FRC Blog

Week One Event Issues

Mar 06, 2017 Written by Frank Merrick.

 

I apologize for the challenges we had at our events this weekend. While most folks, from the preliminary results of our post-event surveys anyway, still had a great experience, many events were finding themselves running late or delivering fewer qualification matches to our teams than they had hoped.

While we never guarantee a minimum number of matches per team, and the value you receive for your registration fee certainly includes elements unrelated purely to match count, I can understand that District teams especially, had an expectation of getting 12 matches at their events, and in some cases we did not meet that expectation. As a rule of thumb, if an event feels (either before it starts or mid-event) that they need to truncate or otherwise significantly change the schedule, they give me a call to discuss the situation. We talk about the realities of what's happening and our options - how late things are running, what the issues have been, options for starting early, running late, running through lunch, etc - and come to consensus on the best path forward. Reducing match counts is an option, and is always a last resort, but that's sometimes that we're left with, as we attempt to balance all the many competing concerns involved.

The field this year is interesting and includes several 'show' elements designed to make it fun, but it's also very complex to assemble, and literally has 'lots of moving parts' (some put in place to help get us get to ‘real’ real-time scoring) that need regular attention. Also, game design went later than anticipated, which led to less time for sourcing, shipping, and support documentation. We also ran into other issues that are more challenging to control, such as venue Wi-Fi interference and the natural delays with international shipping. All of this, along with the number of elements that need to be reset between matches, has contributed to the delays we're seeing.

Some of these elements are easier for FIRST HQ to control, and some are harder, but we are working on ways to make things better long-term. We are currently developing plans to accelerate the game design process, and are reviewing our resource requirements to make sure that we have the people and support we need to produce the kind of product that works for everyone - teams, volunteers, and the larger community.

Short-term, we continue to develop on-the-fly improvements when we spot issues. Examples include the recent change to peg points less likely to break announced here, and the rule change to minimize a nuisance penalty we were seeing here. Also, as the weeks roll by, we expect the fields to be assembled, and reset, faster as issues with individual fields are solved and field staff become more experienced.

I want to thank the teams for their patience, and to thank all our incredible volunteers for the many hours they spend making FIRST what it is! I’m constantly amazed by the lengths to which our volunteers will go to solve problems and make FIRST happen. Of course, the long-term goal is to not present our volunteers with so many challenges in the first place!

We are working to make things better, in both the short- and long- term, and I can’t wait to see what the teams have in store for us next!

 

Frank

Comments

I am very disappointed Lakeview did not allow us to replay the finals matches due to field malfunction. Our team took second because of this. We are not upset with our place, but that the field staff refused to let us replay when it was the field's fault.

Replays are governed by section 10.8 in the manual.  Before a replay is considered, there must be an arena fault that affected the outcome of a match.  If a score differential for a given match in the finals is so great that a fully functional arena could not have swung the match in the other direction, in the opinion of the head referee, a replay will not be considered.  I don't know if this fits your circumstance, but I do want to make clear that an arena fault does not automatically lead to a replay.  

We had the opposite problem. In the elimination matches at the Palmetto Regional the FMS had assigned incorrect team positions for our alliance stations. Our drive team informed the field official, but he said stay with what the computer assigned. It wasn't a big deal, so we complied, and won 2 straight semi-final matches, earning a slot in the finals. Later the losing alliance contested the results and were given a chance to replay the 2 matches (causing further delays in an already very late competition). They won and we lost our position in the finals. We checked the rules and realized the replay should never have happened. Our students were very disappointed that they were eliminated from the finals because of an incorrectly interpreted rule. I hope this does not happen at future Regionals.  

I would like the FRC community to know that I did not make the previous comment. The whole Lakeview event was nothing less than Gracious and Professional from start to finish.  There were no field faults in the finals matches. Both times that our Alliance had bots that died they were due to robot malfunction (radio power/battery cable).   I thank all event staff for their tremendous effort on the Week   1 Event at Lakeview.  I am not sure who submitted my name on this post but I am very upset by it.   Sincerely Chris Galicki Blue Ops 4216 

Greetings,

I think we all understand how crazy supply chains can be under tight deadlines. We had springs coming into CHS SW in the early hours of the morning Saturday. The FedEx guy got lost getting into the school and we helped him in. Why is FIRST ok with cutting things so close? You set the deadlines. You create the project. You knew it was complicated. Why did you allow this to happen? Why are you shipping fields are were incomplete? Not only were they not incomplete, they weren't ready for thousands of kids to play on them on opening day. For the sake of your brand and the students who want to have a high quality experience, This cannot happen again.

I have one suggestion: Build the games a year in advance. I know it will incur costs and overhead, but it would make sure that everything works before it goes out to the kids. Just think, you would have a year lead time on development and creating the field. With your trend towards more complex games and "show pieces," things are going to worse not better. We loved Stronghold. Steamworks can be that good, but it's hard to play when the springs aren't right and one of the two airships can't make it through a two day event without shutting down. 

In short, we don't mind opening the door for the FedEx guy 3 hours before the event starts, but with a little planning, we don't think we should ever have to again. 

Hi Matthew, thanks for your comments.  I agree, as I noted in the blog, we were behind where we needed to be with this game.  While getting a full year ahead, something we have regularly considered, would be very difficult (it generally takes the full effort of the staff to put out one game by Kickoff), we are looking at ways to get us far enough ahead to alleviate these problems.  

