Downside of being a mentor

I’ve got an engineering problem in front of me (NbN), and a couple of great solution that need testing. However, there is no guarantee that when the student team meets that they can be gently guided to these solutions to even try them… Not to mention that it’s 3 full months before they will begin meeting as a team! GAH!

So do what I do, acquire the parts (buy/borrow etc.) and start building. Post the result here so everyone can learn from your prototyping.

How you handle the kids depends a lot on what the goal of having a team is all about. Personally, I think it helps to have each kid stand up in front of a write board and “sell” their particular idea to the room. Very often it causes the kids to recognize they have lots of unknowns they didn’t even know they didn’t know. Also, it assures that each kid gets his or her uninterrupted say in that part of the design process at least once. Often there is an immense gap between what the kids feel about their idea and what details they have actually thought through, so standing up to present that idea often allows them to perceive their own knowledge gaps for the very first time.

If you want to “guide” the kids into a particular solution, I think it helps sometimes to find YouTube videos of other teams who are already doing something similar. It’s the “monkey see, monkey do” effect. For some reason kids will completely ignore things I present to them and yet they will eagerly accept the very same ideas if they see them on YouTube. And it helps to pretend you’ve never heard of that idea so it enhances their sense of having discovered something - even though you suggested the very same idea two weeks ago. :rolleyes:

Other than that, it’s just a long hard slog of encouraging them to build “test beds” or demonstrators and try out things, if you have the time.

As for dealing with the parents and their ideas about building robots, just remember this: “Every man knows the proper way to cut down a tree. Except those who now have a tree in their living room.”

Am I doing a disservice to the local school district teams if I post a fresh concept here before letting them have a crack at it? I know when it’s all said and done it’s 5% concept and 95% implementation to be a top team.

I’ve recently started musing over a similar idea. If I make a suggestion to the kids and they ignore me, that’s okay. I understand. But sometimes they get fairly snarky about it. Once when that happened, I off-handedly mumbled something about posting the details on the forum to see if any other teams might consider using it and suddenly the snarking gears were thrown into full reverse. :wink:

Or do what I do and get a job somewhere that has cabinets of VEX parts and when everyone goes home build a fulling competitive NBN robot.

I don’t know the answer. Many of the things we think of and consider unique have been done before. I always wanted to reach the maximum number of students and felt that by posting ideas here I was not giving a competitive advantage to my own team if they chose to adopt it.

Last year things did get out of hand. I posted an idea in the summer that several teams copied, not sure in hindsight if that was good.

Without the equipment to test it (won’t have it for at least another month), maybe what I need is another discreet mentor or team to bounce the main idea off of. I am sure it’s been tried before, it’s really just a significant variation of a certain concept. Perhaps teams are already doing it, we just haven’t seen it on the forums or Youtube yet.

Yeah, that’s a hard call to make. This early in the season I’d hate to rob kids of a significant “ah-ha!” moment if they were destined to dream up the same idea completely on their own. Also, you wouldn’t want them to follow an idea just because a mentor posted it when, in reality, it might totally suck compared to the other ideas they might otherwise steal from teams in New Zealand, Utah, Canada, China, Singapore, Los Angeles, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania…

Having said that, the Singapore championship for NBN is just a few weeks from now, believe it or not, and some secret videos might be smuggled out from that.

Not to rain on anybody’s parade, but the chances are very good that your ideas will show up on YouTube sometime soon. And, if not, then they are probably emerging out of a level of genius that maybe should be kept to yourself until later in the year. Of course, if you don’t mind my stealing your idea, you could always PM it to me. I steal every Vex idea I can find. My kids have ruthlessly and shamelessly stolen about half of their RobotC code from James Pearman for the past two years. (Thank you, James Pearman!) :smiley:

That is so crazy early!

Yes, the odds that this idea is unique are very slim. That it might work better than other ideas already out there is even slimmer. I’m just fascinated by the concept and won’t be able to get it out my head until I see it prototyped. That’s the frustrating part!

Not at all. If teams aren’t looking at ideas posted here, they’re searching up old FRC/FTC designs. Working through the process of debugging ideas with people online was hugely helpful in learning what works, and what doesn’t. Much better than building dozens of non-working mechanisms and wasting parts.

Do what I do, my other advisor and I are having a competition to build an open class robot with our 3D printer, no other rules besides sizes. Our ideas the students are trying to modify or emulate with vex rules applied. Helps them make the big jump to ideas, and if they can beat open class robots in scrimmages they will be a top tier team in the world! Seemed to work last year lol!

When I first mentored the six 508 last year, students were reluctant to ask me for help. They were very independent, ambitious (overambitious if such a thing exists), and took what I said with a grain of salt.

And in hindsight, what do you expect? I looked like them since I just started college. They were basically my alliance captains at states the year before (which we won). Furthermore, they’ve advanced to worlds every single year the team existed.

I had to earn their trust gradually: Befriend them, Understand them, Care about more than just their robotics lifestyle. Once this was all together, the turning point came when I asked them for help on one of my Vex U designs. I took the brightest within the teams and asked them for advice, and simply put, they were dumbfounded by the sheer sophistication and grace of the design.

My guess was that word of my skill got out, and I earned the trust of the members. They realized that I was there to truly help them, and the insight I gave was gravely accurate and precise. They came to me, asked for advice, ask for opinions, and whenever I was doing a project on my own they always wanted to tag along.

