FRC Blog

Stop Build Day in 2019 and 2020

Nov 13, 2018 Written by Frank Merrick.

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The FIRST Robotics Competition community has been discussing the pros and cons of our traditional Stop Build Day for several years. This discussion has also been occurring within FIRST Headquarters.

Approximately one year ago, we started looking at Stop Build Day through an Equity and Inclusion lens. This brought into focus key elements of the discussion that pushed us towards a more complete evaluation of the practice. The FIRST staff thoroughly reviewed a wide variety of options in handling Stop Build Day and made a proposal that was accepted by FIRST Senior Management. This proposal was then presented to the Steering Committee of the FIRST Board of Directors, which includes Dean, and was accepted by them last month.

Here is the change we are instituting:

  • For the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition Season, we will continue to have our traditional Stop Build Day on February 19, 2019.
  • Starting with the 2020 FIRST Robotics Competition Season, Stop Build Day will be retired.

‘Retiring’ Stop Build Day in 2020 means teams will no longer be required to stop work on their competition robots on a set date in February.

We are waiting until 2020 to institute this change to give current teams a year to plan. We also recognize it is likely many teams have already made significant plans around the traditional six-week build season for 2019.

We see this change as being part of our commitment to making the program more accessible and flexible for all participants:

  • Retiring Stop Build Day creates a more equitable program for teams globally by allowing for greater flexibility to accommodate for seasonal events outside of the team’s control, including regional/cultural holidays, school vacations, and extreme weather. This change is intended to remove barriers for participation for students and mentors in many parts of the world.
  • Approximately half of all FIRST Robotics Competition teams choose to build a second robot to allow for practicing and additional development between Stop Build Day and Competition, which can be a significant or prohibitive cost to teams; Removing Stop Build Day gives these teams an opportunity to cut their material costs.
  • Under-resourced teams without the financial ability to build a second robot now have a greater opportunity to use their existing resources. The mandated six-week build season was an institutional barrier to their success. We are striving to provide equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Also, retiring Stop Build Day puts teams fully in charge of their own build season between the January Kickoff and their competition – giving mentors and students more flexibility in project planning to achieve their goals while maintaining other important priorities (i.e., work, family, school).

  • All teams have the opportunity to use this flexibility to improve how they manage time, costs, and other resources during the build season. No team is required to make any changes to their build season---you can still focus your build effort over six weeks if that works best for your team.

 

We recognize this is a significant change, and the community will have detailed questions. We don’t yet have all the details worked out, but please review the Questions and Answers document here. If you have additional questions or comments, please add them in the ‘comments’ section below. We expect to expand on the Questions and Answers document as we see what additional questions the community has.

Please remember, this change is for the 2020 season, not the upcoming 2019 season.

Frank

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Comments

The document was left out..........

Apologies! It is fixed now!

Thanks!

Jamee

While I completely understand the motivation behind the six week build cycle, this is a welcome change for those of us that could only afford to build one robot. 

Please reconsider the ending of build day in the 2019 season. Seniors this year should have the opportunity to benefit from the same that students starting in 2020 will experience.

Hi Pete. We thought this through very carefully. Our expectation is that many team members have already made substantial plans around a traditional stop build day in 2019. Also, this is such a significant change, we wanted to give teams plenty of time to reconsider their goals and how they might meet them in this new reality.

so how is this going to be fair for teams going to week 0 or 1 competitions vs. teams in the later competitions, because they will have a significant amount of time more to make things like autos and more attachments and can be the difference of causing a team to go to  worlds vs not. Also not to mention that late competitions are going to be significantly more competitive by nature. Maybe a better solution to deal with holidays/ teams with lack of funding/ extreme weather conditions is that if need be they can extend their build season to match the equivalent of 6 weeks of work while using the same concept as a bag lock up form to track it all. And teams lacking reasoned can have an extra week or something of that nature, but this makes the competition completely unfair, not to mention the 6 week time crunch is half the fun, students get to know their team as a second family, we have a feeling of necessity in what we do, it makes us think/work hard, and it teaches us how to meet deadlines. It also as a whole makes the origins action look less impressive to outside people. Finally the teams that have a second robot are at an advantage but not as big of one as people think, code can change for us, changing a physical part on a robot is rare and difficult to accomplish realistically. Overall this seems like a major part of what makes FIRST, FIRST, is now gone with this change, it’s less of a “sport for the mind” because this makes it less difficult for week 8 teams vs Week 0.

Just a quick reminder: everyone in a week 1 competition will have had the same 7-8-ish weeks of design time with their robot. Everyone at a week 6 will have had the same 12-13 weeks with their robot. It's not like week 1 robots will be pitted up against week 5 robots.

