have robots. Will travel. http//www.robot-one.ca
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On Apr 10, 1:12 pm, snipped-for-privacy@sympatico.ca wrote:

Can you say the number? We should hear it.
I looked into this, and concluded a year of college was usually cheaper. I don't remember the number, but I thought it was like $10,000 a student. Am I wrong? If that's the case, I don't know how this thing flies in the first place. You can have a student compete in a Mini Sumo contest for about $100. So I have to wonder how efficient the educational process truly is.
-- Randy M. Dumse www.newmicros.com Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
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RMDumse wrote:

This can't be right. I've read that the average cost including the kit is about $8K, but Doc is in a better position to specify. To me that's abotu $5K too high... (And it doesn't include any travel-related costs for the students, like a school-supplied bus, etc.)
While it doesn't have the "flair" of a big national competition, I think most schools would be just as well off -- from an educational standpoint -- buying a kit like the Bioloid ($900), which can build any of a couple dozen robots, including walkers and rollers. It can be readily disassembled, and new models constructed. I don't think there is a curriculum for it yet, but I imagine someone somewhere will produce one. (And educators here want to give it a shot?)
What middle or high school science teacher doesn't know other middle/high school science teachers, to arrange for their own competition? The fact that FIRST attracts 100s or 1000s of high schools is irrlevent. The same learning value can be achieved on a much smaller scale.
Here's the secret to getting kids involved: build one of the 4- or 6-legged Bioloid walkers, and demonstrate it in class. The signup sheet will fill up very, very fast.
-- Gordon
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I tend to agree. Though it suffers a bit from a lack of a remote controller -- an odd oversight, given that other robot kits popular in Japan all come with them. But I've heard rumors that this is something Robotis is working to correct, and you could (with sufficient time, money, and skill) always roll your own solution.
But I think setting up a competition would be an important motivator, at least for some kids. Maybe a Robo-One-style competition, with various events ranging from boxing to obstacle course to free demo.
Best, - Joe
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Joe Strout wrote:

The Bioloid kit isn't made in Japan, which for one thing makes it more affordable. Having a remote would be nice, but as you say, until they add it (perhaps as an option) it's easy enough to do on your own.
-- Gordon
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The other kits, like the Kondo KHR-series, Kyosho MANOI AT01 and PF01, RB series, etc. have remote control options, but the remote is usually sold separately as an option.
As Gordon mentioned, the Bioloid isn't from Japan - it was developed by Robotis in Korea as an educational kit for use in training programs and small classrooms where remote control wasn't really a priority. Their objective was to teach the basics, and provide a kit that could be assembled and taken apart semester after semester to educate different groups of students over the life of the kit.

That 'rumor' is a very high probability. They have some interesting projects in the works.

There's a major difference between a 'competition' and a 'COMPETITION'. !8-D
It's fun and exciting to get together as a bunch of kids in the neighborhood to play stickball or a pick-up game of hoops (competition). Everybody plays, no matter what their age or experience level. Some of the kids get hooked, and start practicing all the time. They go on to play on organized teams at high school and college, and a few of them wind up playing in the major leagues (COMPETITION).
The model that seems to work pretty well here is competition -> ComPetition -> COMPetition -> COMPETITION. The full-on ROBO-ONE (and FIRST) competitions are COMPETITIONS, which is fine as long as there are other less demanding events and ways for kids (and adults) to achieve small successes regularly that keep them interested and feed their motivation.
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wrote:

I thought it took like $30K to have a team. Now I hear the teams are 6 students, so I'm thinking maybe $5K per student might be the number.
I did find one solid reference point. From http://www.elecdesign.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID 218&bypass=1 it costs $6K just to enter one regional.
So I may have been suggesting high numbers, but even at $1000 per kid to enter a regional contest, and that doesn't include travel or what not (not sure about kit even) that's still ridiculous amounts of money, when you could build a touch competitive Mini Sumo for under $200, and Ship-In to the UNI MiniSumo contest for $20.
BTW, that's two weeks away. I need to post a thread on it again I guess.
-- Randy M. Dumse www.newmicros.com Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
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RMDumse wrote:

Why is FIRST so expensive to enter? The better Japanese desktop humanoid robots are in the $1000-$1200 range. See "http://www.robots-dreams.com ". Japanese student teams are having robot soccer competitions with humanoid robots, while FIRST is still using little wheeled machines.
                    John Nagle
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Thanks for these comments, DOC. FIRST is popular and seems to get a lot of support in the robot magazines, but I've wondered too about what the downsides might be. You've put together a good list there (and I had no idea that big corporations like GM were getting involved!).
I've been involved recently with FIRST LEGO League (FLL), and that seems to be a very different kettle of fish. In my area, at least, there are a lot of teams, pretty much all doing the work on their own, with no commercial sponsorship. The entry costs are reasonably low and it's not hard to participate in more than one competition if you wish. The drawback, of course, is that you're building little tabletop LEGO bots, and are missing out on some of the challenges and opportunities that the bigger FIRST bots involve.
Best, - Joe
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Just some comments to a couple of your items:
snipped-for-privacy@sympatico.ca wrote:

I guess they've done this to some extent with the FIRST Vex challenge, but you're right that the full kit is pretty expensive as a starter. People have this notion robotics is expensive, but it doesn't have to be.

I've never really understood this aspect of FIRST. There should be no defined "start time"; teams should be able to begin the full school year before if that's their wish. Otherwise, what happens is that teams with students that can afford their own kits (FIRST or otherwise) carry an unfair advantage.

Part of the idea of FIRST is to engender team participation, so I doubt this is something they will entertain. But FIRST does not have a lock on robotics competitions. There is nothing stopping a motivated student from using school resources to design and build his/her own robot.
More critically, not every robotics endeavor has to be connected to a competition. In fact, I think competitions are overhyped in general. I know some people (adults) who only play with robots for the competitions, and nothing else interests them. There should be joy and satisfaction in just making the thing chase the cat.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

Raising funds is a big entry barrier for FIRST.

As you state below, the competition is over hyped. In theory, the fixed design/build time makes for a more fair competition, but ultimately what matters is who is doing the basic vehicle design.
We stopped doing competitions at our club -- we only do challenges. The basic idea is that it is hard enough to build a working robot, so why not make everybody that succeeds a winner?

The FIRST team size tends to be a little too large (largely due to the high cost.) Usually only a small number of people do all of the work; the rest watch. Indeed, for one of FIRST mentor refugees, it had devolved into the mentor doing most of the work while everybody else sat around and ate pizza.

We have had very little cross over from the various student competetions -- 2 FIRST mentors, no FLL, and 2 BotBall team members (before they took off to college.) I don't know why the cross over is so low. Our Wednesday evening meeting time is not great for students who attend public schools, tho'.
My dream is that this hobby will get an entry level kit that is less $100 that people can incrementally grow into ever more interesting robots. A team size of 2 or 3 is ideal, so that people can learn from one another without getting bored.
My $.02,
-Wayne
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Its a hobby ......
I want a Robot to go to work for me and put the check in the bank , then bring me a beer .
The above is NOT strong "demand" in a supply/demand market , so give up .
It will NOT happen ,
Reality check , the real demand is for helpful pocket computers . Now ,they are all crippled , for unstructured , bloat software , that forces user to organise his thoughts into files and folders . Then locks him out of linking the files , and baits him into duplicating files , then hassles the user on trying to compare the dup's for differences !
If you paid a team of programmers a million $ to write a structured ARM opsystem w/o any bugs , it would be done in a few hours .
.
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