Almost immediately, if I had an opinion they would consider and analyze it like a chef with a new dish. But still occasionally they would reject it.

At that point, I feel that’s where to draw the line. That’s where I remember that this is a high school competition, not college.

When it comes to personal gain however, I don’t rely too much on the students. Though testing the ideas in person would be optimal, it’s a great chance to apply the physics and math you’ve learned as well as research you’ve found. That, combined with your experience and perfectionism, is often enough to develop a functional design which can be tuned later on just like a prototype.

As for fresh concepts, I believe it’s up to you to judge. If I wasn’t trying to join a college team, I would have flooded the turntable ideas of skyrise a week after the game was released, instead of teams realizing that was an amazing strategy when Canadian teams posted videos in the winter (stationary drive train, with a manipulator devoted solely to building the skyrise in auto). That was a fresh, groundbreaking concept you can recognize and support tremendously. Passive needles and conveyor belt hooks, not so much.

Side note:
Of course, I may be a bit biased. My senior year in high school, one of the assisting mentors, about a third way through the FRC season, wanted to change the design of the FRC robot. As the lead designer, I bickered and fought with the mentor for a couple of weeks, but I just gave up because it was not worth my stress and the stress to the team. We attended our competition, and I was pissed that the #1 ranked team had a design that was conceptually identical to what I proposed.

Let’s just form a mentor league. I need another reason to avoid planning curriculum over the summer.

Did any teams do significantly better by copying that robot though? Did any team that copied that robot win a competition that they couldn’t have won if they had had to copy a different robot instead? You might know otherwise, but I think that’s unlikely.

Copiers are gonna copy. There are always gonna be robots out there that they can copy off. If a team wants to copy an entire robot from the internet then I don’t think it matters all that much which specific robot they copy, the results are usually going to be similar. I don’t really think this is all that much of a problem. Building something that isn’t an original design can be a useful way of gaining experience. If you build a series of original designs that never work well, then you will never learn the many skills that can’t be learned until after you have a working robot. On the other hand if your first robot is a copied one, then you can start the next season already knowing things about driving and programming and maintaining a robot that can help you to design your next robot.

In terms of design convergence, the only design reveals that really matter are the best ones. Unless you are regularly winning in one of the World’s strongest regions or setting World record match scores or posting skills scores near the top of the international rankings, your design reveal will probably not have much of an impact on design convergence. A design that hasn’t been implemented can’t prove itself in any of these ways, and if it involves even a small amount of risk then most teams will wait to see it implemented on a good robot before they attempt to build it.

I think even major copying events (such as Pilons in Skyrise, UVM in Toss Up, NZ World Cup teams in Gateway) usually don’t involve a revolutionary and unique design being revealed. Each of those cases was the earliest time that those designs were shared, but in every season I think another example of the same design would have been shared before too much more time had passed.

I think it’s very rare for sharing designs to be detrimental to the overall experience. On the other hand, I think people sharing designs is a huge part of what keeps people interested in the online aspect of the competition, including this forum. I think that the majority of the time, sharing designs is good for the community.

One of my 4149 teams made it to World’s using James’ “triple lift”. So I guess you could say we directly benefited from that post. However, we have been to Worlds the past 3 years now, so I would say that we would have most likely found a way there regardless of that particular design post from James. (although my students greatly appreciated it and learned a lot from implementing it)

I’m fairly sure I saw some designs on the East Coast that looked suspiciously similar to jpearman’s “open source” robot. I don’t remember any of them dominating the scene, though. We must remember that not all teams have mentors that can provide in-depth technical advice, so jpearman was just sharing the wealth, and I don’t see how kids starting out can learn very much if they don’t have something to learn from. I don’t see anything wrong with that “open source” concept, so long as it’s not so advanced it blows everyone else away or accelerates some kind of design convergence early in the season. Even to “merely” copy a robot, teams must have their act together - I doubt you could copy something and really get it working well without a strong background, not to mention motivation, to begin with.

Not to change the subject, but when I had first seen the title of this thread, I thought for sure the OP was going to complain about dealing with parents. As it turns out, I think what he was actually lamenting is that he’s a mentor and not a student and he can’t just jump in and start building a robot of his own design.

There’s a ton of growth in Vex, and new teams (or teams in their second season) need to start someplace to get better. We’re at what 12,000 teams worldwide? That poor clawbot has not been able to effectively play a VRC game for years. So you have to learn from other bots.

There’s a lot of hungry teams out there without a few years of experience like you have. Looking back on these Clean Sweep videos you can see the general level of build and drive increase over time by a larger set of teams. The general level of skill has increased.

How do you get that skill? Learn from other designs and then you get knowledgeable enough to make your own.

Pretty much, all the mentors are complaining because they want to play with robots too.


I was able to share one aspect of my NbN robot concept with a forum member, it was a bit of a catharsis to put it on paper and talk about it. Next best thing to seeing it prototyped. :slight_smile:

If there are any teams or mentors on this forum that are somewhat advanced in their capabilities, and would like to prototype an different take on a catapult design, then PM me. I might have a fresh concept you might like to test.

  1. I’m under no delusions… it might not be worth a hill of beans, and it might not even be new.
  2. I like to share with this community that gives so much, I just didn’t want to add another Google result this early in the season.
  3. If you happen to contact me and prototype it, I’d love to see the results… good or bad.
  4. I don’t hold a patent on this thing… if I ever saw it in a competition I won’t feel hurt or offended. [Glad actually :slight_smile: ]