FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Addressing Field and Robot Damage

Mar 28, 2024 Written by Collin Fultz, FIRST Robotics Competition Senior Director




This year, a combination of field design, game design, and robot rules has led to a notable increase in damage to both the field and robots due to what would have historically been considered normal and expected game play. Please know that I am not blaming teams for designing robots and strategies or student drivers for executing those strategies based on the game, field, and robot rules presented to them.

There will be work done by FIRST® Robotics Competition staff and groups of volunteers to look at options to implement into the 2025 game and future years to mitigate damage. These groups will look at all three aspects: field design, game design, and robot rules (including motor power). I’ll share more details about that work and how community members can contribute after the FIRST® Championship.

We have fewer options for mid-season adjustments as we don’t want to meaningfully change the field or the rules on which teams designed their robots and strategies. We are investigating mechanical modifications to the field that will have minimal impact on the team experience. Another option is escalating the severity of violations in response to a robot causing damage, and I don’t think that asking Referees to give out Yellow or Red Cards every time something happens to the field is fair or desirable to either the Refs or the teams.

So, I’m writing today to ask for everyone’s help. If there are changes that can be made, such as avoiding high speed impacts when and where possible, that can help reduce or eliminate the damage occurring to the field and each other’s robots, please do. I ask our field volunteers to please continue to work with Event Support to help prevent any injuries and ensure that the field is working as designed.

Working together, we can help keep drive team members and field volunteers safe and the fields and robots functioning for the rest of the season.

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The difference in abilities between the younger teams and the more well established teams is too great.  This competition has become very much a pay to win competition in which the best funded teams are set up to do the best on the field.  The problem comes in that the field is shared by younger, developing teams.  

what I see, is that most events become contests between the dozen or so established teams, while the remaining 20 or 30 developing teams are just in the way so to speak.  

this leads to far too many teams playing defense rather than trying to accomplish the goals of the game.  Or, put another way, the younger less developed teams are put in a position to stay out of the way of the established teams.  

somehow, you've got to discourage the notion that only playing defense is acceptable. I know that the kitbots are intended to help with this, but essentially, they just give all the lower performing teams the same bad robot with the same weaknesses. 

ideally, I'd love to see this broken into divisions based on funding. I think this would help to promote real competition and not simply alliances that are often times two teams just trying to stay out of the way of the better team. 




I agree with Richard wholeheartedly. We are a small community team with limited funds and even though we ranked in the top 20 at Buckeye this year, we were overlooked in alliances for teams much lower down in rankings but they were teams with money and previous status.  Many of those teams were the same teams that were in the playoffs in Pittsburgh.  I understand the way alliances are chosen is designed to eliminate this issue, but it does not.  Teams still choose the same teams they always choose and it becomes a match between the same groups over and over again and those smaller teams are relegated to spectators.  These small teams can usually only afford to go to one competition per season.  

There was one team who is already going to Houston who got chosen for an alliance at Buckeye. Why?  Why were they given that spot instead of another team? They should have graciously declined. However, I've noticed with the high money teams, Gracious Professionalism has fallen out of favor.  

I hear you, but I want to share with you how things look from the other side. My team was one of the top ranked teams at Buckeye and we completely ignore rank in our drafting decisions. It's not even on our excel sheets. Our team members watch each and every robot in each and every match, gathering data for us to use later.

The reality is that some teams get lucky with good alliance partners and are ranked too high, while other teams get unlucky but are still very skilled and competitive. Our team does not consider the performance of a team in previous years at all. Often times, the leadership of the team in a given year is different from the previous year due to graduating seniors. I can't speak for other teams, but I don't think that they are drafting based on status, past performance, favoritism, or anything other than performance/merit.

At the end of the day, frC is the first robotics Competition. Its competitive. The best teams choose each other in order to win. Why did the teams in the playoffs look similar to Pittsburgh? Those are the best teams in the region, plain and simple.

