Engineering notebook

Hey everyone, I was thinking for a while about, in my opinion, a very important aspect of the VRC competition; the engineering notebook.
i had a few questions and i would like your feedback and opinions.

  1. What type of formulas do you recommend to be put into the notebook?
  2. Are you using an electronic notebook or a true engineering notebook?
  3. What is something you are absolutely excited about in your notebook?

Btw if any teams need help with there notebook or have any questions please ask! i enjoy helping teams and i help teach mini classes for the notebook. Feel free to post pics of your notebook or anything you want.

thanks !!!

Personally, I would put everything you can think of.

  1. My team didn’t place formulas, but It would be a good idea to put torque calculations, velocity calculations, and stuff you can see through CAD. From those calculations, you can then use other geometric equations (such as for a circle and triangle). It would probably be a good idea to describe how you used those calculations on the robot

  2. Electronic

  3. I enjoy discussing strategy, designing aspects, reflections on progress, and future plans

I’m actually surprised you are using an electronic notebook. From what i have seen this is a very split decision and topic among teams. I’m wondering what judges prefer more. Thanks for the formula ideas. When I spoke to judges at certain events they say that they like seeing MATH in the notebook. Good luck with your notebook and with your robot!

My mentor was the head judge for FTC and I volunteered a few times at FTC competitions. I feel like the notebook is emphasized more in that competition, and from what I’ve seen and heard, they prefer handwritten engineering notebook. This bias, however, hasn’t prevented an electronic notebook from winning the design award.

I feel like a handwritten notebook makes feeling, personalization, and effort much more obvious. But I also feel its more fragile - too fragile to be practical.

With an electronic notebook, we can change formatting as we please. We can move dates, provide more space if necessary, add photos cleanly, and add any documents without sacrificing any previous work.

For example, we always want to place a bill of materials near the front of the book. However, it’s impossible to predict what materials a team uses at the start of the season. With a written notebook, the bill of materials would typically be a handout, but to me that’s very unprofessional and unorganized. In response to this, teams can prepare beforehand and leave a few pages blank, but I also feel that blank space is downgrading for the first few competitions. From there, teams can mark, saying that this space is used for future documents, but then this goes to the problem of limited space. You cant add pages in a handwritten notebook, and the more you overestimate what you need in a specific area, you sacrifice space for another part of the log book. However, if you underestimate your space by even one page, the notebooks value plummets

Another example would be community outreach. We always want that in the back of the book, with it’s own division. But we can’t predict how many outreach events we’ll have. More than likely, we would of undershot it this year (I didn’t expect to have 21 by our first competition). Thanks to the electronic notebook, we saved ourselves in that section

Another reason why the electronic notebook is so helpful is because multiple people can work on it at the same time. Some people wrote biographies, others input photos, while even more were revising what we currently have.

I believe an electronic notebook is the most practical way to get an amazing result, but with extremely careful planning (in my opinion, too extreme to be applicable), a handwritten notebook can bypass an electronic notebook greatly

When we won the design award on November 16, they said that the biggest thing that divided our notebook from other notebooks was the documented use of CAD. They also said we won by a unanimous decision. I traded notebooks with a team member in GreenBots (these guys would have won if we didn’t attend), and I noticed we both had excellent depth(100+ pages) and personalization, but CAD truly separated the notebooks. In previous seasons, they also said we won the design award due to our excellent display of development from sketches, to CAD, to Prototypes, to Design, to [Modification]

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If you use a binder none of this is a problem.

I also found that using a binder (as stated above) is very useful. My team does this and it has been working out quite well and we get the chance to do anything we need with as many people working on it at the same time. I also volunteer for Vex and First events and among the coaches and judges this is quite the controversy but the team sticks to a binder and everything works out quite well. Thank you for the very detailed and useful response.

Our team uses an electronic notebook, but we make sure that we update ours every time we do anything VEX related. We also put in all of our competition data from every event we go to. Math is always a good thing to put into the notebook. Heck, a hybrid between Microsoft Word and hand drawings/calculations isn’t a bad idea either. Soon, we’ll hopefully have CAD renders from Autodesk Inventor!

That is true, but I guess I did miss a portion of my logic

With the FTC judges, the biggest thing they worry about with electronic notebooks is authenticity.

With an electronic notebook, you can delete parts, add pictures, retype misspelled words and the judges will never know. However, in a handwritten notebook, binded notebook, it contains all of those mistakes.