As a team that has only been able to make a partial second robot once, I can tell you it makes a huge difference. That was the only year the team was able to finish high enough at an event to lead an alliance. Most years we show up to an event with our drive team never having had a chance to drive the robot. This gives us a chance to be competitive with teams that are larger, better funded, access to outside resources, and have more time. 

Next, end the rule that auto invites teams that haven't won anything in the last few years back to regional and national championships. There are just too many teams now and too many past winners to continue that practice. 

Also copying is going to be a MAJOR issue now, because teams can show up to a week 1 comp, take pictures and measurements, then go home, make an exact copy but maybe improve some of its downfalls, then the team that was copied now feels cheated and the team that copied had to do little to no work, teams won’t interact as much because they don’t want to be copied, and the division of teams due to resources will get worse because they will just make a robot that has things any normal shop wont have capability of making, so now you have super good teams with even more expensive and fancy robots and the limited teams won’t be able to do anything and they will stay about at the point they are at...

 

On the contrary. Many teams will go to multiple competitions in one season. Normally, that doesn't sound like a problem until you realize these people can learn to fine-tune their robot for Competition 2 when other teams at the second competitions robot is still bagged

Hi Luke, I understand your concerns. We at FIRST HQ have some of the same ones. I believe some of your concerns are addressed in the Q&A document we linked to. But we do believe that overall, this change will improve the situation.

Will you be the one to tell my wife?

We recognize participating in FIRST Robotics Competition can put a burden on family life. But we believe teams should take the 2019 season to reconsider their goals and how they can best meet them in this new reality starting in 2020, being very careful to account for the importance of non-team activities. Teams may find that with more weeks to work on their robots, they may be able to meet fewer times per week than were necessary to complete their competition robot in just six weeks.

If it comes to 2020, and you go through the season and find it was not as successful as you expected do you foresee going back to Stop Build Day? 

Hello StrategPNW,

At this time, we do not have plans to bring Stop Build Day back.

Thanks!

Jamee

If you won't have stop-build-day, how are you planning to stop teams from building an entirely new robot between two competitions, or "copying" the robot of a different team?

My thought exactly. I can send robot 1 to first competition while dramatically improving robot 2 for a competition 5 weeks later. Just like college football, first needs to create divisions and put teams in according to their abilities. Having a local factory ‘donate’ all the CNC work, so the students can assemble their robot like a lego set, is different than using a band saw, and a drill press to make your parts.

We talk about design convergence (copying) a bit in the Q&A document. When it comes to building an entirely new robot, that would be a substantial undertaking for any team, especially with the size and complexity of FIRST Robotics Competition robots. But, this is an area in which we haven't yet thought through all the potential rules for 2020, so stay tuned.

but what if the robot design was necessary? Rogue from the RoboWranglers' 2017 season had 2 competition robots. 

Western Australia says hip hip hooralia!

 

By having a stop build day you give everyone an equal amount of time to build their machine.  This made it fair to all.  The concern was teams closer to the competition would have more time to build and need less time to ship than teams further away, hence giving them an advantage.  A stop build day gives everyone the exact same amount of time to build their competition machine.  

But like so many of the poor decisions FIRST has made my lone voice in the wilderness will go unheard or unheeded. 

Under the traditional Stop Build Day system, while all teams technically had the same amount of time to build their competition robots, teams with the resources and interest in building second robots had a tremendous competitive advantage. Eliminating stop build day will allow teams only able to build one robot the option of participating in some of those advantages, if they wish. And it is true that teams that need to ship their robot will have less time to work on their robots. There are certain advantages that naturally come with geography. We would expect teams to take robot shipping time into account as they make plans for their season under the greater freedom they will have to determine their schedules for themselves.

I am concerned that this may limit teams willingness to share designs and proof of concept videos we see during the traditional build season.  I hope the GDC took that into consideration.  In addition,  I hope the GDC considers bringing back a stop build season on games which have more straight forward one dimensional strategies where most teams arrive and very similar robots anyway.

This may lead to less info sharing, but we still believe a good number of teams and other outlets (like Ri3D) will continue to share. And build season so significantly affects teams, we don't plan to switch back and forth based on the game. 

For those who think that the retirement of stop build day is the end of fairness, I would respond that the competition has never been perfectly fair. Some regions have much more inherent expertise in electromechanical systems and robotics, providing a richer source of mentors. The northern tier is blessed with snow days, meaning we almost always lose a few days to weather. International teams often have fewer sources of parts and outrageous shipping costs. Some local economies are booming so more money is available. There will always be "unfair" advantages.

This could be the Kool Aid that does FIRST in. From a former volunteer, coach and team lead mentor, I believe the newly allocated time infringes too much on callings outside of FIRST. I hope I am wrong but there needs to be a point where we do not get addicted to this! Remember its suppose to be only a game. Go back to 6 weeks and take what you've got at that point to competition (teams will understand when told "it is what it is"). Let people have their evenings and spring(s) back and allow them to spend time at home.