I hear your frustration. I've been on a team that didn't make the playoffs a single time in 10 years. It's frustrating and disheartening. But at the end of the day, I don't think blaming the top teams is the right way to fix the problem. FRC does not have enough structure in place (IMO) to even the playing field. It's gotten better - removing bag day was a great decision - but there is more work to do. I am hopeful that things will continue to improve.


After starting a new team season & knowing nothing about FIRST competitions, I feel like the KitBot really fell short of what the other teams are competing with on the field. After our first event the team went back to our shop and made major changes to be competitive with the rest of the teams. I would really like to see an event for just rookie or newer teams to attend where they have to chance to be on an alliance. I don't know how many rookie or 2nd years teams are even created every year and maybe this is always an issue with new teams.

Personally, I don't think the point of this post is to address defense as a strategy, I do agree with your take on differences in funding, but I think thats a different discussion to make. From what I can tell this blog post is primarily addressing field damage, likely damage to the notes as most teams seem to have built shooters that rip them apart fairly easily. 

It is worth discussing. The blog post also addresses more prevalent robot damage. From what I have seen, most of the robot on robot damage is caused by the emergent play where it's high speed offensive swerve robots vs defensive tank drive robots. The former built by established teams and the latter mostly built by newer teams. Said newer teams aren't able to build a robust robot because they're using hand tools and lack the experience to build a design that is well protected.

Heck, the years where they don't get a gray tote they become poor for bumper material so the bumper becomes more lacking until they figure out material acquisition. It exacerbates the issue of robot on robot damage caused by end-game collisions, because the defensive teams that are being rammed out of the way are taking the brunt of damage. Damage they likely can't repair on site at the event. This mismatch is not because other teams are too rich, it's because we are in this weird transitional period where older teams are getting better and the newer teams don't have resources (both in knowledge and finances) to catch up. The bottleneck for most new teams is working with more robust materials. So in the age of super strong swerve drives, tank drive robots cobbled together with wood, polycarb and hand tools can't catch up, yet they are expected to have the robustness as established teams because of the strategy they're intended to play.

It was our experience at our last competition that when we played defense, due to a coding problem that took a few matches to correct, we were repeatedly hit out of the way by the speeding swerve drive bots.  At one point a corner hit bent the 3" C channel from the AndyMark frame kit.  The bend is about 6" long and the frame is about 1/4" out of square.  This bend was enough for our lift to stop working as well as bind our intake, so we could only run defense for the rest of the event.  We could not repair during the event.

I think a speed limit may be useful, although I don't know how it would be enforced. 

This was our first year back after a 3 year leave due to Covid messing things up.  So it is a rookie team.  Knowing how to build a resilient bot was beyond us.  We were lucky just to get running.

As a second-year team mentor myself, I can personally attest to the challenges outlined in the blog post. Coming from a lower income area we can hardly find enough money to compete in one regional competition. Despite our best efforts to build a robust robot on our limited buget, we've encountered significant hurdles when faced with the sheer force and speed of swerve drive robots. With the speed disparity I've noticed a fair amount of newer teams being relegated to defense even if they can field an all aspect robot, simply to be a team player.  Even with bumpers up to spec, our frame has suffered hairline cracks from the impact, highlighting the immense strain placed on defensive tank drive robots in such matchups.

In my earlier years of robotics competitions, there was a certain level of standardization in drivetrains. This standardization not only made it easier for teams to enter the fray but also fostered a more level playing field where success depended more on strategy, creativity, and teamwork rather than purely financial resources. Sponsors were more readily available, and the barrier to entry wasn't as high.

These experiences underscore the pressing need for a more equitable playing field in robotics competitions. It's disheartening to see newer teams like ours struggle to contend with the technological prowess of more established teams, especially when the outcome often hinges on factors beyond our control. While we remain committed to improving our skills and pushing the boundaries of innovation, the reality of our limitations in resources and experience is ever-present.

