Copying Robots

As many teams who went to World Championships this year are aware there were teams that created obvious copies of other robots, the “China-poofs” for example, and I wanted to know what others thought about teams copying designs then entering them in tournaments.

My thoughts are that blatantly copying other teams robots is wrong. Now I do not have any problem with inspiration or using other team’s designs as “springboards” for new designs, but making screw-for-screw copies of robots is something completely different. Furthermore those teams definitely do not deserve judges awards for their designs if they are obviously not their designs! Competitive Robotics is supposed to be about ingenuity and learning to overcome a challenge in your own way, not to win tournaments at any cost or by stealing designs. Anyways, please post what you think.

I would like to add that these are my personal feelings and not those of my team.

For robotics, i see that a copy should be used to bring your team’s ideas to a design that works really well. In FRC this happens a lot, and the last two years with robots that all look the same (small kicking robots, or mass dumpers) all are basically copies of each other, but done with the teams engineering skills into it. For VEX this year, Team 2438B based their design for pan pacific off of another team from hawaii. We did not have an exact copy, yet it was very very similar with changes to drive, gearing, and specifics of the system to make the best of the design. The poofs A-bot was a fantastic design, and they made it even better for the championships, but there was something that china-poofs did better, either in design, or driving skill, or luck. I was a bit sad to see how many copies there were, but in the end it does sometimes work and it’s kinda what robotics is becoming about.

My team hasn’t seen any true copies of our robot, but I have seen many robots that borrow from our design that I honestly don’t believe would have been built without seeing our robot either in person or on these forums, or another robot borrowing from our design. It was even more flattering to see one of them win in Dallas.

Even more so, KTOR’s design was based off of my brothers design for team 4444 after team members of KTOR judged 4444 at the Downing Town competition.

I don’t mind any of this though, I actually enjoy what people create after seeing our ideas (KTOR’s bots are awesome…) Flat out copies of anything we created would certainly piss me off however, so I can understand the OP’s opinion.

The thought of something like that is completely ridiculous. Did that happen at worlds and I simply didn’t notice?

MasterRobot, I think you’re being a bit too hard on yourself. Many teams, 2438B at PanPac included, take a design concept originally thought of by some other team and run with it. This is completely valid in my opinion. There are only so many valid concepts, and odds are you won’t be the first to find one, so even if you don’t know it you probably have a copy. I think that what Tman 254 is talking about is literally taking pictures of a bot and building the exact same thing; which I agree is really wrong. Shouldn’t the judges have noticed that, though? The number of Poof Clones at Worlds was really ridiculous.

What really bothered me about the teams that copied 254A was that they did not think about what they did or try to make the design better, they just copied the robot literally screw for screw. My team was able to look at these robots and tell exactly why every part was where it was and what function everything had, something I doubt that any of the other teams could have done. The copies were flashbacks for my team; if we forgot what we did a few months ago, we had just to look at any one of the many replicas. We could put a picture of our robot next a picture of one of the other robots and not be able to tell the difference between the two.

It was very disappointing for me that the winner of the Build Award in the Technology Division and the winner of the Innovate Award in the Science Division made exact copies of 254A.

If you looked carefully at the Chinese and Puerto Rican copies of 254A, there was nothing better about them. 254A spent three months perfecting their robot after the point at which the pictures were taken from which the robot was copied. Most of the copies were exactly the same. 254A had a wider and more efficient intake than any other copy. Many of the copies of 254A included the chain that ran down the sides of the basket that were used to keep the intake up when the pneumatics fired, but they failed to include the mechanism to actually hold the intake up, thus making the chain completely useless. There were also many temporary parts on 254A that were copied exactly, with apparently no thought for why they were their, such as the 5 by 35 hole c-channel on each side of the basket that was replaced by a much smaller design on 254A.

Many of the teams also copied 254A’s robot skills route from Pan Pacific, even though that route was far from being the most efficient. Teams also only used the backwards outtake that 254A typically used, instead of experimenting and using the three other forms of forward outtakes that 254A discovered (green balls below the wall, white ball over the wall, orange and green balls over the wall).

