VRC Design Convergence

This thread is a spin off from this thread: https://vexforum.com/t/the-challenges-of-sack-attack/21739/1
It was created to better discuss “copying” withing the VRC.

The design threads are not giving out answers IMO its simply a place to share ideas if one is comfortable with it, each person if they use the same idea will have a slightly different mechanism due to design standards that each person sets for themself. Our design standards are such that we use precision machines to accurately machine each part, lathes, mills, waterjet, laser cutters. The works really. I have attempted to stay away from these forums while posting teasers of what we might/are capable of doing, the point is to inspire thinking, and that spark that turns into a crazy wildfire of ideas from students around the world. But nonetheless I stay away from posting anything to far in detail so that our designs are kept somewhat quiet.

The one thing that gets me with VEX is that everyone copies the most efficient mechanism. It is a competition and people want to win, heck even I want to win. However I think that copying while flattering for the original designer can get old because as we saw with gateway with 6 bars and side intakes, there were very little key differences from robot to robot.

  • Andrew

Most people just say I hate coping without actually going into detail
screw by screw copying bad
design copying acceptable
If you see a good robot with a 6 bar and side intake at a competition and you decide I’ll try that then your are just taking someone elses design and while it isnt as creative, you build it your own way with your own interpretation. While if you say i like that robot and try to copy every last thing on it well than why are you even here. If you want to win a competition thats entire point is to teach you engineering and you do it by not learning engineering who are you screwing over just yourself so come on guys. See robots and say i kinda like that not I want that robot.

I would put re-positioning in that list.

My bad College team here, Not repositioning.

Just to clarify I was simply using last year as an example, it seemed as if Gateway had less diverse kinds of robots than previous years. Copying is the highest form of flattery is how I like to put it, but still If you copy me. PLEASE for the love of all things, try to one up me.

That is what I like to see when designs are copied. Take the original make it better, your own way. However that can be difficult, since the team with the design first knows exactly what is wrong with it and has ideas to improve already, its just another vicous cycle.

  • Andrew

One of the cool things about the VEX Robotics Competition is the year long competition season. This allows for a wide variety of programs (i.e. summer camps, fall only builds, winter only builds, etc). The folks at the REC Foundation have gone out of their way to structure the overall competition in such a way that it is accessible to a wide variety of teams (including teams who don’t go to school at the same time as North American teams). There are nearly as many ways to implement a program as their are programs in existence.

Two of the cool things about the VEX Robotics Design System are the way it allows users to quickly iterate their designs, and the way it provides a robotics platform that is easily accessible to students. Students can literally build anything they can imagine, then rip it all apart and start again from scratch.

One of the cool things about the world we live in, is the growing prevalence of the internet. It allows for instantaneous sharing of information – ideas, design concepts, prototyping videos, CAD models, detailed pictures, competition rankings & results, match videos: all available at the click of a mouse. Students from around the world can collaborate with each other in a way I could only dream of when I was growing up.

One of the results of all these cool things coming together in one program, is something I call “design convergence.”
At the beginning of the competition season we see a wide variety of robot types, then as time goes on more and more teams begin to share their designs publicly and other teams begin to iterate based on lessons they’ve learned (and things they’ve seen).

Most teams don’t copy robots verbatim, they just take aspects and “pieces of inspiration” from other teams (i.e. “I love how team X did that roller claw, and how team Y did that drive base, and how team Z did that arm – I bet we can take those three pieces and do them all better.”) In my opinion, this can be a VERY cool thing. :slight_smile:

As the season goes on, we see this process repeat itself over and over again. The robot which was inspired by three other robots, is then itself a small piece of inspiration in another robot.

The VEX community is essentially crowd-sourcing the “perfect” design for the new game over the course of the season. Of course, since there is no perfect solution, we end up with a variety of different designs – less variety than when we started, but still variety. We’re just seeing a sort of convergence. The more we iterate, the less bad ideas remain in the community.

This iterative, convergent process can (and usually does) provide an extremely fulfilling and educational design experience for students on a VRC team. It is powerful stuff, and analogous to real-life design.

Of course, there are still some teams who just copy bolt-for-bolt without really understanding what they’re doing – but in my experience, it is easy to tell after a few seconds of conversation which teams went through a powerful design process, and which teams didn’t. The results tend to show that as well (the team that deeply understands their robot and its functions, has spent a full season playing with it, enhancing it, and putting blood/sweat/tears into it will almost always beat the team that hasn’t).