Addressing this disparity requires a concerted effort from the robotics community as a whole. Initiatives to promote inclusivity and accessibility, are vital steps towards leveling the playing field. Additionally, fostering a culture of sportsmanship and cooperation can help mitigate the impact of robot damage and promote a more positive and collaborative competition environment. As well as a deeper look into what we are providing team in their initial kit of parts to leave them more competitive.

You pretty summed up my feeling. I always think that the goal of the mentor was to build the team, not to win. Winning is the goal of the students. Each year, I see the top 10 teams with a lot of mentor sin the stand doing the student job. It's not just a funding problem, it's a value's problem.

The team i mentor is a School funded team. Although we do probably have more funds available than some teams, that does not automatically put us in a different class. Our team chose to purchase the RevBot this year. But the only thing that really did was shorten the basic bot build time. We still had a lot of refinements to do. We also learned a lot of lessons at the competition. These ranged from structural strength, driver practice time, as well as lots of coding challenges. Because of all of this we have already started talking about how to get more kids at the school involved so that we could get to the bot refining stage before showing up at the competition. In short purchasing the RevBot only made some of the tasks easier, but it was far from putting us into a position where we felt as if we were even close to equals with some of the other teams. In fact at our competition we were one of three teams with the RevBot and all of us ended up in the lower 1/3 of the teams for points / ranking.

All that said our bot was absolutely one that got abused during the competition. At one point we took a full speed head-on collision with another bot. That collision broke a number of things and literally pulled wires out of their crimped connectors. In fact two rounds before that incident another teams bot took a hit so hard that the bots battery literally departed the bot and landed about 4 feet away. So I fully believe in doing something to slow things down. Like every team has to do "X" tasks. Or if some disproportionate number of the points come from one bot ... then there is some reduction in scoring (as if it were a diminishing return curve). Not that I want to take away from any really good team, but at the speeds these bots are achieving even inadvertent collisions are costly and dangerous.

The first thing that comes to my mind to decrease damage to robots and the field without changing the game's design is having more refined drive-train motor rules. I.e: drive train motors can only go up to x speed; drive train motors have to have an x:y gear ratio. The benefit is that it won't change the game design while making robots safer. However, it will inevitably increase teams' cycle times. The second thing that comes to mind is looking at how the field itself is constructed. (Please bear in mind I do not have the knowledge of how the official fields are constructed). I suggest using stronger and more durable materials and tools to construct the field. For example, bolting together the Alliance walls to the human player stations and side walls.






At our second District event, a robot hit the source-side driver station wall at top speed (with L3 MK4 swerve modules), resulting in the ledge of the driver station support shelf ramming into the stomach of one of our drive team members. Going forward during that event, a pool noodle with a slit was placed over the driver station rail to soften the effects of future impacts on drive teams. This is a cheap but effective way of reducing the risk of injuries to drive team members.

For future FRC seasons, I strongly recommend that the sturdiness of the driver station walls are increased, and that some better form of protection is put in place to reduce injuries caused by the support shelf.