We strongly encourage teams to use the 2019 season to rethink their goals and how they can best meet them for 2020 and beyond, taking into account their non-robotics needs. Teams could choose to stay with a very challenging six week build season. They also could choose to spread that 6 weeks of work out over a more extended period. Or choose another approach entirely. We strongly believe teams should take into account the "whole person" when making these difficult decisions.

Will you have a bagging between competitions?

Hi Remy. That is not the current plan.

I've been reading many of the posts and when it comes to bagging between the competitions, I believe in fairness and there MUST be bagging between competitions. In fact I would extend the bagging to the week before the first competition so that teams are given extended time until the competitions begin and then halted in any additions after the competitions begin except what they can modify at their first comp. Having the time in the weeks between their competitions to modify their bots to be super bots is unfair to those teams that do not have resources.

Right now teams with resources to build a practice bot are continuing to work on them anyway. They keep improving their software and can try it out on a bot. Their drive teams keep practicing. They keep building hardware and incorporate it as part of the their holdout weight. People pretend that the bag rule actually stopped teams from changing their robots for later competitions. That is completely untrue. With a second robot there is already a bunch of teams with an extended build season. In reality all this does is make the playing field more level for everyone.

Eliminating stop build date is an excellent decision. For far too long, allowing students to develop practice and knowledge in software programming was being short changed by the stop build rule. It is nearly impossible to develop embedded system software without access to the hardware. This will give students an opportunity to nurture this critical skill. Isn't that what FIRST is supposed to be about?

For far too long, we have had teams show up at competitions with robots that don't even move during autonomous operation. Or were severely limited in what they could do for autonomous. Teams will now have the opportunity to make something great happen. What would you rather see at a competition? Robots static during autonomous mode, or able to do something impressive?
 

This change is very concerning for my team.  We are a very cash strapped team that can only compete in one event per year, unless we get to worlds.  This economic issue means we also can only compete in the regional nearest to us which is generally a week one event.  By removing Stop Build Day, you have given those teams that have better funding the ability to keep building for their competitions, no matter how many competitions they attend or when those events are. Also, Stop Build Day produced a level of fairness as EVERYONE has the same amount of time between start and stop.  For those that say weather issues cut time for some teams, this is true.  Our team lost as many as 8 days the past two seasons.  However, we still completed our build by bag day.  I truly fear this change will drive many smaller teams out of FIRST and to other robotics competitions due to creating an even easier path to success for better funded teams.

Hi Stephan. Stop Build Day did technically limit the time available to work on competition robots, but well-funded teams able to build multiple robots could gain significant advantages that could be transferred to their competition robot at their competitions. Teams with the resources to build only one robot will be able to share some of those advantages starting in 2020. It will still be true that teams with the resources to travel to multiple events have an advantage. It's hard to replace the experience gained by attending a competition with anything else. 

My friends pointed out that during the 6 week building period it didn't feel like we were competing against the teams. It felt like the teams were all competing against the clock together. I strongly believe that this change does not allow for equal opportunity. There were teams that built fantastic robots in that time period. I do believe having longer to build is a great idea. I always wish I could've gotten more time, however I think that teams should all have the same amount of time. Coming from the east side of the state where we didn't have all the resources the west side did, so I feel that taking away the stop build date will put smaller teams with less resources at a larger disadvantage than they already had before.

Hi Christina. Many teams that build great robots build second (or third) robots that help them deliver the performance you see when events finally start. Also, at any given event, with the exception of teams that had to ship their robots, teams competing would have all had the same amount of time to work on their designs, even teams that only had the resources to build a single robot.

Why can't we start end build day this season? I feel like it would give the 2019 seniors a new experience, and it would allow many teams to save more money.

 

We already have an 8 month build season for FIRST Tech Challenge.  Last year, we spent every second of that 8 months refining and designing one of the best robots in the world!  But, I've always said there was a genius to the 6 week build period in that FRC valued the balance of School and Robot building by making the season so short. Fundraise in the fall, makes your strategic plans and execute it for 6 weeks.  Then, go have fun at some regionals and see how you did.  Now, FRC will be spending 14 hour days in the robot room for 4 months. It's different for a small group of up to 15 FTC students to make that kind of commitment compared to up to 75 FRC students doing this.  This is going to upset a lot of people.

This change gives teams greater freedom to design their build season as they see fit, rather than FIRST imposing a one-size-fits-all approach. We strongly believe in robotics-life balance. Teams should use 2019 to have serious conversations about their goals and how they want to accomplish them in 2020 and beyond. I believe you can have a great FIRST Robotics Competition season without spending 14 hour days in the robot room for 4 months.