With an binder of paper, My guess is that the judges would still have that same feeling of an electronic engineering notebook, but they’ll also have that good feeling of a handwritten document. I’ve never considered it, but I think that’s a good solution.

I’m actually curious now. A handwritten binder would definitely rival an electronic notebook. The electronic notebook is slightly more practical due to photos and typing speed. The handwritten binder, with more time however, can also insert all the things an electronic notebook would have.

Then of course, there’s the option of having a pseudo electronic paper book.

Wait is 100+ pages actually typical of winning notebook designs?

I wouldn’t say length immediately means you win the design award. After all, clarity, development, management, and interview quality is what matters. But I’ve won the design award twice in vex with notebooks 100+ pages long. If I remember correctly one of the design award winners at worlds had a 169 pages

With the notebook, I always keep this general plan:

  1. Make the first glance as impressive as possible. Get that positive bias
  2. Follow rubric throughout the notebook
  3. Spoon feed as much critical info as possible, make it obvious you surpass the criteria
  4. Make the notebook memorable

Don’t forget though, the design award is also affected by your interview


The length of some notebooks at worlds is probably attributed to the constant documentation of teams and their endeavors throughout the season. One thing our team is always doing is updating our work log and putting in every change we perform on our robot. Believe me, if your documentation is continuous throughout the entire season, it’s not unreasonable to have notebook length of 100 pages or more by the time Worlds arrives.

Why not both? The losseleaf or electronic parts show the program, field maps, etc. The written is the core week to week activities and the story of your robot.

A paper based notebook shows you have done the work consistently across the season and is harder (I did not say impossible) to fudge.

But what’s most important is the content!

Ensure your notebook shows your progress, what worked, what didn’t, etc. If you want to talk about what formulas you need, then apply them to things that did not work and learn why they did not and figure out what would have made it better. Or things between design iteration/choice 1, 2, and 3.

Examples - compute by hand the center of gravity in different positions, the torque required to lift the arm and how many rubber bands you will need, speed calculations vs actual tests to see how much friction is hurting you, how you use the gyro or accelerometer, how your arm lifts to score in the 24" goal, the torque required to lift the robot on the bar, etc.

Vex is all about learning and the notebook is a great place to show the judges what you’ve learned and the constant progress you’ve made along the way.

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People were talking about how many pages teams have so it had me wondering. How many pages do your notebooks have ?

When I considered a paper or electronic notebook, I meant that the logs portion was hand written or typed. I would consider a book which is handwritten, yet includes a print out of code and photos as paper however. In this case, you’re kind of forced to use a hybrid (imagine how annoying it would be to write down a hundred line code by hand:D)

When I think of a hybrid paper and electronic book, I think Printed text with hand drawn sketches on the printed paper or sketches with printed text pasted in or something like that. I think those are tacky, but it is still judged on content. Maybe there is a team who pulled it off well though.

As of the 9th, when we won the design award, we had 109 pages. Now, I think we’re around 120 pages, excluding photos

We are at over 1500 lines, try writing that down! If we were a bit more advanced in our programming knowledge we could knock that down with tasks, bit we are just happy it works…

If you’re comfortable with having your code hacked apart, you could post it and let people, well, hack it apart :). Even if you don’t use it, it would be a good educational experience for “next time.”

Thats pretty amazing and you said you have an electronic notebook? Did the judges react differently to the electronic notebook? Good luck with your robot and I hope to see you at worlds.

Yep, it’s electronic. I wish we knew. We didn’t receive any direct feedback from our judges. When they presented the award, they only mentioned that we won unanimously, and that CAD made us stick out. The surprising part to me however is that we only included maybe 4 or 5 pictures of CAD designs in our book, while the rest were sketches and prototypes. My guess is that they were impressed by the additional 5 CAD photos we used in our interview. They probably also liked that we were fast enough with our engineering notebook to point out things we mentioned in our interview. They said they wanted to personally visit our pit, and they didn’t have any questions after our presentation.

I LOVE TASKS! :smiley:

In all seriousness if you post your code a few members on the forum could show you other ways it could be done (me) and others would show you more efficient ways it could be done (everyone else).

I really hate how judges usually don’t give feedback. Judges at the competitions I go to in my region don’t really have an interview. They talk to you but its like overall. At the start of the day you give them your notebook then thats it until the awards. Great job again and feel free to share anything you want to show about your robot.