When analyzing these collisions, we have to look at the formula f×dt=m×dv. We clearly cannot change the mass, and the force is the output, so our controllable variables are delta velocity and delta time. In the 2023 off-season, FIRST understandably created the rule to limit the number of drive motors to 4, thus decreasing the potential velocity. I completely agree with this rule, especially considering the release of the new kraken motor, this prevents some serious problems. There have been discussions about current limiting or preventing the kraken from being used on the drive train. While this does decrease the velocity, this also will drastically change gameplay, since robots will not be able to decrease their cycle times, or have higher maneuverability. I believe there are other options to be considered before those rules are looked at. In the mid season, it's more important to focus on the "dt" of the equation than the "dv". There is currently (no pun intended) no protection on the field to prevent robots from getting damaged and from my 14 years in FRC, I do not remember seeing anything on the field like that. I believe it would be best suited for all teams to instigate some mechanical protections on the field to ensure no team can get damaged. For example: a lot of breaking I've seen is when a robot hits the vertical trusses. My proposal is, similar to american football on the field goal post, place padding around the trusses and other potential hit points on the field to minimize the amount of force applied to the robot. Another example is the drivestation. I have seen multiple matches where the team's drivestation falls on the ground because a robot hits the wall. Currently, there is no protection for this. Padding around the field will help, but the driver station needs to have more security. The matches that I saw where this happened the refs did not penalize the offending team. This lack of fouls encourages teams to play dirty and have it in their strategy to try to knock driver stations off the wall "by accident." Better drive station security and better calls by the refs would help this situation. My proposal is to use quick release pins (used in rigging for flying line-arrays) to hold the drive station in place. This would prevent the station from going anywhere. In addition, it seems the bumpers are less effective this year than previous years. I belive if we allow different materials on the bumpers and maybe increase the weight limit, teams could use higher quality wood, padding, and fabric to ensure their robot's damage is minimized. There should also be an increase of mount points onto the robot's frame. While I understand this would slightly increase the mass, thus increasing the force, this would also prevent bumpers from breaking or getting split due to robot hits. As you know, ensuring the bumpers are built well will ensure that the robot is protected well. I believe there is still a lot to be desired in the bumper rules. I appreciate the opportunity to give feedback on this issue, and I hope we can make FIRST safer for all teams!

During this last season, in the span of 3 different events, I noticed that a lot of teams were having their bumpers broken many times. Some of these went as far as to pose a significant threat to the field and the robot itself. On one occasion, the bumper got so broken that it even perforated the team's battery, which with a little more force could've caused it to start leaking. Other cases may not be as extreme but having a bumper broken may jeopardize a team's ability to perform for the rest of the event.

I think a great solution would be either making bumpers way thicker (either the wood or the pool noodles) or having teams reinforce the bumper's walls by putting aluminum or steel plates/crossbars against them to avoid significant rupture.

I really believe that we have seen a trend in field design over several games that could be an issue.   With the field being mirrored, teams must rush to the same side of the field to retrieve game pieces.   This can lead to some terrific head on collisions which are the primary problem with mechanical damage to robot.   If the field were not mirrored, teams would be rushing on both sides of the field and much less likely to run into each other head on.   Of course same alliance teams could still have a problem but it is still only 3 robots trying to make the full field trips per side of the field instead of 6 teams trying to do it on one side.  I can only think of one advantage that mirrored fields have for play and that is teams having to deal with more complex mirrored autonomous actions.   If we truly want to decrease robot damage issues this would be a good first step.   

Bumper damage is an interesting issue.    Properly built AND supported bumpers should not be breaking.   The idea of reinforcing ALL bumpers with an aluminum plate across the back is not a bad one as it would definitely give better support.  As a robot inspector, one of the biggest issues with teams is support of the bumpers by the robot.   This is a rule that needs to be revisited as the "letter of the law" bumper support is not working for higher speed collisions.


Looking a the remainder of this season, padding around field elements is the most practical thing that can easily be implemented.  But looking forward, I have two Ideas to minimize damage and not minimize cycle times.  First is bumper construction.  The 3/4 in plywood could easily be framed in angle iron at a minimum cost and attached to the plywood. Furthermore, the pool noodles I feel are antiquated. We could construct the bumper part of the bumper with more durable materials...maybe wheel barrel tires cut in half, like you see on a go-cart track.  Second, using computer vision as crash avoidance.  having part of the challenge to incorporate crash avoidance into their code and awarding points based on the ability to not hit another for thought.

I don't necessarily agree with everything posted above, but I do think FIRST has to be more careful in game design to keep the playing field even and avoid reckless team damage. This year there are multiple game design decisions that are leading to violent encounters. The biggest one is under the bumper intakes. Teams with under the bumper intakes have no fear and they are ramming opponents at full speed. With bumper to bumper contact being legal referees don't have a clear way to penalize teams that are driving recklessly. One team at our last event singlehandedly destroyed 4 different opposing over the bumper intakes because they didn't have to worry about repercussion safely behind their bumpers. The next biggest issue is centerline auto pieces. There are two big issues there. First it all but encourages autonomous collisions. Second it heavily favors well-funded teams who can afford enough space to have a full field to practice on. If you don't have a 2/3 or full field to practice on, you can't practice centerline autos. I do think the game overall this year is strong and competitive, as it was last year, so it's not all bad. I would just encourage FIRST to continue to find ways to even the playing field for new teams while making it fun for established teams to build on their skill and experience.

