Depressed over "Me too designs"

When I started with VEX (back when Karthik,JVN and I had hair) I loved competitions. Take roboteers and their robots, see what other teams had, see what worked and what didn’t. Scour the pits for great ideas, great build techniques, unique utilization of parts. Stand on the shoulders of others. Inspire everyone to do better!

Due to my own personal issue, I couldn’t fabricate a Peanut Butter Sandwich without a full step by step guide much less a VEX robot. But after decades of watching, looking, asking questions, learning from others, I can now build, on my own, robots (hey watch those squarebot comments :rolleyes:) All from seeing what others can do. Learning from others.

I even campaigned for an award to be given to the team that created a great idea that inspired other teams (Inspire Award). So no worry of putting your designs out there, inspire other teams to take your idea and improve it and modify it to make better robots. Inspire everyone to do better!

Things didn’t turned out as planned. I’m not seeing Inspiration I’m seeing Xeroxing. Not a copy, but exact replicas. Depressing. And others see it too.

In the last 30 days I’ve been to events that if the robots didn’t have number plates on them you couldn’t tell them apart. Whats up with that? Have we gotten too lazy to innovate?

I’m tired of going to Lemming Robot Competiton (LRC ™) where we all follow the leader. I want my wide variety of innovative robots back, but I still want to learn from others since most of the VEX world is much smarter than I am.

How do we do this together?

tl;dr; Innovate and iterate, don’t press “Copies = 8”.

In that case, you are going to love what we built.

Come find us at Worlds. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Well, the teams that are actually interested in winning rather than just doing ok won’t copy - they’ll try to make theirs better. Alternate features, small tweaks to improve efficiency, the lot. If they’re copying, then they will never be better, just good. So while it shouldn’t be encouraged, you could just pay those teams no mind because they haven’t really put in the effort to try to one-up anybody else. It’s a competition people! The whole point is to be better.

The second there is an advantage in gameplay to building different designs than the “best” one, you will see different designs and approaches. My team started off this year with a double four bar to reach the 30, but it was not anywhere close to the efficiency bots with a six bar intake roller. We’ve since switched over, and won 2 tournaments with what could be considered a cookie cutter design. It has its unique twists, but at what point does plagiarism become ingenuity?

The topic of copying always comes with the concession of there being a point where you have to copy just to make a robot. My mentors response to complaints goes along the lines of this “Every other team is using omni wheels, but you aren’t complaining about that part of copying!” At a certain point, there are a finite number of easy drive train and lift concepts that beginning teams can accomplish. We see successful unique designs like team 38’s, but they have been doing robotics for years now.

We want the most successful and experienced teams to sacrifice the attention to detail and other important concepts they’ve learned in their years of robotics to build these new and unique designs, but when they can build this cookie cutter design but have it be mechanically superior, and better programmed and driven, then there is no point in them building something cool and unseen. There is one design award at a competition, and that is only qualifying out of a minimum of 42 teams according to the World Championship criteria. Is it all about going to worlds? Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it often is. It’s also unfair to transfer these slots to the innovative designs rather than the successful designs when you consider that Vex is a competition, and not an art form. The starving artists of the vex world are often the ones that make the wildest and out of the box designs.

Got a bit rambly there, just tried to get my thoughts out.

The above post was too long to quote, but I agree with the point made in the last paragraph.

Awarding designs for being original but bad is stupid. You can come up with the most random thing in the world, but if it doesn’t work who cares? In the end, that’s all that matters. That’s the reality of the world. As an engineer, your goal is to make it work. Creativity in addition to having a good design is a bonus.

And this is why there exists a Design Award. It’s there to reward the team who created a really good idea, even if it wasn’t ultimately the one that won.

If you really had a good and original idea, you qualify for Worlds because you won. There’s no need to send bad robots there just because they look cool.

You also have to note however, that many robots that look similar to each other come from the same school/program, and when one team has an exceptional robot, it will make his/her school-mates eager to make something similar. Additionally, the people with the exceptional robots are usually the ones helping their schoolmates build their robots, so some of their design language could become translated to their school mates designs.

We have a different attitude. If we see one subteam (or even a competitor) build something good, we all immediately say “We can build something better.” It’s the hyper competitive, obnoxiously superior, Type-A personalities that make up our team which lead us to these types of conversations, but it also leads to some REALLY good ideas.

