Many Many Robot Designs

Quick question. Is it normal to basically create like five new robots every season? For example, right now we are technically working on our forth already, and we’ve been two only two tournaments (and won both, I might add). Do you think this is a bad thing, that we are building them too quickly?

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From my personal experience I believe every season you should only be rebuilding 2-3 times. If you are always rebuilding you are never practicing, and I believe practice is very important alongside fine-tuning the robot design to have a high grade of consistency, and not to mention improving autonomous and code.

What I think may be a good idea as well, but I cannot be sure of it:
It may be an interesting idea to build a duplicate robot and have one robot be for practice and the other for coding a consistent auton.

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Yeah, well it seems that we are always building and editing the robot, and never giving time for the driver(me) to actually drive sometimes. Right now, though, we do have our old robot that I can drive, but it is pretty worthless because our new one is completely different, and I worry about getting too used to it. The new one is a kiwi drive while the old one is not, do the joystick controls seem very odd. I can’t really do anything about it though, since I’m only a driver and part programmer. I’m just kinda worried, even though we seem to be doing very well so far this season. I know if I do poorly at a tournament, I am the one to blame, which is often what happens.

it kind of depends. if you aren’t satisfied with the actual build of your robot (like the build itself is the limiting factor on the performance of the bot, not the code or the driving) then the best way to improve your building skills is rapid iteration. however, there comes a point where you have to slow down on the rebuilding so you can actually get some driving/coding done.

from this sentence alone:

I get the idea you guys might be moving in the wrong direction. if you’re having trouble with getting the build to work, go simpler and easier, not more complex.

I would also recommend using CAD to design your iterations instead of building each one. it saves time in the end and can help you rapidly improve your design abilities without needing to build as often.

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Robotics (and more generally, engineering) is about rapid iteration. You design and build and refine over and over again. Edison once said, "I didn’t fail 1000 times, the lightbulb was just an invention of 1000 steps" –– in short, your best possible build will probably take a few iterations

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It definitely depends on the situation. Iterations are a necessary part for almost every successful vex team. Typically when I am in the design phase I have specific upgrades planned out for the season and once I have completed that list, I look at any issues and problems to decide if a rebuild is worth it. By the end of the season I typically end up with 1, maybe 2 major rebuilds or redesigns, the rest being small upgrades that increase efficiency. I liked how Connor put it though

A mediocre bot with a great driver will beat a fantastic bot with a mediocre driver.
I would highly recommend cutting back on the rebuilds, it sounds like you aren’t reiterating what you have, but completely giving up on it too quickly.

Now an extra bit of wisdom from my personal experience. If you qualify to worlds, don’t rebuild. A couple small upgrades at most. With every rebuild your driver not only loses practice time but has to completely readjust to the feel of the new design. On top of this you end up needing to make drastic changes to your auto at best, and completely starting from scratch at worst. This will lead you to rushing to get everything done, and making mistakes along the way. That time period between States/regionals should be focused on polish, auto, and driver.

in short yes. Will work really well early season, but as other teams get more polished and thought out designs to work you will probably get passed up, does depend on your region though.

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I personally think it works fine, yes I am on the same team. Our third ‘robot’ was just a drive train and our fourth robot is not complete yet (also just a drive). Also not the entire team builds the new robot. I think the redesigning helps us learn from all the mistakes, design flaws or bad designs. Our second robot, which is the one we are mainly using now has performed very well at two tournaments and we are planning to take it to our third. The robot we are currently working on will probably go to state, but if the design really just doesn’t work then we could end up taking robot number 2 to state with a couple adjustments. We are sort of slowing down with the rapid build process and our in progress robot will likely be the last one we build.

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I, and some of my teammates, think that it is difficult to integrate new and improved mechanisms with an old robot. For example an entirely new intake may work great but for it to fully function you must edit the rollers, and which could mess other things up. Maybe other teams build their robot with room to make larger adjustments in mind, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet. For better synergy of the different mechanisms I think redesigns are better.

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That is an adjustment I would make in my design process. Typically these adjustments aren’t that large and don’t take up to much space. If you design with a small amount of room for error in mind it can do wonders later in the iteration. Now sometimes you still can’t fit the upgrades you want in, at this point I add this to a list and look for a period of time where I have at least a month to do the redesign so I have a comfortable amount of time to redesign. I would have 1 or 2 of these redesigns depending on how the season is going to that point, one possibly bridging from early to mid season, and one definitely Mid too late.

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TLDR: Redesigns are necessary and a good idea, but make sure you are planning adequately.
I basically summarized my entire team’s season here so please ask me if you want clarification, etc.

