V5 ESD Protection Board Revision 3 (Save your V5 Ports!)

Dear VEX Community,

With V5 brains and motors in an extreme shortage, the BLRS Electronics Team has created a new revision for our V5 ESD Protection Board to protect both motors and ports from dying. Although not competition legal, we highly encourage other teams to also start using this board to prevent themselves from being taken out of the competition due to something completely out of their control. Learn more about ESD protection and ESD in general on the board’s release page.

Our design criteria for this iteration were to:

  • Improve the mountability of the board on VEX components
  • Improve the ease of assembly without completely assembling the board for students.
  • Decrease the unit cost substantially.

Here is the new board, it comes panelized in groups of 10:

Mountability

This iteration of the board comes with 2 main features that coincide with each other to improve its mountability on VEX components. We’ve added a thoughhole to the board as well as a 3d printable case for 1, 4, and 8 boards. This comes as part of our collaboration with the VEX Cad Project and VEXU team EZ, whom have designed this case and released the files on our wiki page.

Ease of Assembly and Cost

For this iteration, we’ve abandoned Oshpark as our vendor for ordering boards and have instead provided instructions on JLCPCB for ordering boards instead. These have had two major benefits for the board:

  1. We have reduced the price of the board from ~2-3$ to roughly 40 cents for the board without jacks , leaving the price under a dollar with the jacks included. The unit price of the board stands at ~$1 at time of release.
  2. JLCPCB offers a free SMT service for the first purchase, so there is no need for tediously soldering TVS diodes anymore. You just need to solder the jacks on both ends.

Do note that the boards now come in panelized orders of 50 to reduce the unit price, but for organizations encountering this issue this should be roughly the amount you need anyways per team given 3-4 v5 brains.

Protect your V5 Electronics today ! We make no profit off the sales but provide this as a benefit to the community. We hope you find great use out of this board as not only a way to protect your v5 brains, but also an opportunity to teach future engineers how to solder :slight_smile: .

Direct Link: (Hosted on our Wiki)
https://wiki.purduesigbots.com/vex-electronics/v5-esd-protection-board

Thank you for your patronage and support,

  • The Purdue SIGBots

P.S. Check out other release notes for the Wiki here: SIGBots Wiki Dev Blog (Fall 2021, Article Revamps + New Features)

51 Likes

These are really cool. I can see using them for the hours and hours of practice then pulling them off for events.

Wonder if I can get them listed as non-functional decorations when they are not plugged in.

7 Likes

i don’t know if this is technically considered a micro controller or not, but because of this rule (R16), i think that they wont let you get the board listed as non functional decoration

1 Like

Thanks for the rule, but there are only passive components in the board. I’ll submit a Q&A question to ask. They have allowed electronics before (ie LED lights) in the past.

7 Likes

It’s not a microcontroller. A TVS diode is a passive component.

7 Likes

great stuff, it’s more important now than ever before to protect ports from esd considering nobody can acquire new v5 hardware.

15 Likes

Exactly!

If nothing else it will be a great test to reveal if common sense and compassion or bureaucratic way of thinking prevail at vex.

5 Likes

The choices on ESD design is on VEX. Not allowing the ESD support board is an RECF choice. I’ll guess that something that is a build yourself device falls into the same bucket as 3D printing. It’s not easily available to all teams. While I could smack about 30 out of my lab on a long Saturday, there are teams that would not be able to get one assembled.

I’d hope that the new brain would have a more robust ESD protection in it. But I’m well known for "Hope is not an {Engineering, Project Management, Design, Development} strategy.

This is just an ongoing reminder that we are a small part of VEX business, they make money with the STEM items they sell to schools. The competition is Bob and Tony giving back to the community. Likewise RECF has other irons in the fire (look at all the new programs that are education centric) VRC isn’t the crown jewel, it’s one of the shiny stones in a much bigger crown.

But I’m still gonna play, cause this is till the most fun you can have for a few thousand a year.

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Yeah, allowing custom electronics is a bit tricky and I can understand the reluctance, but I really do wish, given the current shortage of… everything… and the lack of any end in sight of the worldwide logistical nightmare, that they would have allowed this exception.

The “competitive advantage” this gives is that it makes it less likely that, through no fault of your own, your $275 product (which you currently cannot replace) will stop working. Some teams didn’t have a setup that would allow them to compete in an LRT, but they still had LRTs because it allowed more teams to compete than otherwise could have. Some teams may not be able to get this protection, but allowing it would allow some teams to compete that otherwise might have a bricked robot.

I dunno. It feels a bit like the cliched “eat your food, don’t you know other kids are starving?” except in this case it’s “no food for you, don’t you know other kids are starving?”

9 Likes

I think one problem would be inspection, how will inspectors know it’s just ESD suppression, a fancy box under the V5 with all smart port signals routed through it could be doing anything. Change the voltage to the motors, intercept control signals and adjust commands so you get 1 or 2 extra seconds during the match. etc.

9 Likes

Perhaps we could come up with a in-line version like a choke (see photo). The RJ9 sockets take up the largest amount of space. Solder the diodes into a cable and cover it with shrink tube. Pretty hard to sneak in additional logic - less of a concern for inspectors.

image

3 Likes

Solder the diodes into a cable and cover it with shrink tube. Pretty hard to sneak in additional logic - less of a concern for inspectors.

I think you overestimate how small logical boards can be. If anything having something like that would make it even harder for inspectors to check, as at the very least the board we provide and its case is easily able to be open and show that it’s nothing but the TVS diode.