We have been struggling here in the Southern CA about going to the district model of play. But another barrier is FRC games invented for the wow factor with what appear to be little thought for those who volunteer to do field reset and those other skilled tasks like set-up and take-down, and actual operation so necessary to make the game attractive locally and at later venues.

 

A caution: many on the inside have devoted a great deal, and sacrificed much, enabling students to learn skills in demand in the workforce. FRC is but one program of many that lead to the same accomplishment, without the stress, financial burden, and sheer time factor that come with FRC events and the program in general.

 

Be advised that teams with few resources, volunteers taxed beyond their ability to contend with the environment see this year as a tearing point in their involvement with FRC.

 

Joe Petito

STEM Education

Torrance Unified School District

FRC 1197

LA Robotics/SCRRF

HI Joe, I agree with you. As we said in the blog, volunteers are what make FIRST run, and we do try to take the demands we place on volunteers into account when we design games.  Sometimes, we underestimate those demands, as I think we did here. At the same time, we don't want to simplify the field so much that year after year we have yet another 'put the ball in the hole' type game.  

We certainly appreciate the sacrifices teams and volunteers make for FIRST every year.  We know it's not easy.  At the same time, I think if we watered FRC down to the point where it became more of a casual, take-it-or-leave-it activity, someting valuable would be lost.

Hi Frank, Thank you for sharing the challenges that exist in running a global organization and the logistical challenges involved. We don't see these issues as spectators and when we do we might think it's part of the game. I can only compare my spectating experience from last year. Last year the game moved quickly from match to match. Scoring was easy to figure out and teams could score good points through multiple methods. This year the matches move slowly or completely stop from match to match and there are just two viable scoring elements: gear placement and climbing. It's unfortunate for not only the spectators but for the participants. Some teams thought they could go the extra mile in designing a bot that could score multiple ways but they were wrong, Any time spent on a bot that could intake fuel balls and get them into the boiler was a complete waste. The points are so low for this accomplishment that even the spectators stopped cheering for that bots that could elegantly hit the top of the boiler because they knew it did not matter to the outcome. All that mattered was gears and climbing. The human element on the airship has been a real bright spot. We saw games decided by the skill of the human player to lift gears and drop ropes on time. This game could be as exciting to watch as last year's Stronghold but only if the points are more balanced between elements and the time between matches can be sped up so that you don't lose the crowd every time. If those two things can't be accomplished I fear it will be a long season.

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments.  As we have seen in prior years, we expect the game to develop over time, and fuel scoring to become more important as the weeks roll by.  We've already seen a number of matches in which those couple extra fuel points made the difference between a win and a tie, and we're really looking forward to some exciting playoff matches in which fuel scoring gains prominence.

I too was disappointed when our team analyzed the cost/benefit ratio of going after Fuel. It would be so much fun to see multiple 'bots shooting Fuel & racking up points comparable to placing Gears, but it's just not worth the trouble. So typically all we see during match play are a few balls being shot and hundreds more dumped on the carpet, getting in the way & creating a headache for the field volunteers to clean up after each match. Yes, some of the super teams will have exciting Fuel matches later in the season, but why not design the game for the majority of teams; not just the elite few? 

I don't want to sound entirely negative. Placing gears is fun and doable most teams; even rookies. And climbing the rope is a very exciting End Game.

I watched as much regional action as I could week one to get a feel for week 2. I too noticed that jewels in the hopper although looked cool seemed mostly irrelevant. Most final matches that I saw had either zero or one bot that would even attempt to toss energy jewels.  About the only time it made a difference was to offset a penalty. Maybe they should leave the points they way they are but require a certain amount of fuel in a hopper before flight can be reached. maybe 1 kva per rotor prior to it spinning. Or 5 kva needed before flight. Something that would make it an important element to the game. Currently it is largely meaningless. 

I agree that right now, at the beginning of competition season, the fuel is not playing a big part of the game.  But, we have already seen alliances getting ALL rotors turning with all three bots climbing successfully.  As the weeks progress, I feel we will see this more and more and when it begins happening to both alliances in a match, we will see more ties.  This is when fuel will become an important part of the game because the alliance who can get the fuel in addition to All gears and rotors will begin winning those ties. Then we will start seeing some interesting match strategies!!!

I watched as much regional action as I could week one to get a feel for week two. I too noticed that jewels in the hopper although looked cool seemed mostly irrelevant. Most final matches that I saw had either zero or one bot that would even attempt to toss energy jewels.  About the only time it made a difference was to offset a penalty. Maybe they should leave the points they way they are but require a certain amount of fuel in a hopper before flight can be reached. Ths would make it an important element to the game. Currently it is largely meaningless as far as points. Maybe 1 KPA per rotor and 5 for flight or something along those lines. Or even just make it only required to achieve flight. I would be interested in hearing if others like the idea or something similar.

 

First I commend you guys for owning up to mistakes. It takes guts to do that.

I wanted to offer an interesting view that a fellow mentor mentioned to me and one that you may or may not have thought about. It's the that's the price each team is paying per match.

Ie. If you attended the Florida regional, you would have played ~10 matches at a cost of $500/match. Think about that, $500 for 2.5 minutes of roboting.

That's a heck of a lot of sponsor money. Imagine teams that only attend 1 regional and don't get a "fair shake" because of an issue like a field fault (ie. a field element is broken, etc). I'm not saying you're doing a bad job at decision making (which I commend you for making the rules update on Friday during regionals). I'm just saying to see what the teams are paying for which includes top notch customer service.

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