You never know for certain what the top-tier robots will be. In middle school, I made garbage robots. They would have been at least better if I had been willing to redesign them.

Last year in Tower Takeover, my team was certain that a DR4B would be the meta. We were sure that tray bots would be too imprecise and slow. Obviously, that was not the case. Despite the clear meta leaning towards tray bots, we stuck with our design on the assumption that we could make it better. During the beginning of the season, this was because we were close-minded in our assumptions that our robot was better. At the end of the season, this proved to be the right choice however because we went to a tournament with less competition, and wound up advancing to worlds (rip) through skills.

At the beginning of the season, if we had started over and built a tray bot, it may have been better. It may have been worse overall. It’s impossible to know for sure.

As a contrary example, this season, my team started with a track lift with a backboard. we soon realized that this had far too much friction and that the whole lift being forced to move in unison was actually a bad thing. We originally wanted to be able to “queue up” 3 balls inside the lift and dump them all into one tower or distribute them between different towers. What we had to do eventually, was get a ball inside our intakes, (See 1 below) go up to a goal, spin up the track to speed, and then spin the intakes which launched the ball into the lift with sufficient momentum to launch it out of the top. This was not ideal. Our entire concept of why our robot would be good was completely flawed and wrong

We decided, through much deliberation and notebook entries to remove our track lift and add rubberband rollers to our existing backboard/hood(See 2 below)/intakes. We removed the entire track lift and retrofitted rubberband rollers onto it. We got lucky and it worked surprisingly well. We realized:

One major benefit of individual rubber band rollers: They don’t all have to go the same speed. Because of this, We could spin our top roller unreasonably fast. 1800 rpm lol. With our top roller going so fast, all we needed to do to score a ball was push a ball into the top roller. Everything else was inconsequential to whether or not we got far enough. This system could launch a ball several feet it was far more than we needed.

This new robot was heads and tails above our track bot. Had we stayed with our original design our robot would have never amounted to anything.

In conclusion to my ramblings, redesigning is a necessary step of the engineering design process. But, you need to plan ahead to bring your best competition to a tournament. You never have unlimited time and redesigns take time. Based on your question, maybe you could be putting a bit more planning into each redesign. your notebook is your friend; use it. if you are planning out each new design enough then your decision to redesign is logical. Just make sure you are putting sufficient thought into the design before you build it


Footnotes:

  1. Intakes:
    Our intakes went through constant redesigns. Literally almost every week we changed them. We went from long tracks to track rollers (loops of tank tread upgrade flaps around a single sprocket) to combinations of these. One of the good ideas was to layer two rollers. We placed track rollers on the end of the intakes and various wheels above and behind the front roller. Our intakes fold in rather than out. (yes I know this is technically inferior but It was easier and just good enough.) Placing the intakes in this way allowed them to “mesh” into each other, saving lots of space. Our final (I am writing this over Christmas vacation after MI high schools have been shut down for 2 months and an abrupt pause to our season) We replaces our track rollers with flex wheels (3in, 30A) and the rear rollers (No wheels were big enough) with 4in stacky wheels wrapped in foam mesh to make them bigger, more compliant and grippy.

  2. backboard/hood:
    One of my team’s best ideas this season was a telescoping hood. (Yes I know other people have done this but I’m pretty sure we came up with it too.) We had a backboard made out of turning point flags (1/8" Lexan) that bends from vertical at the back of our robot to a slope at the bottom near the intakes. Then, we had a sheet of 16" Lexan from Robosource (That I ordered by accident trying to get 18") This sheet was half the thickness and thus was very flexible. This thin sheet (henceforth referred to as the hood) nests inside the backboard and can “telescope” in and out. We spring-loaded it open so it would snap up. To keep it down, we attached a tether made of rubber bands to the hood, pulled it around a standoff to pull it in the right direction, and connected it to a sprocket attached to the lift so that when the lift spun forward, it would release the rubber band tether and the hood would snap upwards and open.

I wonder if anyone actually read all this lol

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In my personal experience, we have only built 2-3 robots each season depending on how bad our first was. I would say that if your robot is consistently improving, then it’s fine. We have a saying, “Take the best, invent the rest.” I always take that into consideration while rebuilding.

On the other hand, as @Connor says, practice is important. When building that many robots, you probably don’t get adequate practice time.

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That’s another really good point. I try (And I’m usually somewhat successful) to leave around 2 weeks (We practice 2x a week) before each tournament to practice driving and to debug autonomous. That time is really important to compete well.

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