Firmware upgrade at competitions - event partners please read.

This post is basically a rant, but It has to be said because two days later I’m still annoyed.

On Saturday we attended a local competition and, amongst many other issues, one in particular was rather worrying.

Having arrived I sent two of our teams to get their robots inspected, when the students arrived back in the pits they told me that the inspectors had said their “code” was not compatible with the field control system, we use ROBOTC so this is obviously not the case (and in fact is irrelevant, I know a thing or two about user code). When I checked the two robots neither would connect to the joystick, so I went to see what had happened.

It turned out that the inspection staff were updating all cortex and joystick master firmware to V4.01, in doing this they had (probably) also loaded the IFI default code as they were using the VEXnet upgrade utility, I don’t know that for sure because the robots were acting as if there was no user code installed.

Event partners - Do not upgrade my robot firmware !

I cannot stress enough how potentially dangerous this can be, it’s bad enough upgrading any software at competition but loading default code onto a robot with a different sensor and motor configuration could have caused significant damage.

I do not want to upgrade to V4.01 yet, there are several reasons but most of all I do not have any VEXnet 2.0 keys and don’t need to.

To make things worse on Saturday, the students had left the latest code they had been working on the night before at the school and we had to use a backup from a previous competition. Now I know I should know better, but the fact is that the competition organizers caused us 30 minutes of panic while we tried to find a suitable PC to reload firmware (we normally run ROBOTC under virtualization on a Mac, the firmware update utility does not work under this environment) followed by a scramble to figure out which user code they wanted to use from our backups.

So if any event organizers are reading this, I say again.

Do not upgrade master firmware at competitions. The tournament manager software is compatible with any recent version of firmware (3.23 or 4.01) and also both VEXnet 1.0 and VEXnet 2.0. I don’t really care if you think my robot would be better off on version 4.01, I know better.

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How dare somebody try to tell James Pearman what to do! :stuck_out_tongue: I mean that with an sincerity I can muster.

Anyway, I agree. An event sponsor has every right to tell a team to do something differently (i.e. upgrade firmware versions), but they should have no power enforcing this. For teams who don’t comply, there should be a caveat: if something goes wrong, tough luck and don’t expect the event to replay a match because you failed to do something the EP asked you to do.

Just wondering, how did the EP manage to connect their computer to your robot without major protesting?

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This happened during robot inspection, I was not with the students, I have no need to be. The students just went with what the adult inspectors requested and allowed a computer to be connected to the robot.

This happened to at least half the teams at the competition before they realized they had blown away everyone code.

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How do they the field control check in inspection? I mean of all the robots I’ve inspected I NEVER download firmware to a team’s robot unless they specifically ask for my help and have an issue with the robot. That’s a very large issue.

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Usually competition switch, make sure joystick is disabled during autonomous. That’s all we do at worlds as well. I’ve no idea what they were doing on Saturday but I assume the same.

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The event wasn’t done well at all. Replaying the elimination matches due to “VEXnet problems” was not right at all. And also, in the semifinals, the opposing robot broke the plane of our starting tile and referee said he was fine with it. Also, he counted a robot as not hanging if it touched the wall.:confused:

Sounds like a very poorly run event.

Ok, thought they may do something even crazier, but still, there’s no need to do that to others’ robots.

Was this the first year the event was run, or was it the same event with a new person in charge of it?

This was their first year, but I think the third or fourth event. I was told the motivation had been one team that had new VEXnet 2.0 keys at the previous competition that had perhaps had problems.

This competition has passed, as Robo-Sumant said, there was some very questionable refereeing and blatant disregard for rules which are not really open for interpretation (for example, opponent robot touching your starting tile in autonomous being “OK” ). But there’s no point on dwelling on those problems, I doubt we will attend this location again. However, my original post was aimed at event partners that may still have competitions to run and are planning to be “helpful” by updating the robot firmware.

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Worst part is when you have to compete at these locations.

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That’s truly unfortunate, I’m sorry you guys had to go through with that. I would’ve been irate if I was at that event.

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In the Southern California area, probably other areas as well, there aren’t that many competitions in relation to the number of teams in the area. The teams that have money sign up for 10 when the competitions are announced. Our team, however, has to sign up for what is available.

I understand that at this point, there is nothing that can be done to resolve this, but the fact that tournament champions would have qualified for State is devastating.

