FIRST Robotics Competition Blog


Feb 24, 2017 Written by Frank Merrick and Andy Baker.


From Frank:

For things that must be done, it’s always a good idea to have a ‘Plan B’. With FIRST STEAMWORKS, the field must be able to count the fuel being scored in the boiler. And while we have confidence in our equipment being able to handle that very well, things happen. 

We call the unit inside the boiler that sorts the fuel into a single chain that can be counted the ‘serializer’. Of course events will have spares for all the key components (motors, power supplies, etc) within the serializer, but if one of those complete pre-assembled units falls off a truck, or gets speared with a forklift, it may be more than can be fixed easily at an event.

FIRST realized both that:

  1.        We needed a Plan B.
  2.        We had no resources available to create one, as we’re all working away on our many ‘Plan As’.

So, we turned to our friends at AndyMark and said “little help?” Of course, AndyMark has been a generous (Crown Level) Supplier, and has helped us with major projects before (have you heard of FIRST Choice?), but in addition to that, AndyMark has a bunch of FIRST Technical Advisors (FTAs) on their staff. The combination of their experience at events plus the fact that their staff may need to actually implement Plan B made turning to them seem like a no brainer. We gave them the outline of what we were trying to do, and as they have done in the past, they took this task on with gusto. The result was ‘The ShREK’, the Serializer Replacement Emergency Kit, which will be made available to all events should something very serious and unexpected happen.

We want to thank AndyMark, once again, for being a true friend and partner to FIRST and our teams!


From Andy:

We at AndyMark are happy to help create a solution which hopefully will not be used at any events. Ideally, all of FIRST's serializers will be shipped and handled without incident. But, in the rare case that a serializer is hit by a meteorite or drops into a sink hole, we have a solution. We have been able to cut polycarbonate sheets and attach them with zip ties to a Boiler for a simple solution which can help keep a FIRST Robotics Competition event running well. These sheets combine with a ball agitator, driven with a corded drill in order to keep a steady flow of Fuel out of the Boiler at a rate of 2 balls/second. We are looking forward to not using this solution at any of this spring's events, but happy to be able to provide this fix. Here we see AndyMark engineer, Nathan, with a cordless drill, some aluminum churro, a bracket, and some agitation magic. AndyMark will be providing this insurance packet of polycarb plates (5 per boiler), the churro, and the bracket to each field.

Example of Serializer Emergency Repair Kit AndyMark

Back to Blog


With an outflow rate of ~2 balls per second, this can have a significant impact on the amount of fuel that can be processed during the Autonomous period. At most 30 balls can be processed in the 15 second auto period assuming balls are present in the boiler when the auto period starts (which is impossible). Is there a plan to allow balls to continue to be counted after T=0 in auto to account for this change to the field spec, or other factors such as the operator coming off of the drill trigger, getting distracted, not starting at the start of the match or the drill battery dying?

Secondly, will events be instructed to replace both Serializers with ShREK if one needs to be replaced, in order to ensure fairness for both alliances?

We will have plans in place to address these concerns and will be working to make the experience as similar as possible to what was intended.  But, for sure, as we try to do anytime there is failure affecting the experience only for one alliance, both serializers would be pulled.  (As an example, when we had defense light failures for one alliance in FIRST STRONGHOLD, we matched things up as best we could with the other alliance.)  And, really, this is more of a Plan C.  Plan B is fix the serializer with the spare parts.  The ShREK would only be used as a last resort, as a way to keep the event going. 

May I suggest that if this is used, it needs to be used on both sides of the field? I wouldn't want one side to have a scoring advantage if one system is more efficient than the other. 

That's the plan!  See my comment above - as a rule of thumb, we do this to the best of our ability in all situations like this to keep things fair.

Add new comment