The programming in the teleoperated section and the driving was also better than the “China-Poofs”. Many times, the other robots would do things like forget to turn their intake back on or lower their pneumatics, things that were taken care of by 254A’s code.

For me, the forehead-slap of 254 was the roller-intake at ground level. This led to changes in several Exothermic robots, but none could be considered a copy of 254A. In fact, 10Q was using a roller-fed holonomic design in the fall that they eventually abandoned (not having thought of 44’s cool swing-out wheels) to get a wider basket closer to the floor. This led to a similar look to 254A, but they continued to innovate by moving the rollers off the dumping basket onto the frame (copied by 575), adding a scoring chute that could lock up green balls, and installing 575’s modular motor pack. 575’s robot “Gutwrench the Horrible” mark 4 looked a little like 254A, but it made use of Haiku’s trademark ultra-light chassis, small wheels, short wheelbase, high speed, and modular component packaging. Both of these Exothermic teams experimented with pneumatic dumpers, but decided they weren’t worth the weight. In lieu of pneumatics, both 10Q and 575 used an offset basket that would go vertical (first on 575) and a kicker bar (first on 10Q) to cause balls to move horizontally. 575 developed a modular motor package that can be released by taking off two screws and supports either two or three motors per side (copied by most Exothermic teams). Gutwrench the Horrible’s modular design was the reason that they were able to compete in Qualifying match 1, even though their robot was smashed during transport. At 8am Thursday their robot was smashed, and by the time practice started they had passed inspection and played in Qual match 1 (170-2). Most Exothermic robots moved the drive motors into a rear tower and used chains to drive all wheels, except 575 which didn’t bother powering the front wheels.

In other words, 254’s roller dumper inspired several of the Exothermic teams, but no one copied it directly. This, I believe, is smart engineering. Take a good idea – either yours or borrowed – look for opportunities for improvement, and then go for it.

1 Like

i agree
even though i noticed that the Chinese-poofs were VERY similar to the original 254
i didnt think they would copy screw for screw!
a lot of teams used the roller intake mechanism and had a similar design
but each had their very own improvement and personal twist to it
even I admit to have copied 575’s modular motor layout
(that was a good way to maximize the bucket size :))

Murdomeek, they were exact copies. This picture shows one of the China-Poofs that we allied with for a qualification match. True they may not have been EXACT duplicates but i think it is very obvious to see that they did not come up with this design on their own. And don’t think that this is the only picture I have nor that this is the only team whose picture I have. There were at least 5 Chinese teams alone and I know of a Puerto Rican team that has an exact duplicate of one of our first designs; I can even show you the picture they used to copy from

1 Like

Do not take this as my teams opinion but in my opinion i agree with you as well. These teams did not make the orignal designs likle you guys did and which in turn could have cost ur team 254a design awards at the world championships and in which i did not liek to see other teams doing it. Btw all chinese teams accept for one had the design of your robot, almost or exactly the same

While some copies are blatantly obvious, like the Chinese poofs in tech div, there are others that are completely coincidental. In the back of my head, I remember Rick mentioning more than once on the forums that over the course of the season, you’ll see pretty much every design you’ve ever come up with. I found it shocking that some of the most absurd ideas that I’ve considered (those that were completely shot down by my teammates :p) were embodied in the designs in many robots at Worlds.

A complete imitation definitely should not deserve an award over the original, but in most cases a good design can be expanded, and it is these additional touches that can distinguish functionality between the original and the imitation, for better or for worse.

I agree. I realize that there are a limit to the amount of designs you can fit into an 18" cube for any one game and I am certainly not saying that teams shouldn’t be able to embody aspects of other teams designs, but their surely is a limit.

Although copying robots exactly part for part is extremely disappointing, there comes a point when excessive paranoia is not needed. For example, I spotted a few teams using bags to cover their robots during various competitions. I feel like it’s all up to people following the honor system. Sharing ideas should never be bad.

The solution to this (or at least the way to turn it into a good laugh) is pretty obvious.

Always put some useless doo-dad or linkage, or sensor on the bot, or use a group of screws to spell “copy” in Morse code, or put 2, 5 and 4 screws in odd places, or … in your early season versions of your robots, and make sure the item(s) are clearly visible in pictures of the bots.

