As I’ve learned from the past two seasons in VEX, building a good robot is only half the battle in getting to Worlds. It’s driver practice that counts a lot. I regret not having put more time into practicing driving my team’s robot, since if we had, we probably could have done somewhat better at states with our one-star/cube catapult and high-hanging robot. As I move on to VEX U, I wanted to start a discussion on driving practice. I’d like to know some things:
How much hours of driving practice had your team put into your robot in Starstruck and earlier seasons?
For a team to be good for states, how much driving practice should the team get in per driver before their first state-qualifying tournament? (IMO, I was thinking 50+ full hours per driver with at least 10 hours on driving in simulated competition conditions.
When practicing, what things/strategies does/did your team focus on refining through driver practice?
Thanks in advance for any helpful advice you give.
Our regional competition in Starstruck was 3 weeks before states. We wanted to rebuild our robot, and that used up a week of those 3 weeks. We then spent the rest of the days fine tuning and practicing driving. We spent at least 45 minutes a day driving and throwing stars over the fence on the field. We decided to finish building the robot so early so we have a good amount of time to practice.
Have enough practice that you are able to do everything at full speed comfortably. Driving and manipulating objects should be second nature.
During Starstruck, we focused on being able to quickly reaching the game objects and quickly getting to the wall and the throwing them over. It was all about speed and efficiency. A similar approach can be taken with In The Zone.
Well for my Starstruck season, I am fortunate enough to be doing Vex in a School program with several of the top teams in the state. Because if this, usually what our teams did was after they built their new bot, we would work together in finely tuning them for about 1-1.5 weeks. After tuning, all we would do is 1v1s, 1v2s, and 2v2s constantly. We have morning and afternoon meeting, which equal around 2 hours driving time. and we will do this around 4 times a week. In a month (previously 1961ABD will get around 30 hours driving each week. Personally (1961D) I also have classes in the room where the practice field is, so i will also get roughly an extra 2 hours here and there.
I think i agree with you with the 50 hours of personal driving and 10 hours comp simulation. But that also has to do with the amount of competitive team you have near your foundation or your school. Like I said, I am fortunate enough to be in a club where we have several of the top teams in our state. But for home teams, the 10 hours of comp simulation may be hard.
As stated we would do 1v1, 1v2, 2v2s during our practices. We never did any specific strategies, but to prove to ourselves that we should be okay at comp is that when we did 1v1s, the difference in the number of stars and cubes on each side should be about even. (We never did the comparison by score since some robots are optimized to throw farther rather than capacity.) This method was also used for 2v2s. For 1v2s we had a limit of within the difference of 5 stars and 1 cube. This method seem to work very well for us. Although my team and 1961B were very unlucky at states with bad alliance members, 1961A won our state comp. All three teams qualified for world as well.
In Starstruck, probably ~100 hours total. All of our previous robots were similar enough to our last robot that it didn’t make too much of a difference which bot the practice was on. In Nothing But Net, we practied for about 60 hours I would say.
“Per driver.” Why would you have more than one driver? You would be wasting time having multiple people get practice. If you have twice as many drivers, you get half as much practice time, or need to spend twice as much time practicing. (This doesn’t apply to using partner controllers obviously, if you have partner controllers the two drivers should both get equal practice, together.)
For Starstruck, throw objects back if you don’t have a robot to practice against. If you have a robot to practice against, do that. We placed objects in the toughest spots for our robot to grab so we could practice what needed the most practicing and get ideas on how to refine our claw to pick things up in tough spots (mostly near the fence, but in the corners required more finesse until we added rollers to our claw tips, after which point driving into the corner would automatically push our claw closed properly).
In general, do the hardest things. It’s like practicing an instrument. You have to work on the roughest sections first.
Also, have people yell in your drivers’ faces. Yes, seriously. The janitors probably thought my mom was crazy and/or abusive, but it helped me to learn to keep my cool in high-pressure situations. (It was my suggestion, btw. Don’t think my mom is crazy and/or abusive.)
Are you saying 45 minutes is a good amount of time to practice (it’s not), or am I missing something?
1- Because we don’t have a field, our practice time has been limited. However, having our lead programmer also act as our driver has helped a lot. Since, as a programmer, he spends a lot of time working with the controls to test code, he already knows the controls and the behavior of the robot before driving.
We are trying to get a field this season though, because we definitely need to spend more time practicing on field. In previous seasons the only practice time we got on a full field was an hour right before the competition.
2- As a vexU team, we have no states, only the qualifiers starting in January, and worlds. However, i suggest you go to a few practice scrimmages beforehand. Previous years we only went to 1 in December, due to lack of scrimmages nearby. This year a second scrimmage opened up nearby in August, so we will go to that as well. In college, I think it will be very difficult to find someone with enough free time to spend 50+ hours on practicing driving before your first qualifier. In the fall semester last season, we had about 10 members on the VEX team, and only 4 had more then 50 hours logged in the club room, and these 4 members were all club officers.
3- I think this varies based on the current game. For starstruck, when we got a full field to practice on, we just practiced cycle time of throwing stars/cubes.
Testing code is part of programming, so you get driver experience naturally without having to really dedicate time to it. Although if we did only have 2 weeks before a comp, any spare time would be spent towards driver practice (assuming the bot is at a functioning level, which typically it is not for us).
I program so that the robot does everything it can without going so far as to be unreliable or make a mistake. Driver practice is a great thing because if you pay attention, you can notice so many more things to make small improvements to. Really, that is most of the utility of it.
We try to make as many autonomous functions as possible (which will be particularly useful for ITZ) but we always make sure that we program in an override just in case of unreliability.
To get back on the topic of the thread, we try to practice as much as possible, but it usually gets interrupted by fine tuning. For worlds, I probably had about 30 hours of driving practice on the worlds bot alone, and previous iterations of it were fairly similar, so previous practice carries over. One thing I did was knelt down while driving to simulate the elevated fields at worlds, which I found extremely helpful.
I think just about every year I regret not practicing enough in match-like conditions. This year it’s probably going to be especially important and painful to practice with all the cones and goals set up like a real match
My team’s robot was done the week before states, but we had the same platform for the previous few months. When it was complete before our last upgrade, I would practice driving for the 6 hours we had every week, almost every week. Because of this, I think I was able to drive the tobot much better than some of my competitors, and even though we had a pushbot, I think that my driving ability really helped make our robot win more. I would say that driving definitely plays a HUGE role in your success, so practice every minute you have with a complete robot. Plan it, build it, and drive it, and you will do a lot better.