Yeah, if you have the absolute best design in the world your subteams should copy it. But if there is any chance for improvement? Not a chance. If you are literally at the week before Worlds, MAYBE. But even then, I doubt that anyone on our team would admit to being unable to come up with a better design.

My last comment was just a hypothesis I have. Since all the robotics teams except for my own at my school are rookies, we push them to design their own robots with some guidance so that they can learn by doing. Therefore, the main concern they have is to design and build a working robot.

However, once teams are experienced enough to build a robot on their own, it seems like winning becomes more of a priority, and when one team consistently wins competitions, it may make the other teams more likely to copy that team.

The moral of the story is: Don’t steal cupcakes. :P:P:P

So yesterday at our weekly meeting we had a conversation that went a bit like this.

Me - So roboteers, what are we going to build for worlds, we don’t have much time.

Student 1 - Well we could finish the six bar with the top roller we built for the robot skills challenge, it needs some redesign.

Student 2 - I’m watching the US nationals, they are all six bar or scooper designs, shall we build another scooper bot?

Me - Well, if we do that it will be the usual last minute panic, lots of stress about trying to win, we will do ok and place in the top 30 but we are weeks behind all the other six bar and scooperbots. Or… we could build something completely crazy that would be a crowd pleaser, lots of pneumatics, full field sack toss into the trough, simple design that won’t score much and have no chance of de-scoring. We could have lots of fun.

I have no idea what we will do, everyone is burnt out at this time of year, probably just another standard efficiency bot, there’s always next year.

Stick with your design. If you put the hours in, you can build a completely new robot by Worlds. But why, when you have one partially done already?

The design we have been working on for worlds is similar to 12A/12B with a few changes based on what we have learned, as well as being adapted to the driving skill’s and strategies that have worked for us so far. We have never seen 12A/12B close up, just from a distance in some youtube videos. Based on the fact that we have been beaten every time we have made it to the finals by a sneaky hoarder bot that played dead for 1/2 a match or have gotten de-scored in the last 4 seconds of a match we plan on adding some design changes that allow 25 or so sacks to be scored at once as well as some de-scoring/re-scoring, and defensive enhancements.

The 2 world qualifications we have gotten was a Design Award for “A unique and effective design” and an Excellence Award for “A design like no other at this competition” (Both awards from level 5 events). But as my son say’s “Our robot rocks, but we are not taking a knife to a gunfight”. He’s proud of his robot but wants to build something more competitive.

I do see what you are talking about though, every event we go to it’s like a bunch of clones.

If you lost to a horder robot or get descored in the last few seconds, odds are you need to have a better coach. Parking bonus is absolutely worthless. I don’t actually see why people go for either autonomous bonus (autonomous is great for getting in position, but the 10 points is useless) and don’t get me started on parking bonus, what could possibly go wrong, leaving your over-flowing, game-winning trough for a few seconds? Worth 10 points? Two sacks? One sack moved from your trough to theirs? No. Horder robots are simple, score more than them, block them from scoring. Strategy is actually huge in vex games, never underestimate the power of a good coach, who can think quickly :slight_smile:

Actually I am the coach, the mentor, the purchasing agent, etc… I offer advice for building and keep the batteries charged. We NEVER go for the parking bonus, we park under the trough but have been tag teamed a few times. This is our first year, and yes we have learned a LOT about strategy!

We do use our autonomous for placement, the robot scores 15 points and parks about 1/2" from the gold sack under the trough. We generally score in autonomous every time, and I do not recall a single match where we did not get the gold sack from under the trough. We quickly learned to get all of the sacks from under the trough immediately so we can defend our trough without getting stuck in the process. We normally put a preload and the center gold sack in the goal during autonomous, then all of the sacks from under the goal and we then dump the other stack of 5 sacks onto them to try and keep the gold sacks buried. About 80% of the matches we have lost were when we were paired with a basic claw bot and against 2 well built well driven efficiency bots. We did end up with a couple of clawbots from Greenville, TX that had linear slides and great drivers who really loaded up the high goal.

One of our biggest problems now is that our robot is WAY to heavy and a bit slow, and is limited to scoring about 6-8 sacks at a time and very clumsy with de-scoring. We were going to rebuild it using aluminum and using some compound gearing for this lift instead of turntables. We decided that if we were going to do a complete rebuild that there were some much better ideas that we could learn from. Being our first year we are quite happy to have qualified for worlds twice, and made it into the quarter finals on our own almost every time this year at some very large events.