Then have a good laugh when you get to the Worlds (be polite, but enjoy the inside joke). Also, once you are there just remind the judges to ask teams about the doo-dad, or the purpose of the Morse code screws, or…

Pretty soon the wheat should get separated from the chaff.

If anyone does this, I would appreciate hearing how it turns out.

PS: Remember to cooperate in the pits and compete on the field. Also, if anyone seriously asks for help understanding the principles used in a good machine and wants to build and use copy to learn from it; always switch from being a competitor to a mentor/teacher. The program is about more than winning matches.

1 Like

Blake has some good suggestions. In fact, I’m still chuckling over some of the ideas.

I’d also point out that you are allowed large amounts of “Non-functional decoration” on your robot… and while we should all get to see what your robot can do… that doesn’t mean you need to show everyone HOW you do it.

I’ve seen some very effective drivetrains suddenly become a mystery of gearing behind a sheet of thin plastic bearing sponsors’ logos.

Generally one thing I really like about VEX is that teams can copy the designs of others. It really emulates the “real world”, where innovators simply have to keep on innovating to stay ahead.

1 Like

That’s the reason to keep on improving designs however. I stopped by and said hi to the 254a team, asking if they had changed much since Pan Pacific, and i was amazed on how much improvement they added to a robot that i thought was nearly perfect since the last time i saw it (perhaps there were a few flaws then, but i was in awe). I am disappointed that it didnt do better, but challenges like this make teams work to differentiate themselves. If this had been any other competition, the teams would’ve gone home and worked to look at what could’ve worked better, improving each design even more. This is a process that like dtengineering said, is very very possible in VEX. Hopefully next year, bots that are exact copies play in earlier competitions so that by worlds, each may start with exactly the same idea, but customized for each team and to do the best it can.

I am not even going to try and defend copying. I hate it, but I know that I do it sometimes as well.

This is something that your risk with such an openly public design. Many teams take extreme measures to make sure that their robots stay off the websites, and if you’re uncomfortable with your design being copied, then I suggest you take some of these steps as well.

As for copying, your team has been the innovators for a while, but take a moment to step back into the shoes of a team who isn’t making any great headway and then all of a sudden, there’s a perfect, KISS design available.

My team has never blatantly copied a design. We take the best from each design and try to incorporate it into our own. We feel that having our own of personality in the robot is important and we strive for that in everything we do.

  • Sunny

This is the annual thread that makes me want to cry. I’m reminded of three quotes:

And that last quote sounds like most of you.

If you look at the early VEX robots, they were mostly copies of square bots. Slowly people created things and posted them. ManicMechanic has written a number of “guides”. We’ve all used her work. Those cooler, better robots got copied and reposted. And everybody’s robots got better. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We’ve ALL gotten better because of the sharing.

Now there are three parts to every robot:
*]The mechanicals
*]The programming
*]The drivers

So even though you have posted your metal, there are still two parts. Oh wait Cody posts both his metal and his code. :rolleyes: I’ve seen simple robots have the wheels driven off of it and win. Each part plays a role, it’s the champion teams that do them all at 150%.

We copy robots. We copy parts of robots. Then we then enhance / improve and make them better. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Did KTOR and 81 copy ideas from 677? You bet, and we improved on those ideas. Do we have close up pictures of all the robots at Worlds? Yes we do and we will sit down and look at each one and talk about the good ideas from each one. We learn from others. But we share too. We help other teams we give them our improved ideas.

Through sharing and improving and returning ideas back we all grow. We all make better robots. And its the constant improvement that makes this all worth while. The only people this constant improvement hurts is the VEX game design people; they need to come up with new games that are still a challenge year after year.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do is have a After Worlds competition. You’ve been there, you’ve seen all the robots, you’ve seen the teams in action. Now go build a NEW robot to play the game. What would your build? Will it be a Driven-Cheesy-Jones on a Cody omni base? My guess is that some will be, but some will be something 100% different. I think the Free Range and Green Eggs teams will be in their workshops melding an entirely different set of ideas. The teams from Washington will practice driving for 1000’s of hours. After Worlds will have robots that look the same, but the winners will walk away because of better programming and driving. Just like they did in Dallas.

