Nationals Advice

Hi! I’m part of the all girls robotics team 5447B. We recently qualified for Nationals, and have decided to go. The farthest we’ve ever traveled to go to a competition is an hour, but this time we’ll be flying, because Nationals is in Iowa and we are in Central Massachusetts.

After reading up on old Forum posts, we decided that the safest thing to do would be to ship the robot, most likely using overnight delivery as our flight has a layover and we don’t want to risk losing the robot. We will be sending one box with the robot and one box with spare tools and parts.

So here is the question: What do we bring? We have a habit of bringing pretty much anything that we could ever possibly need to competition, just because we can. Now we have to severely cut down, due to shipping and the fact that there will only be three (maybe even just two) girls and a female chaperone going, so we probably can’t carry a ton of stuff anyways. Do you guys have any tips on what absolutely needs to be brought? Or how to pack (robot stuff)? Thanks in advance, and any help would be appreciated!

~Zoe from 5447B

Try to condense your normal parts you bring to competition down to only the parts you need to repair or make small modifications to your robot. (Your not going to need 40 extra pounds of metal)

Things like:

Some metal
Couple motors and gears
Few extra of each sprockets/gears you use on current robot
A few of each wire extension size
Extra cortex and joystick
Only the number of batteries you really need
Only one or two of each screwdriver size
Whatever other tools you absolutely need (dremel, drill)

Shipping can get expensive and a hassle, so only ship what you really need.

Regarding packing for shipping…we have sent our robot on airplanes with a custom made plywood crate. You have to build the crate quite strong…shipping companies and airlines are not careful with your stuff. Even better would be to buy a real shipping crate…but that gets expensive.

Before you put the robot in the crate, take the wheels/axles off if possible. If you don’t there is a very good chance the axles will be bent from all the jostling around during shipping.

Also, what we have done in the past is to put the really heavy stuff (screws, nuts, metal) in our carry on during flight. They usually aren’t very picky about the carry on weight (as opposed to checked luggage) so if each team member can spare a bit of room in their bag you can get a lot of stuff packed that way and not have to ship certain things.

That’s very helpful. I wasn’t aware we could bring parts on flights, and that never would’ve occurred to me so thank you for that and everything else :slight_smile:

Yea, you can bring almost anything on an airplane…it’s actually kind of surprising. They might look at you a bit funny, just be ready to explain yourself. We put little labels on all of our bins that said something to the effect of “These supplies are traveling with a Robotics Team on their way to the ________ Competition in City, State. Please contact Bob at 123-123-1234 if there are any questions”

Fun fact, you can actually bring a table saw on most domestic flights (as checked luggage).

Here is a list of stuff the TSA does and doesn’t allow broken down by carry-on and checked luggage.

A table saw? That is kind of terrifying… and thank you again - this is super helpful

Hi Zoe,
Last year when we went to Worlds, we check local TSA and made arrangements to carry our robot onto the plane. We purchased a ticket for the robot, which at group rates was less than shipping costs. We were able to take good care of the robot from damage and ensure it arrived. It worked great for us. That being said, we are a local Iowa team and will be there competing as well as helping out. Most of the teams around here are real friendly and helpful, and we and many others will be happy to share tools and parts. You still need to plan, but you don’t need to stress out too much as many in the area will be more than willing to help.

Thank you - Unfortunately there are only three or four of us going, so no group discount for us :frowning: but it’s great to know that the teams in Iowa are helpful in case we forget something important and are stressing out big time - thanks again :slight_smile:


In terms of robot transport, most teams pack up the robot and take it on the plane as luggage, which is usually cheaper than shipping.

If you are shipping it, express options are usually best (UPS/FedEx), as the robot will spend less time being thrown around and bouncing around in a truck. Make sure you pack the robot so that all voids are filled (box can’t crush) and the robot is safe in all orientations, as the box will never stay in the same orientation. Also, make sure the package is rock solid and can easily hold a lot of weight on it, as other packages will get piled and stacked on it, and your robot might end up being used as a handy stool to reach the top of the trailer by loaders.

If you need any specific advice/questions about shipping options or packaging, feel free to PM me. Last tip, if you do ship, don’t just go to a FedEx office or UPS Store, you can almost always get discounts of 20-30%+ by signing up for accounts online, regardless of volume.

