Hopefully it isn’t taboo that I am bringing this up so quickly, but here goes…
There was a town hall video meeting with Dan Mantz and Grant Cox tonight, and one of the main topics that was discussed was how we will still have a season with COVID. They were very positive about having regular tournaments including signature events and worlds. That being said, they also acknowledged that some teams and or regions may have tighter restrictions and in order to make sure there are options for everyone to have a season that we are likely bringing back skills only events and possibly video taped skills runs from your school. They said details were coming on official rules and such for those options. I wanted to open up a discussion, since I wasn’t around when skills only was a thing, about the possible pitfalls and or benefits of these formats. Lets keep things constructive and civil and maybe we can find a bug or two that the GDC can fix before releasing the details.
I will start with these potential problems:
A verification nightmare. I have heard vague references to the time when skills only events were still allowed and the consensus was that some shady stuff was happening and bad scores were being posted. I could see this being an even bigger problem with teams being allowed to post a video of their run from their classroom.
Possible solutions: a minimum of 4 different organizations attend a skills only event so that teams can be accountable to each other. I don’t have any good solutions for the veracity of videotaping your own team. You would have to have the entire field in the frame the entire time, and there is no way to know if a video has been edited.
Unlimited skills runs. The GDC may already have something in mind for this with their release, but I don’t like the idea of teams getting unlimited skills runs. The reason is that at a normal tournament there is a lot more pressure to get a good score in 3 runs. Also you are going against the teams at that tournament. For example, if you tried a risky move on your first 2 runs and failed miserably, you might be more conservative on your third run to make sure you got a decent score. With videotaping your own skills runs you could try the most risky strategies every time and if it fails, just stop the run immediately and start over until you get it right. It’s the idea that the crazy trick shot you see on youtube isn’t nearly as impressive when you find out that it took 1000 tries.
Possible solutions: Limit skills runs at skills only events to 5 attempts. If a team traveled to the event, they should get more than 3 runs. Videotaping of skills runs should be used only as a last resort. If a team is able to go to an actual event, they should not be allowed to videotape their skills score. If it is the only option for a team, then the team should have to do a live video or have with them in person, a certified referee or EP that is not associated with the program. Also they would be limited to 5 attempts at that meeting and would be limited to 3 meetings.
Health benefits. I expect that there would be a lot less interest in spectators at a skills only event. Also only one team at the field at a time.
Traveling teams. If a team has to travel from farther away it is not imperative that they are there right at the beginning.
Different strategies and designs. In some games you might build a robot differently if it were only to be used for skills. For example, there is no use for a defensive element in skills. We might see more creativity from teams who choose to only do skills.
Alright, that’s plenty from me. If you have any thoughts, please keep them constructive. If you have a potential problem, post a potential solution.
I really think all these “shady stuff” that you mentioned is a very unfair statement or perception made on most of the teams. I would like to think that a big majority of the teams are doing our stuff with integrity.
Currently it is a case of equal misery for all.
The shady stuff has never been about the video recording itself.
In the past, teams (especially from outside USA) submitted our recordings to the RSM as evidence and proof.
And we will always ensure that the drivers are captured inside the videos.
You can even verify that the drivers are not the same for different teams.
No editing is done.
The shady stuff is never about the recordings.
Shady stuff will be whether the scores are recorded correctly in TM (which i still cannot understand how on earth some EPs can made such mistakes), and how to verify that teams are not sharing robots for the skills runs.
But all these can be easily be handled by the mentors of the teams and the EPs?
eg. mentors should be the 1st person to put a stop to all these shady business. no excuse to say that it is student-centred, and mentors let their teams run wild as a result.
EPs should be the one to ensure that all the teams are using their own robots during the events.
And i dont think this is too demanding for all mentors and EPs.
As for the unlimited skills runs, like you said - we can always put a limit to it, which we did, cause I don’t want to stay overnight in the lab!!!
For those of us that went through the skills-only era, despite all these “shady stuff”, many of us will agree that there were many benefits to skills-run events (and also worlds qualifications via global world ranking).