One of the primary goals of our robot design was to choose the simplest method possible for the intake in order to reduce the stress on our mechanical sub-team - we had lots of new untrained students learning to run machines to make parts.  Our students studied several early designs and chose to mimic one that fed from under the bumper because of simplicity and because it was easily protected.  However, having a well-protected intake did not encourage us to be aggressive and ram other robots on purpose, it simply took the concern of damage out of the equation when we had to push our way into a shooting position or when we were tasked with defending during the playoffs.  It was a smart design choice.  We still sustained damage when we played defense because some opposing robots would approach and make contact at high speed to try to get us out of the way - we currently have an ongoing discussion about G-forces, bumper compression, velocity, and how to secure even the smallest wires so they can't travel during contact and pull out of connectors.  Limiting speed will reduce the damage.  However, padding the center field elements is overkill - the same force is experienced when a robot hits the wall or even if two robots collide when speeds and mass are the same for both bots.  

I'm in favor of accelerometer monitoring of robots to monitor how the bot is used and penalize overly-rough play.  If an acccelerometer were combined with those left- and right-side trackers, behavior on the field could be monitored and better managed, making the game safer.  Run into the wall hard once - accident.  Do it again - penalty.  Same with hitting other robots.  This kind of active field management could be automated in real time and I'm betting it is already in the works.  What a great project for FIRST engineers!

Our team was responsible for field damage at our first event. Autonomous was not working well and our robot ended up against the wall spinning it wheels. We left 4 small holes in the carpet, It was 99.9% our fault. The only part that field design played was that our drivers could not see the robot, so they didn't know to hit the E-Stop

As others have said, padding parts of the field seems like an obvious option. The SAFER barriers used in auto racing are an example. Moving beyond pool noodles and a home made wooden box seems like another place to greatly improve things. Could we have moulded, form fitting bumpers made of modern foams and polymers? If everyone had access to great bumpers it would pay off in many ways and help teams focus on other things. It might take a subsidy from FIRST and dedicated suppliers. You send a manufacturer your dimensions and in a few weeks you get a set of bumpers that is ready to go on, fits well, and performs far better..

As a third year team, we've seen collisions go up dramatically from 2022-2024.  The differences in our opinion, in 2022 where all the game pieces (balls) were already in the field of play before the match began and the balls were just reused during the match, we did not see nearly as many collisions, against barriers or between teams.  In 2023 (cones & cubes) & particularly 2024 (rings), teams were slamming into the arena walls while intaking the game pieces because that is where the pieces were located (inputted) and everyone was racing to the same areas.  If the game pieces were introduced away from the walls (ex. rings roll down a ramp to random or multiple locations around the arena) or from above the field (cubes dropped from a player station above the floor) near the center of the arena teams wouldn't be consistently near the walls while intaking game pieces.  Just getting more of the game pieces being picked up away from the walls would help a lot.

Another option could be a pressure sensor in the wall near a teams source of the game pieces and if teams slam the wall with too much force, they receive a penalty for being too rough.

Just a couple of thoughts from a younger team.


Perhaps have human players toss Notes onto field, rather than feed thru a slot. Just a thought.


My Team was one that was effective by another robot getting damaging ours and we had to rebuild a bumper because of it. During that match the teams robot that did the damaged accrued 25 penalty points in that match alone. I asked a judge later on if a team could get disqualified for penalties. He said that they could be for the match, but they don't for the whole competition. I feel like this would be an area for improvement and make a stricter rule and make it so you can only receive so many penalties points per match (Like 5) to be disqualify for that match and if you do it again you are disqualify for the rest of the competition.