I agree the issues this creates are larger than what we are trying to fix. I do like the idea of extending build time to get a full six weeks using the lockout form for weather issues. We are a mentoring organization at heart and almost never in industry do I get all the time and funds that I need. That is not being unfair to anybody, that is reality. This change seems to suggest the primary goal of our organization is to have a fair robot competition when I think it is to mentor students in STEM and teach them about our jobs in the real world.

Although I understand the reasoning for the change in the build time bag and tag rules, it does as posted in previous comments, open the door to other situations just as complicated. Better funded teams will always have an advantage, either by being able to build clones, participating in multiple competitions, etc.  The issue that concerns me the most is by extending the build timeline, what impact is it going to have on the mentors?  For example, all of our mentor's are volunteers and all but one of our mentor's for our team work outside of the school, so we need to meet in the evenings.  The six week timeline means that we can meet three to four times per week for a limited amount of time and still be able to have some home life.  It is my belief that by extending the build time line, mentor burnout is a real possibility and needs to be considered, especially since many teams have real difficulties in getting and keeping mentors in first place.

Mentor workload should be carefully considered when teams are deciding how they want to deal with this change. Teams that simply do what they have always done every week under the six-week build restriction, but for eight or more weeks, may not be giving their team members the best overall experience they could.

I support FIRST but I fall strongly in line with these comments from Mr Coutts .  As a working professional engineer and lead mentor, from a team with ALL outside of the school mentors, I used the timeline expressly stated in the rules (through the bag and tag deadline) to demonstrate the importance of deadlines and planning.  One thing I have said to our mentors is that 'I know it gets hard at the end, but one way or the other, we are done at Bag and Tag'.  Now when I tell the students that one way or another, we are done on "Feb 19" for the mental and family health of the mentors, it pits unavoidably procrastinating (but wonderful) high school students against a mentor family life away from FIRST.  The mentors won't do that though, because we all know that in the end, the dedicated mentors hang in there with the students right up to the very end.  This will happen for one year and then those mentors will not be back.  We are not an elite team, we have no plans to build a second robot, I don't begrudge teams that do build a second robot, I and my team have been inspired by what those teams accomplish, I love FIRST FRC and the lessons it provides. 

I am the lead mentor and my husband is a mentor. Our house essentially shuts down for 6 weeks. However, we know that at the end of the six weeks we are pretty much done until competition. These additional weeks will just prolong the hardship and we will lose mentors (more than likely me and my husband). As stated above although we could stick to the same six week schedule we all know that at the end of six weeks if the robot isn't done we will be there for however long it takes to get it done. What mentor is going to say "Sorry kids. Try harder next year"? I learned while my son was in FTC that the team will take as much time as they are given to build the robot whether that's six weeks or twelve. That's just reality. We are not a well off team and we compete against teams that have a 90-100k budget. However, that's real world. There's always going to be someone with more money and resources. I also believe the six week build really set FRC apart from other robotics and creates that WOW factor.

vele thak tou

When pitching FRC, I always include the fact the program has this 6 week only build time. This is an unique feature that gives credibility to the real world experience of FRC. Please don't  take it away.

With the Withholding Allowance rules, and about half our teams building more than one robot, the six week build period has not been strictly true for some time now. Also, I think teams are getting an even more real-world experience with this change. There's no artificial deadline. Just like in sports, or in getting ready for a trade show in industry. The deadline is the day of the event, and the team makes plans around that real deadline to the best of their ability.

Frank - the sporting event and trade show is a poor analogy of the actual experience of many engineers.   While Job 1 is the day of first production,  every engineer knows their part must be designed, tested, sourced and available weeks and sometimes months before the Job 1 date.  So having a "stop build date" before the competitions is a more accurate representation of the "real world" of engineers than allowing teams to build until the day of the event.  Ken Snodgrass

 

Hi Ken. My experience is that those internal deadlines in industry have purposes related to the larger goals of the organization. I would encourage teams to consider internal deadlines if they feel those are the best way for them to meet their goals. We've often say, when it comes to deadlines, the best way to ensure you are on time is to plan to be early. 

PLEASE do conduct a wide-ranging survey of the FRC mentors to see how they feel about this new no-stop-date plan. Some that I that I know are very unhappy with the idea. There are potentially many issues, including (1) Less time for students to pursue other school programs,  (2) The impact on mentors, many with extremely busy schedules and other commitments and (3) The HUGE advantage to the highly-supported top-teams which will make it nearly impossible for smaller or less experience schools to compete on an equal footing.

Thank you for all your great work for FIRST, and I hope it can continue on an equitable and balanced basis. PLEASE SURVEY THE MENTORS, they are the BEST barometer as where this program should go.

--Dan Sternglass, 12-year mentor

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