In an ideal world nobody would cheat in competitions, but as shown in the 393 era this is simply not true. Honestly if there was a way we could work with RECF in designing a case that’d be easy for inspectors to check to see if it was truly an ESD board with only a TVS diode that’d be the ideal case but sadly that only increases the complexity of training in an already hard to police competition. At the end of the day, it’s not about greed but simply a matter of RECF playing the “rather safe than sorry” card which is respectable.

and the lack of any end in sight of the worldwide logistical nightmare, that they would have allowed this exception

But yes overall I agree, having them potentially reach out to us and work something out to make this more reasonable for inspectors.

Furthermore, I must note that VEX attempted to test the RS485 transceivers (the main component being destroyed by ESD) during their development process with a zap gun, which did not yield any damage. This is an issue that is very expensive (just search up how much an actual ESD gun is to even rent, not purchase) and hard to reproduce, as it was only discovered once students from all over the world in very different environments from Greenville, Texas drove their robots relentlessly preparing for competitions.

15 Likes

I have a small issue with this line of reasoning, and it relates back to the discussion earlier this year about gaining an unfair advantage. If a team really wants to, no matter the rules, “[they] can cheat”. The amount of effort and technical skill that would need to be put in to something like that is so extreme, the benefit so small, and the consequences of getting caught so great that it doesn’t feel worth it to me to restrict legitimate attempts to solve the ESD problem for fear of someone trying to cheat with it. If a team has their heart set on playing unethically, they will do so regardless of ESD protection legality. I do not feel like the cost/benefit ratio here makes it worth not allowing these ESD protection boards.

15 Likes

Absolutely based. That is a great point, and I feel as though if the ESD issue is not being resolved to the fullest extent (as compared to merely patching by selling ESD sprays and anti-ESD tiles), then it should be okay to repair the defective component (i.e. the Brain). Everyone has a defective V5 brain, as in it was intended to have ESD protection by default. But if the ESD protection is not doing anything, then it needs to be repaired (logically speaking). I feel like this is something that should be legitimized and acceptable in the VEX ecosystem.

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If GDC allowed ESD protections on the condition that the board internals must be always visible to the inspectors and refs (for example, thru transparent polycarbonate or unenclosed) I am sure that everybody will be more than happy to comply.

Some V5 brains have already multiple ports burned (ours have anywhere from 3 to 11 bad ports) and we would dread going to competitions if we cannot be sure they have properly sprayed the fields.

BLRS team is doing great service to the community. Please, don’t make us sad again by insisting that we must continue to risk our V5 system even if a simple and elegant engineering solution is available.

8 Likes

might be possible if you simply don’t use the top cover for the case.

2 Likes

how would you even boost power just by splicing the cables? I feel like there really isn’t a way to do this without having an obvious power supply and external wires. is it actually feasible to do this or is it just something that the GDC is saying to no because of the possibility? also as lots of people probably know [redacted] robotics ran these on their 24-inch tether bot at QUIPE in a changeup, they weren’t hidden and even the judges didn’t notice they also were one of the least to worry about at the competition. I have heard that teams were running 150+ psi at the event while using custom tanks and vrc teams running 170+ in local teams while judges can do nothing about it. this can basically create a pipe bomb. how come we are worried about people putting anti-static boards in their bot so they can actually compete. overall I think that vex is first off missing a money-making opportunity and 2 they really aren’t focusing on the right things, there should be better priority, and that they should 100% focus on the people that can possibly cause harm to others at events due to malpractice.

1 Like

Hi, redacted team here, EZ3 at QIPE. I used ESD Boards during competition when I shouldn’t have because they are illegal.

In the image below, the purple box housed 8 ESD Boards and was on both halves of the tether, totaling to 16 ESD Boards. This acted as a coupler for the tether wire and stopped our ports breaking.


We tried our best to hide them during QIPE by placing a pink polycarbonate piece over that said OOGA and BOOGA, the names of the robots. The night before inspection, we painted multiple other polycarbonate pieces to avoid suspicion of a single oddly placed non functional piece of plastic.

If the referee’s saw them or not I can’t say, but I was very lucky no one approached us about them.
Using them during competition was an unnecessary risk to the time my team spent on the robots.


I suggest all teams use these. Going through the RMA every few months to replace your brain is an inconvenience that the ESD Boards can prevent. Just make sure to unplug them during matches, and they should be considered non-functional decoration. I’ve asked on the Q&A if these are considered non-functional decoration here.

(sorry @Foster I beat you to it :stuck_out_tongue:)

Pumping 100+ is a safety hazard. (off-topic)

If you know a team pumping to that pressure at a competition, please tell the EP. I have over pumped in practice and had solenoid valves shoot off. This is a safety hazard.

15 Likes

Thanks for making it a Q&A question, let see what they think.

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Honestly, at this point, especially since it is effectively impossible to acquire replacements right now, I think that the concern of inspection does not outweigh the potential benefits of this board. As I see it, it’s about time a solution like this becomes legitimized, so it should be integrated into the rules. Vex messed up in terms of the built-in capability of their electronics to withstand competition environments, so a solution like this where the work has even been done for them should be accepted. This is especially true since these errors on their part can be quite painful to the wallets of competitors or worse in the case that a team runs out of brains due to them frying mid-competition where this board would currently be illegal. If the argument being made were to try to get vex to update their brains hardware-wise, I could understand the hesitation more, but for something like this, it’s just a bit of extra documentation in the rules. Realistically, I don’t think people using this specific device to cheat is enough of a risk, especially if it’s included in the manual via images.

13 Likes