I'm a 15 year mentor / judge for FRC and I have a few ideas related to reducing damage, as well as bringing some of the 'fun' and creativity back into FRC. 1. I think a small teak to the bumper rules could help with the broken bumpers, and make collisions more survivable. The rules right now allow for the wood to float up off the frame as long as there are 'points of contact'. This is to allow for bolt heads and other fasteners to be on the outside of the frame between the frame and bumper. I think we should modify to the rule to make the vast majority of the plywood be flush against the robot frame, and allow for notches or holes in the wood where bolt heads / nuts need to go. A fully supporter piece of plywood with 1/8" thick notches seems a lot stronger than the wood floating 1/8" away from the frame. I agree with other posters on the pool noodles. I get they are cheap and ubiquitous, but I think we can find some better material now, maybe even provide it in the kit of parts? 2. Slow the robots down. We've seen great advancements in motors over the past few years, and drive trains are so much more capable than they used to be. We're also seeing high end drive trains become available to more and more teams. Where as 10 years ago you had to design a swerve module from scratch, now you can buy a high end module with motors and just install it. Not only are we seeing faster robots, we're seeing more of them. This is increasing the closing speed of a lot of collisions. I think the move to limit drive motor count was a positive one, but didn't have the achieved affect. I think there should be a max speed, and max torque on drive trains, that the robot inspectors test for. 3. Make the field design have natural speed limiters. The past few years there have been long 'straights' where robots could fly unobstructed from one side of the field to the other. Making the field design have barriers spaced such that long, straight, runs isn't possible would naturally slow robots down. A field similar to Stronghold where there were obstacles comes to mind, but you don't even have to be that extreme. I've thought for a few years I'd love to have a game such as Lunacy again, or a field where the entire field is covered in 8" diameter, 4" tall moguls to make high speed driving more difficult. I'd also like to see teams get pushed back into designing and innovating different aspects of the robot, like maybe suspension?

It seems it takes the 15 year olds to figure this out ...
"The past few years there have been long 'straights' where robots could fly unobstructed from one side of the field to the other. Making the field design have barriers spaced such that long, straight, runs isn't possible would naturally slow robots down. A field similar to Stronghold where there were obstacles comes to mind, but you don't even have to be that extreme. I've thought for a few years I'd love to have a game such as Lunacy again, or a field where the entire field is covered in 8" diameter, 4" tall moguls to make high speed driving more difficult. I'd also like to see teams get pushed back into designing and innovating different aspects of the robot, like maybe suspension?"

Field design can mitigate the vast majority of the issues that are the subject of this blog - damage. Swerve drives main benefit was agility. It also came with a whole lot of power with brushless. I am pretty sure no one wants to 'punish' teams with swerve drives. But making them utilize the agility with different field design might be a good idea.

Designing a robot that preserves game pieces is essential for good engineering. To illustrate this with a real-world analogy, imagine a car manufacturer requesting windshield wipers, but after just three uses, they fall apart due to a manufacturing defect. In such a case, the product would likely be recalled or rebuilt to adhere to the intended design specifications. Similarly, in robotics competitions, permitting teams to damage field elements only fosters poor design practices and undermines the spirit of fair play.

Defense has become a fools errand in games. Being with FIRST since 1998 as a student and a mentor since 2001 the games have less and less defense built in. It has become a software game and seeing how fast you can get your robot to move. Slowing to a stop takes time so slamming into the wall at full speed seems, for some teams, to be a strategy to shave off a second per cycle. If you want slower robots then there needs to be obstacles if defense is a no go. Consider the penalty zones that are in the last many games. Someone has to sit in the middle of the field and even then, penalties can be accrued. Each game has its unique challenges and one thing we've noted is swerve is king, faster and lighter is the result, and auto will win a match. Stronghold was a definite game changer that we've never seen before or since. Make no mistake, the games are exciting for the spectator and FIRST does a really good job of coming up with challenges. If you want to slow high speed robots, make them go over a ramp with no exception.