Edit: One more note, airlines will let you pack your robot is plywood/metal/whatever crates, however, most shipping carriers will charge absurd fees if your package isn’t a cardboard box.

Thank you! Now I just need to get my dad to build me a plywood box… If we do ship it, I didn’t think about filling the voids. What would you fill it with? Are Packing Peanuts sturdy enough? Also, thanks for the discount tip - I’ll definitely remember that:)


Packing peanuts work, but when in large quantities they will settle when the box is shaken, so I don’t like using them. Last year we used foam sheets (like the blue or pink insulation from Home Depot) cut into pieces to fit in perfectly with the robot. Bubble Wrap and air pillows also work well, but the foam is probably the best option as it also adds structural support to the box.

And as others have said, make sure to take out the wheels and any fragile or protruding mechanisms (it’s a lot easier to put the back on than to fix them if they break), and zip tie down the lift and any moving parts.

Awesome! Thanks for your help - I’ll definitely have to find some sort of void-filler now, and remember to zip tie the lift down. I didn’t think of that. Thanks!


To kind of echo what TPRmentor said, there are tons of helpful teams going. Bring what you think you need and if you should need something you don’t have, come find our pits we will help you get it if we don’t have it. We pack a little on the heavy side most times lol.

I was part of the 1200 Syntax Error team last year and we didn’t fly but we still had to pack very smartly and not a whole lot. We packed a lot of small plastic kits with lots of screws and rubber bands, and all of the other stuff you will need. We had 4 teams there last year and we each had like 4-5 plastic kits and it was enough for us. just make sure you have things that you will absolutely need.

Good Luck and See you there!

I just started another thread asking if there is a store at this event. It seems plenty large enough now to warrant one.

It could be deemed on the way for a truck to go north from Dallas to Omaha and then hang a right to get to Louisville a bit later.

We’d prefer to not completely depend upon the kindness of strangers when in sheer panic mode. You’re not typically at your best then and it saves time on going from booth to booth looking for that one part you need that you did not pack.

Power expanders and running out of 393’s or new internal gears are the main culprits that have bit our teams in the past. Not many teams carry a spare power expander at $50 a pop. Motors and screws are easier to come by.

Yeah, we definitely don’t want to have to rely on other people if we realize that we forgot something, but it is really nice to know that other teams are willing to help us out it we get stuck. Thanks for all the advice everyone - this is the first time we’ll be going to an out of state competition with more than sixty teams and we’re super excited, hope to see you guys there! :slight_smile:


Something to think about when there is scouting. Not just general, but really in depth. My team last year would scout out every team at the competition from their youtube videos, past tournament results, and then with scouting sheets at the competition. This enables us to know what their bot was capable of in therms of scoring in match, autonomously, and their overall strengths and weaknesses to plan a strategy around. It’s best to know what your opponents and alliance partners are capable of before ever getting to the field.
Good luck!

This will be my first nationals competition. I am a senior in high school, so it will also be my last nationals competition. I live in Georgia and we decided we were going to drive ALL the way there. 14 1/2 hours :slight_smile:

Scouting is an interesting concept. Before this year, my team has never been particularly good, so we never had to worry about that. It is good to know that it exists though.

As for driving, i hope you have fun with your entire team all in one car for 14+ hours :stuck_out_tongue: Massachusetts is a 21 hour drive to Iowa, and with only 2 girls going, we only have 1 chaperone who cant drive for 21 hours, so flying it is. We are all Juniors so we have one more year to try and qualify for Nationals again or even worlds, which would be awesome.

Well good luck everyone, and see you there

~Zoe and 5447B

Just a note about scouting at Nationals - It is going to be very interesting and a little more complicated than some other tournaments. If you are already registered, you should know this because of the team email sent out, but the format for high school is 2 divisions of 100 teams each, with 16 alliances of 3. The middle school will be 1 division, again with 16 alliances of 3. That means 96 of the 200 teams will make it into an alliance and 48 of the 70 middle school teams. Note that there is a team from Canada and a team from Hong Kong coming so it should be a very fun and challenging tournament.

So it would be 1 VS. 16, 2 Vs.15 ETC…