Bottom line is sharing makes us all better. Look at other peoples ideas and improve on them. Tell us about your code. Tell us about your driving practices. Share everything.

Stand on the shoulders of giants! And be prepared to have others stand on yours.

I’m ethnic Chinese (born/raised here) and lived in China for 4 years as an adult and have a cultural insight that might be helpful. I had totally expected what happened with the “chinapoof” bots, and actually wondered why it hadn’t been apparent sooner.

From birth, every Chinese kid is told that the “right” way to learn and do things is to copy the “standard” exactly. This applies not only to math problems, but also art, music, and behavior. Students who win art prizes are those whose drawings can be laid on top of the teacher’s model and look like a photocopy, with not a single line deviating from the standard. Originality is generally given low marks.

(Most of us) Westerners feel that using an idea and modifying it is fine, but copying it screw for screw is not. Chinese couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. Students are told, “Master the standard first.” Once a student has proven that he can master the standard, s/he might be given the freedom to try a new improvement, but not before. I’m envisioning a lab where a mentor instructs an army of students to build a “poof”, and only the best, most reliable builds surviving the cut. And every further modification that doesn’t produce noticeable/reliable improvement is quickly nixed.

Cheesy Poofs, be honored that you’ve been chosen as “the standard.” My team was tempted to copy an early version of your bot but realized they don’t have the skills. As one student said, “We could never out-Poof the Poofs.”

Design judges, I would advise you to be a little more thorough in interviewing and ferreting out original designs vs. copies. I think more emphasis on the journal/notebook would be helpful. Those teams which demonstrate a host of failed attempts that converge/evolve towards the final design should have huge advantage over those that produce an identical successful robot without relevant development (it’s easy to “make up” some failed attempts to give the impression of development).

And some advice to engineers-to-be: This copying issue is just the tip of the iceberg. You are probably going to work for companies whose designs will be emulated, regardless of copyright laws. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can work this to your advantage, rather than letting it get the best of you. Rather than getting upset over it, see it as an opportunity to problem-solve.


Idk if this will help :frowning: but here i go. this is my last year being with 803 and 803b at iao school. i had so much fun being on the team, and so much experiences to take away from elevation til clean sweep. For example we learned from other teams like other teams could of learned from 254a. AT worlds i was shocked to see robots like 254a

when we heard round up is the new game me and one of my team mates started talking about the game. Before worlds I did all the programming for both teams, but now since I am leaving they dont have any programmers. So which means I have a choice of teaching the now to be 8th graders how to program or not. I was quite skeptical at first since if i teach them. and then at the maui competition comes and we face each other they possibly can win and get the 10 POINT BONUS. Which means i lost in autonomous. But then my team mate i was talking with about the new game said, “so it doesen’t matter” that just means u taught them good and they actually learned something. Which seems like it could relate to this thread. Although at worlds there were so many copies of 254a . that just means that they think that type of robot will do well at worlds which did really well. the only thing i guess 254a can say is that they are the originals, and they taught every team that copied them really good since they beat them. 254a is the master and the teams that copied there design is the students. When the students beat the master the master should be proud since the master taught them well. So when the maui competition comes and i face 803 or 803b in a match , and they beat my team in autonomous i will know that i taught them well, and that i’m proud of them. Although i wanted to win. I hope what ever i said helps ! :frowning: im srry if it dosen’t :frowning: i tried…

As far as i am concerned blatantly copying another bot is wrong. As said before by many others using a design as a springboard is just fine. What i think a lot of this boiled down to is that 254A was on YouTube really early on in the season and it wasn’t hidden away in the dungeons of the web it was right out there and i your face. If you don’t want to be copied you can’t go out there and show off what you have. I understand that not all of the videos (if any) were posted by the poofs but from what i have seen if you ask the person to remove the video or make it private they will usually comply. If not you can always contact YouTube and say that you are in a video that you did not agree to be in and they can remove it.