Everything has to be considered in the context of the ongoing health crisis. Some regions will be able to support normal or almost-normal seasons. Some regions may not be able to have a single in-person event. Many regions will fall somewhere in between, with restrictions on and a reduced number of tournaments.
Balance and consistency across regions is important, but I would argue (and I think RECF sees things the same way) that even more important is making the VRC program as accessible as possible as widely as possible. Obviously, though, the integrity of the competition still needs to be preserved — it is a balancing act.
Reading between the lines somewhat from what Dan and Grant said in the webinar, I think there will be an expectation that Skills runs are recorded.
I feel like if we have to record skills it will be pretty easy to regulate. Clear footage, unlimited runs.
unlimited runs does mean that teams who catch a lucky run on tape are advantaged, but it would be pretty much impossible to enforce a limited number of runs if teams are recording from home/school.
it would be easy to make sure that videos weren’t sped up by looking at the radio flashing.
and you know, teams could do some funny business rigging the runs, not being in size, and all that but really a lot will probably just come down to honor code. I’d rather be able to compete in a competition that relies on the honor system than not compete at all.
and things will be different in different regions. In socal things are pretty bad, so I don’t expect to see in person events for a while, but in other regions things could be different. its a very fluid situation, and I’ll take any competitions that the situations allows for, in person or not.
If vex doesn’t accept video recorded at events as evidence for refs what makes y’all think that they would actually accept online skills runs. I think the system could be gamed really easily if you are not required to be at an event.
I mean, I’m in southern Washington, competing in Oregon, and if I was competing in WA, I would either have super strict comps, or really chill comps. Our governor has been treating the entire state like it’s Seattle, because that’s where all the bad cases happened, and so we’re decently strict. We could either have a normal amount of in-person with social distancing(usually 3-4 a year), or we could have skills events. It’s really all up to Jay frickin’ Inslee.
Here’s a possible solution for limiting runs. This solution would require special software for video uploading so things like emailing and handheld cameras would not be acceptable means of recording. You’d need a device capable of accessing the internet with a camera attached to it for uploading (i.e. smartphone, tablet, webcam, etc). This would ensure that only three OFFICIAL runs can be uploaded. You wouldn’t be able to cancel it once the recording has started and it automatically uploads once finished.
The reasoning behind this is simple. The software will open up the camera and only allow for three possible recorded runs. The teams are allowed to practice on the field and choose whenever they want to commence the run, but the software WON’T accept any previously recorded footage. So the moment the record button is pressed, there is no going back. Just like in a tournament.
In other words, the moment the record button is pressed within the software, a video will initiate for one minute exactly (and perhaps a short countdown). The software would allow for exactly 3 videos per team and teams should be obligated to have visible license plates on the robots. Only the footage recorded within the software will be allowed for submission.
When you really think about it, this is viable. It wouldn’t take much for a submission system like this to be developed. There could be other regulations or protocols that can be followed to ensure honesty and integrity but the basic premise is as stated. Think about how AP exams were conducted this year. A similar principle can be applied for this.
Another idea would be to have an RECF representative monitor a live feed. This, however, would rely on strong a strong internet connection from both parties, but it would allow for more monitoring. It’d essentially function like a regular tournament skills challenge but the presence of official referees or representatives would be from an online live feed. The feed could be archived for investigation after the runs as well to rule out any cheaters.
This is the solution I would lean towards - a Google Meet or Zoom as a skills only event virtually hosted by an EP with an independent Head Referee - teams will be given time slots to stream their runs and any team may join the call to watch. If EP or Referee object to a team’s stream, results are not recorded.
With all the work that has gone into Zoom and Google Meet conferences for remote work and remote learning - it is not a stretch that this an appropriate solution.
I do agree that this solution seems viable; 3 skills run throughout an entire season isn’t adequate in my opinion-it throws teams in certain areas completely under the bus. One potential issue with this idea is that some teams may not want their videos to be accessible to all other teams, so maybe restricting it to parties necessary to verify the score would be a better option.