Some games have more convergence than others; I don’t know how much convergence we’ll see in VEX Sack Attack, but I’m confident the game will provide some unique challenges to the community. I know I’m excited to see some incredible robots come out of this season, and I know a lot of students are going to have a great experience creating them. :slight_smile:


1 Like

So, add one more pneumatic tank than you? :stuck_out_tongue:

I completely agree just a few months ago I said something pretty close to that to my team I told them that we werent going to do very well building a chainsaw intake so late in the season but then the Vermont team Owen and Roberts who are the people that first came up with it started helping me on the vex skype chat and i was able to build one a really successful intake by comboing me trying to improve a design and their knowledge of it.

In the spirit of allowing someone to improve you design you should tell us what your using all the cylinders for.

Once again JVN hits the ball (the sack?) out of the park. I love that we can copy and then improve and then feed that design back into the system. The 11 month VEX cycle gives lots of opportunities to improve.

I missed it this year at Worlds, but there was the Inspire Award in 2011 that went to the team that inspired other teams to copy their design.

After mechanical the other two legs of the stool (a Foster phrase) is the programming and the drivers. Roboteers that copy directly from a picture don’t have the ability to copy the code that is running the show. Programming is a big factor in any robot.

Teams that just copy often don’t spend the time in driver practice. I’m always amazed when I talk to the winning teams on how much driver time they put in. It’s always in the high tens of hours of stick time. Practice, practice and more practice makes perfect.

Honestly, I think the main reason I’m a little bitter about copying designs is because in Gateway, you really only need “the design” to compete at a high level. This coupled with the fact that Gateway was a very volatile game made it so that even if one robot was superiorly built and programmed, it could be beaten by an inferior robot. Although I understand that this allows younger teams to compete with more experienced teams, I think the curve was a little too shallow for Gateway. Luckily, I think that Sack Attack will prove to be forgiving to newer teams, but also allow older teams to take advantage of their experience.

Yeah, I agree with you. I think people at Vex realized this with Gateway, so they created Sack Attack to fix these problems.

JVN hit it on the head, I didn’t have to much time to go into further detail about copying, and I’m not saying its a problem. Its just simply to many people copy and don’t lean and thats what really bothers me.

I also agree with Thondor, However some elegant thinking to the same problem as everyone else gives you a very unique design, I know HOG hasn’t been released, but its twin. Devil’s Advocate would have suffocated the opposing alliance to a maximum of 14 points with an 8 foot arm. In theory of course.

Yes, if you wish. You have a bigger envelope than me so I can see about 5 more tanks easy in HS if you did something like I was.

I’m not sure why, but I am reading this as if it was a spiteful tone.

Weather or not I reveal our entire design is entirely up to me and my comrades. But to keep things relatively causal, How about a challenge? Something that will rack your brain and get thinking on a different level?

But one reason we do not reveal every little thing as we design it is that some of it is really good, some of it not so good, and some of it just plain crazy. But it still doesn’t mean we have to post everything.

Another reason is I have been on the tail end of this copying bolt for bolt thing, and quite simply as much as I was honored by it, there is still a little bit of myself that was saying “Wow they just stole my design” What I post is enough information for someone to figure out what we could be doing if you were clever enough to think why things were done that way.

Yet another reason why our design are locked down is simply the way we do things. Our design standards have changed in the past Month and to my knowledge most of them have never been done before in VEX, and I know a few people can vouch for me here.

Anyway, I hope you understand my reasoning, and I gladly invite you and anyone else to really think what we are doing with 13 or so air tanks. :wink:

Here is the link for the Teaser Thread.


  • Andrew

Noo I was kidding.
I’m sorry if it sounded spiteful. Release it when your ready it is entirely up to you and your comrades. My team had an agreement not to release our robot until we had a unanimous vote.
Release when you are ready.
Be ready now

I like your thinking mate. :slight_smile:

However, for the massive amounts of air. We were considering a pneumatic drive base this year for a bit. Just so we could build a robot that uses almost no electrical motors. Thought It would be cool, just A better design came round. :wink:

  • Andrew

I’m kinda curious how far you got in designing the no motor robot before you changed your mind. Was it like
“Hey lets do this” “No” or
did you guys draw up a picture like the HOG
did you like build a prototype

I’m curious because if you made a picture or anything you should post that im curious how you could do it. Wouldnt you also have less torque torwards the end of the match?