A couple of thoughts: Impact damage is a direct result of mass and velocity. A 120+ pound mass moving at 18+ feet per second is going to release a lot of energy if it runs into a stationary object. Even more energy when two 120+ masses traveling at 18+ feet per second run into each other. More padding does not solve this issue it only encourages it. It is harder to reduce mass then to reduce game play velocity. The game design should be such that high speed runs are not necessary. Let alone runs that are diametrically opposed to one another. This has been done in other seasons. Game piece damage could be reduced by understanding the way teams are going to harvest and score the item. For example, a note is a squishy foam ring that is expected to be harvested from the floor and shoot through the air. Sorry but it is not robust enough to stand up to this. A request to FIRST: Any robot limiting factors such as motors, speed, amperage, gear ratio, drive style etc. should be announced before the beginning of the off season. Teams are planning off season development for next year and this can be an expensive time-consuming exercise. Would hate to see a team develop swerve drive over the summer only to find out at kickoff it is banned.

Disclaimer: I am purely a spectator; my family are the ones who are actually versed in the actual robot designs as both mentor and student.  So this is an opinion coming more from an outside observer.  

Based on reading the comments here, it seems the main change is that robots need to be slowed down, whether that's through the tasks they have to complete or putting a limit on performance.  So perhaps that should be one of FIRST's main priorities for the upcoming year, is figuring out how to solve this problem in a way that is easily enforceable.  

Secondly, I will say from a spectator perspective, it is very disheartening to see the disparity between teams that are well-funded and those that are not.  Such is life, and the same thing with the difference between funding in schools that these teams come from.  However, it would be nice to see some sort of limit put out that would encourage more level play between teams with money and those that don't.  I know some teams come from more prosperous areas, have bigger/more sponsors that contribute money, and other facts that individual teams don't necessarily have any control over.  Perhaps something like instituting a limit on what can be spent on certain aspects of the robot would make things more even?  The ultimate point of the whole organization is the skill these students learn while building and competing. They're not trying to learn the skill of throwing as much money as possible at a problem until it's not a problem any more.  Having teams stick to a limit would force them to create a budget while designing their bot and would encourage strategy over specific areas of design I think.  Like, can't afford to build both super speed and super shooting?  Pick one.  Strategize what your bot's specialty will be.  Don't have enough left to build it the way you want to?  Change the design.  Budgeting is a real life skill that sadly many students no longer have an oppertunity to learn in school any more. Established teams will still have an advantage of experience in design, coding, driving, etc, but that's the kind of thing that comes from practice.  It shouldn't boil down to who has more money.  Again, I understand some areas are just better funded by element of their exsistence.  But perhaps all that additional money should be spent on things that are not directly being used to compete (ie the robot itself) and things like travel, team swag, teambuilding exercises, better practice areas, etc.  

A couple of thoughts:

Impact damage is a direct result of mass and velocity.  A 120+ pound mass moving at 18+ feet per second is going to release a lot of energy if it runs into a stationary object.  Even more energy when two 120+ masses traveling at 18+ feet per second run into each other.  More padding does not solve this issue it only encourages it.  It is harder to reduce mass then to reduce game play velocity.  The game design should be such that high speed runs are not necessary.  Let alone runs that are diametrically opposed to one another.  This has been done in other seasons.

Game piece damage could be reduced by understanding the way teams are going to harvest and score the item.  For example, a note is a squishy foam ring that is expected to be harvested from the floor and shoot through the air. Sorry but it is not robust enough to stand up to this.

A request to FIRST: Any robot limiting factors such as motors, speed, amperage, gear ratio, drive style etc. should be announced before the beginning of the off season.  Teams are planning off season development for next year and this can be an expensive time-consuming exercise.   Would hate to see a team develop swerve drive over the summer only to find out at kickoff it is banned.

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