Will digital notebooks be allowed this year?

It was mentioned in this thread that the RECF judges guide won’t be coming out until later this year. Many teams, including mine, begin building/documenting right now.

My question is, how are we to know if it is legal to use an electronic notebook to begin documenting if it won be confirmed or denied until later? Additionally, will theJudges Guide Update still hold true this year?

I believe Grant or Dan mentioned it would be allowed on stream at LRT worlds, but that’s not really official. Is it possible that there is a public release of this somewhere?

Sidenote question for judges

If I were to turn in a printed electronic notebook, would it be considered rude to put a note at the beginning mentioning that the rules allowed for this to be counted as the 5 point “bound notebook bonus?” Just to make sure they knew the rules update?


I’m not a judge, but I have lived in lab books for more than 30 years at this point. As I understand it, the bonus for a bound book is to encourage preservation and presentation of contemporaneous notes: do a thing and write it down in a place where it can’t be re-ordered or edited. That provides proper evidence of the development sequence, and gets you into good habits for your professional/academic scientific/engineering career. Intellectual property rights can swing on a countersigned lab book. It also makes you more honest with yourself about what went on, which is good for personal development. And when a new member joins your team, they can sit with the book for a few hours and catch up. For the competition, it rules out revisionist history - something lucky happening and restructuring the whole story to make it look like you meant it. A hard bound book, or one where it would be very obvious if a page had been removed or inserted, with printed page numbers is the right way to record technical activity. Print stuff off - CAD renders, graphs, tabulated data, photos - and stick it in, sure, but make sure the additions are couched in handwritten notes nailing it all down to the true sequence. My year of undergraduate engineers rebelled against paper lab books during our degree, insisting that we’d all be doing it electronically when we got out there. We were wrong. I may be edging out of date by now - there are probably younger professionals could comment…


I hope not. Digital notebooks were an absolute dumpster fire for my team during change up. One of the many reasons we just took a break and waited for the new game

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To my understanding lab books fell out of favor fairly recently. I can say that when I spent 3 days shadowing a robotics startup there were no notebooks to be seen. Now that digital systems are capable of tracking/logging all changes I think paper notebooks are finally obsolete.

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I can believe it. Maybe the students would commit their latest pages to github or similar? Those startup folk might be on here somewhere…

So the problem there isn’t an inexpensive/free system that does that tracking so our roboteers could do electronically managed books. Git is awesome for flat files, but isn’t what you want to string a notebook together.

I’ve been messing with PMWiki. Teams can create pages, insert artifacts like pictures, CAD drawings, sketches, etc. Pages are timestaped and show edits. There is a way to then print the wiki out in time stamp order. But while it’s free it’s a pain to set that up, and then there is training to do. But the wiki format allows page linking, auto content page generation, etc.

Companies are using Sharepoint and similar tools, none is easy or cheap or fast.


I guess PMWiki or similar (MediaWiki of wikipedia fame?) also looks like a handy way to develop instutional knowledge, and stable references for enriching community interaction. I know nothing. Ah, except that someone has started an unofficial thing https://vexwiki.org/ and it’s not immediately obvious who or why that is. Someone will chime in helpfully…

The Vex Wiki is actually pretty old and mostly abandoned I think. Here’s the recent activity:

IMO, digital notebooks worked well for my team this year because we had more motivation to type out things that write them. If we drew something or took handwritten notes, we would just insert and image of them. We used a google doc/ drive to manage the notebook and other files.

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I never liked the idea of referring to these team notebooks as true “engineering notebooks”. A true engineering notebook should read more like a journal from an individual following a design process, and not a portfolio of a team’s perfectly formatted documentation. The design process can look messy on paper, because ideas don’t sprout out polished and perfectly formatted.

Take a look at journals from famous designers. Marie Curie also had a great scientific journal. Notice that perfect formatting and presentation is not their goal. The goal was to record thoughts, ideas, mistakes, and sketches. If they wanted to present these things formally, they would present their work in other forms of writing like a journal or article or portfolio or lecture.

Anyway, my point is that if we are judging the design process, then why not have all team members submit individual journals? If it’s more to present all the team’s hard work in developing their solution in one place, then why take points off for an electronic portfolio?


OK, so my impression would come back to a central theme of vex; to nurture young engineers. I’ll rattle off some thoughts and read others with interest.
Getting teamwork and clear communication going while you’re developing discipline and range involves a lot of judgement calls about what to impose, provide, coach, teach and assess. Books from every member would be a bigger load on the students and on the assessment process, so I guess that’s out. An experienced notebook narrator will design their presentation on the fly because they’ve developed cognitive and explanatory skills that work for them. I have a narration/note taking style that people recognize, and you probably recognize your various teachers’ notes. Early on while you’re working out how to do that, the usual rules in highschool apply such as neat writing and careful formatting because they work to anchor your process to known successful basics.
You’re absolutely spot on about there being a stark difference between notes for yourselves and a formal publication. Maybe you could think of the notebook as a hybrid between a lab book and a long form journal paper. Excellent practice for the future. Publishing might move to a wiki form, but so far we still send pages to conferences and journals.

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There have been several wiki attempts over the years, that one dates from 2017, see original post.


Would you have a preference as to where a cooperatively developed knowledge base should live? I wonder if wikipedia would object to a vex-centric tracery in their system. Just noting here that the wikipedia entry on Kiwi drive is almost nothing. And this is surprising: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holonomic_(robotics) - it’s empty.

I have no preference, the latest attempt is here on the forum.

BLRS also has one.


Will have a dig around.

Thanks for all of the opinions, but no one has really answered the question yet which was: When will we know if digital notebooks will be allowed this year?

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@DRow @jpearman - My teams wont start til the new school year, but I feel for any team that’s trying to get started. Is there any chance of clarity on this before the judging guides come out?

@Robo_Chicken - My advice would be to do what you’re most comfortable with now, and you can probably get away with creating a bound notebook later to earn the bonus.
I changed my mind, see the last paragraph.

IMNSHO, the notebooks are a bit of a paradox. The best notebooks are way over produced to claim that they are created “on the fly,” all due respect to @u89djt. While a living document that doesn’t get edited is a valuable thing, that’s not what you’ll see at the highest levels of competition. The most important thing is to produce a document, by whatever means necessary, that presents honestly and clearly how you reached your robot. If it turns out they give a big bonus for a bound notebook, you can always slap one together.

On the other hand, you cold also just keep a rough notebook with daily entries, and create a polished digital notebook to go with it, and reach the same endpoint - arguably more in keeping with the spirit of the rules.


I can see that. I just like paper, and completely agree with @u89djt in his comment above. Having paper allows you to draw in it, and it’s something physical that you can see. You can actually see your progress, and then at the end, you see how much you have really done.

That’s a question for the RECF. Which neither of us work for. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Paging @DanMantz


Thanks! Sorry to be that guy. Also - you dropped this \

Have to type the shrug with two extra back slashes here and on reddit to get it to show up right. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