I agree with JVN, one of the coolest things in VEX (and in robotics in general) is seeing something that works really well on another robot and thinking “Hmm, I wonder if we can implement something like that on our robot.” Unless you’re copying bolt-for-bolt, your end result may have similar functions but will have to be built around your robot, not the original design. Thus, two robots with very similar physical appearances (two wall bots, for example) may have had very different design processes and histories.

It’s what makes VEX so cool; the teams are able to talk to one another and say “How’d you solve the icing problem” (+1 if you get the reference). Bolt-for-bolt teams wouldn’t have had to go through the trials and tribulations of improving their design, and really are missing out on the whole experience.

Getting back to design convergence, it actually opens up another aspect of the game; the “sleeper” bot. If a certain playstyle becomes apparent as the preferred method for a competition early on, a wise team could build a robot that is outside the ‘flavor of the year’ to counter said playstyle and be not only unexpected but also incredibly effective. Plus the whole “Wow, why didn’t we think of that?” factor :slight_smile:

So really, design convergence isn’t always a bad thing. It can challenge a team to find out why certain designs are doing well in the competitions, what they can do to improve on them, and what can they do exceed the norm.

Sorry for the insanely long delay, I have been busy and have been trying to write something up for this.

Anyways. It was shot down pretty quick, because when I brought it up with our team members They had already come up with a better idea. I drew pictures on how to make it work, No prototypes or designs were even finalized. The robot also wouldn’t drive the entire match its designed for only a few seconds/minutes doesn’t really need much anyway. However the design was iterated to something better and it will be VERY impressive.

As for the air motor, its not eactly HS legal, as it was a completely custom system using the plastic block. It would have viens that would power a rotary motion, it would then spin at an insane RPM so the idea is it would be fairly small so it used smaller amounts of air, but the less air you use the less torque you get. Considering the gearing on it that would bring it to a “drivable” speed would be imense and terrifying this design was also thrown out because of that. Most of the robot would have been gears, Literally. The motor would have been .5-.75 inches thick and about an .5-1 inch long. Maybe thats to small I’m not sure Never designed it. Yes your torque would very much rely on the amount of PSI you had in your tanks, which is why this robot would have far more than 13 tanks… Probably close to 20 tanks, and that still wouldn’t give it much.

  • Andrew

Because of the large number of new teams in Michigan, and the small number of them that pay attention to the worldwide competition, design convergence doesn’t really happen much here. There is a 12-team club that pretty much uses one design, but beyond that, many robots end up being quite unique. Less than one third of the robots here used 6-bars, and even our region’s most popular design, the dual-tread design, took up less than half of all the robots around.

A great example of Michigan’s unique set of designs is this match, consisting of 2 scissor lifts, 1 6-bar, and a vertical 4-bar with a horizontal tread intake:

I understand where you anger with this comes from, but I, in a way, actually liked that. The similarity in the designs made strategy and even important factor, so that teams, similar to mine, who dont have an unlimited access to parts, can win simply because they have a better strategy. This makes the game more dynamic as people change and improve their strategies, even mid-competition.

Even so, one little thing could mess up a superior strategy. A dropped doubler/negator, a slight error during autonomous, anything. More Gateway matches came down to luck than any previous game.

even though my team didnt go to worlds, strategy in that game didnt look that different. From what i’ve seen, there was mainly score in your opposing alliance’s 20" goal and your own and feed your isolation game pieces. true there was an occasional wall-bot, super stacker, and goal capper, but if you compare it to the dynamic field of round up, strategy was way more diverse.

Some robots lifted goals, some hoarded, some robots dumped rings in the ladder, some hanged, some were efficiency, some super stacked, some just focused on de-scoring and protecting goals.

But then again, in my opinion, gateway had big shoes to fill from round up.

The more points the end game is worth the bigger chance luck rules the game because it allow a big swing in the score at the very end( negating 6 points and doubling 6 points was huge).
I was about to say sack attack doesnt have this because the parking bonus is kinda small but then I realized descoring kinda fills the niche. What I am saying is that if you get tipped in the last 10 seconds in the match is your opponent able to change the score so much that they are able to come back from a match they lost.
So my question Do you guys believe that in sack attack luck will be very important when descoring becomes really efficient towards the end of the season?