We are going to take what we learned and use it to prepare for worlds, and hopefully with what we have learned we will be a strong contender next year. We don’t expect to leave California with any trophy’s, but we do plan on making everyone else work for theirs!

Seems you have gotten your own robot under some good control, but make sure at worlds, you talk to your alliance partner so they know what’s going on, especially at worlds it can be frustrating when your alliance is in the wrong place, but perhaps you should tell them exactly what you are going to do, and then tell them to go under your trough you are guarding, raise their arm and stop yourself from being double-teamed. If need be, assign one of your team members to coach them if they will allow it, because they don’t know your strategy as well as you do.

On topic, copied robots are a problem, no disagreeing there, but a strategic robot, a robot who was built and engineered around a strategy, e.g. putting bases under the ladder effectively, will always beat a high-scoring robot. Copying robots in my opinion is a terrible idea, it is unlikely you will be as good as the original, and, you have a 1 in (amount of copying teams) chance of winning etc. You are often better off doing something silly, like a scissor lift, single gripper that specializes at stacking sacks on the 30’.

I would not recommend this during qualifications. If you are the Alliance Captain in Eliminations, go for it. They’re working under you. But as far as qualifications go, don’t try to tell us what to do. We have a plan, you have a plan. We’re all going to do our best. But you tell us what you THINK we should be doing before you’re an Elimination Captain? No. We’ll talk about it. Consider it. But it comes down to our coaches and our drivers to do what they think will put them ahead in the end.

Strategy is good. Being a control freak is not.


We always tell our alliance what we plan on doing, and then adapt to each others strategies as needed. Sometimes even if you have a good robot the other team can score more than you if you allow them to use you as a tool. The thing to remember is you are an alliance and that is not a time to be a cowboy!

2 great robots doing their own thing don’t stand a chance against 2 decent robots working as a team. It didn’t take too many matches to figure this one out. We have taken sacks that we would have scored in the trough and brought them back for our alliance to score in the high goal, and we have also both scored just one trough because we knew they could protect it.

Anyway it appears as though I have derailed this thread… Sorry!

I know what you mean… I’m really depressed about all the “Me too designs” I see in commercial aviation these days.

I mean, it was so much more exciting and interesting back before people knew anything, really, about aerodynamics, jet engines, efficiency or passenger safety. There were so many exciting designs! Now everything is just a cylinder with wings.

I mean, just because there are a few efficient designs that work really well is no reason for airlines to keep chosing them. I mean, Airbus just copied Boeing when they made a jumbo jet. Oh sure, there were a few minor differences, but really… four big engines mounted under the wings? BOR-RING. It would have been so much more interesting if they’d made it a canard. Or maybe a flying boat… flying boats were interesting!

And the 787? Well, I hear the batteries are innovative, but big deal about the composite fuselage… it still looks like everyone else. Why didn’t they make a Zeppelin instead. That would have been cool!

I mean, really… airliner designers… just because physics and the nature of the task guide you towards a few optimal solutions doesn’t mean you have to take them.

You’re almost as bad as those car designers… always going with that “four wheel” concept. Sheesh! You need to take some inspiration from VEX teams where you see wild and wacky stuff like 12’ wide expanding robots!



You just made my day! At least once I get over the discomfort of Dr. Pepper coming out of my nose…

Yes, and they have no limitation on the number of engines they are allowed to use :smiley: I too, really enjoyed this post, but not enough to snort Dr. Pepper.

It is amazing how a bird design looks very much like the efficient (but boring) aircraft design. Evolution, if given enough time, results in designs that are fit for purpose, be it birds, planes or even Vex robots. Over the Vex season, robots evolve, be it by creativity or “borrowing” of ideas.

The teams that are most successful are the ones that end up most fit for purpose. The game design is what defines the purpose. If greater diversification of robot design is wanted, then greater diversification of game scoring objects, game goal types / positions and therefore possible game strategies would be one way to promote this, ie, have umpteen ways to skin the cat.

The high goal in sack attack is a good example of diversification of the goals. Even though it is very small, so has limited value, it has resulted in some excellent diversification in designs. I think it is a pity all the sacks are the same shape, size and material. It would have been interesting if the bonus sacks were, for example, bigger (10 inch square), weighed 5 pounds and were worth 50 points in a trough and 100 points on the high goal. Perhaps 2 of these jumbo bonus sacks could have been red and 2 blue, so they only count if in their own coloured goal? :slight_smile:

Cheers, Paul