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Agreed. Re-flashing the firmware without a thorough discussion with the team about what is going to happen and why is not a good idea.

On the other hand, this is a great lesson for the kids. They obviously didn’t understand what was happening, but didn’t speak up and ask what was happening or why. Not knowing the kids, their ages, or their life experience, I have no idea whether it would be reasonable to expect them to speak up.

However I’ll bet the next time they are faced with someone in a position of authority doing something they don’t understand, then they will be more likely to politely ask what they are doing and why, and perhaps even refuse to comply until they are satisfied that the request is in order.

Its a tough way to get the lesson, but I hope that in a future situation they will be more likely to politely question authority and seek confirmation of strange instructions before following them.

As an event organizer and tech inspector I feel very strongly about this… it is possible… no EASY… to make a mistake when you are running an event or giving instructions to volunteers. I have sympathy for your team, but also for the volunteers who ended up doing a whole bunch of needless, time consuming, and ultimately less-than-constructive reprogramming.

No, it shouldn’t have been done this way… but hopefully the cloud has a silver lining.


P.S. I put this in the context of our field set-up at the BC Championships last weekend. The tape on the field was laid out in accordance with an image on the Toss Up app. It had an extra tape line in the scoring zone. One of the teams asked us about it, we showed them the app, then they asked if we could look at the official diagrams because they had never seen an image like that before. We took a couple of minutes, looked at the drawings, and removed the tape line based on the official drawings. Then the team went on and scored 66 points in programming skills, taking the #1 position. Thank goodness they were good advocates for the VEX rule book.

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Just a note I thought that tape line in the goal zone was in the correct field setup?

Another thing, but maybe this is only because I work with a load of middle school students, but often in the heat of competition, or in the pre-match and “I need to get my robot inspected” mania, many teams I know aren’t going to think to speak up. Often I’ve noticed they’ll just nod and go along and just want to get their bot on the field. Is it the best? Absolutely not. Does it happen a lot? Yes. It’s why I put the brunt of responsibility on the event staff and volunteers to be clear in communicating to teams. It’s something I take extra care to do when I work at any robotics event.

Make sure you update the content in the Toss Up app, as those images were updated a long time ago (May 3rd 2013). You should have received an alert telling you updates were needed unless you turned off update checks.

To update the content, go to Settings from the main menu and click Check For Updates (Android) or Update Now (iOS).

I am a bit confused as to why the firmware would need to be updated in a forced manner? The rules i thought were if the robot repsonds to the commands sent to it by the competition control switch, you should not care what is in the cortex.

It is between the joystick and cortex for communication and the grounding at the competition port dictates that.

Also, the lack of detailed release notes makes me hesitant to update firmware unless we really have to. We have a real mix of 4.01 due to Vexnet 2.0 keys coming on board. (Only because they don’t sell the old ones any more I might add, otherwise it would be done in May, not February)

We debate long and hard about both Robot C versions and firware upgrades to see if it is worth the potential variability on the robots and potential down sides (remember the spinning out of control I2C sensor based robots in Gateway?)

Any insights into why the forced upgrade? Did they hand you some Vexnet 2.0 keys? Is there a new contorller code sending different signals to the joystick switching the modes differently?

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There should be no need to do any updates. The firmware has been stable for a year now, V4 is available but, unless you have VEXnet 2.0, there is no need to use it.

I completely agree, I beta test everything on one system, then when I consider it stable we do an update of all the school equipment at the beginning of the school year and make sure everything is running the same version. We avoid any updates during the school year unless serious bugs are found.

If everything is working we leave it alone.

I have no idea what they were thinking but there is still much misunderstanding about how the field control system works. I hear so many claims about how the field control “sends a bad command” to a robot that I think many believe there is a complex communications protocol involved. I’m working on a full technical description of the field control hardware that may help to demystify the inner workings, I hope to release that in a few days time.

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We have some kids brining their own RJ45 cables to the matches trusting them more thant what has probably been abused for hundreds of matches.

Cables and connectors are always a weak link.

With the field control system, your joystick is also electrically connected (directly) to that of you alliance partner, a short in his cable or joystick will affect you.

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My understanding was that the controller just shorts together pins, right?

Correct. It just shorts together pins to indicate Disable/Enable and Auton/Driver (and FieldControl/CompetitionSwitch which just switches the WiFi channel, not sure how that behaves with VN2.0)