FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Guest Blog: Inspection Reflection, Part 2

Mar 02, 2022 Written by Al Skierkiewicz & Chuck Dickerson, FIRST Robotics Competition Chief Robot Inspectors




Dear Teams:

As the Chief Robot Inspectors, we would like to mention a few processes and options for inspection of which teams may not be aware. This is part 2 of Inspection Reflection, be sure to also check out part 1.

Lead Robot Inspectors (LRIs) are one of the Key Volunteers at your event and work closely with the FIRST Technical Advisor (FTA) and the Head Referee. While Inspectors are in place to evaluate conformity with robot rules, our real goal is to ensure everyone plays. That may seem odd, but we know that without robots, we do not have an event. We do have to inspect robots, and that sometimes means having to deliver bad news. Inspectors are sympathetic and try to suggest solutions that support your design. When we find an item that requires a lot of work on the team’s part, we offer assistance, advice, or suggestions to help, and we offer to find other teams that can help make your design work. If your team is not open to input/suggestions, kindly let your Inspector know.

The LRI position requires additional training and experience. LRIs typically serve three or more seasons as an Inspector before taking on the LRI role. Inspectors refer questions of legal parts and mechanisms to the LRI constantly. In some cases, your robot may have something that none of us has seen before! The LRI decides on that part by first thinking of the robot rules that allow it. That may take time, but please be patient. We like to see cool things on a robot as much as anyone. If the LRI is stumped (and yes, we get stumped!), they can reach either of us for help. We may not be able to come to an answer either and may consult with HQ directly.

Teams are typically scheduled for one or more practice matches. This is your scheduled time to make sure your robot can connect to and practice on the official field. Your robot must be deemed safe enough to not potentially cause damage to persons, the field, or other robots, but your robot’s inspection should not preclude you from making your scheduled practice match(es).

Inspections should normally take fewer than 30 minutes but can be longer for various reasons. You don’t have to have your inspection in one session. If you have an upcoming practice match and need to pause inspection, please just let your Inspector know, and they will be happy to do so. This extends to any situation where a team needs a break (e.g. team lunch, meeting with judges or sponsors, etc.). When ready to resume, just check in at Pit Admin or with the LRI. You may be assigned a different Inspector because the original Inspector is busy with another team, but that’s ok (if you’d like the same Inspector, let us know and we’ll try to accommodate).

During inspection, if your inspector is unable to explain a decision or if you think there is an error, you can (and should!) ask for the LRI to assist. We have heard that some fear retribution may occur as a result. There is nothing further from the truth. The Inspectors are there to help, assist, and finish your inspection. It is perfectly ok for a team to request a different Inspector. Just make your request known to the Inspection Manager or the LRI, and they will assign another Inspector as soon as one is available.

We encourage your team to bring your robot to the inspection area early in the day to least check weight. This does not have to be an official weigh-in, but it tells you if your robot will or won’t meet the weight limit. Come often until you are sure you meet the requirement. You’re also welcome to ask Inspectors for ideas they might have for reducing weight.

Random re-inspections may occur any time. There are various reasons for this, usually because the FTA has seen something odd in the match logs or the Head Ref has a question about a mechanism or robot operation. Most events do a quick check, starting with weight, after a team’s last qualifying match. We want to remind you that any modification, other than replacing defective parts, requires reinspection.

The inspection team expects robots to “evolve” throughout an event. Once a team passes inspection, and their robot has its inspection sticker, the inspection process is not over. Teams iterate, and that is encouraged and expected. Make sure Inspectors are aware of these changes and sign off on them. Just notify the Inspection Manager, and an Inspector will quickly review your changes and make a record of it in your inspection paperwork. Depending on the nature of the changes, a reweigh may be needed and your inspection paperwork will be updated accordingly.

The sooner you get your inspection sticker, the sooner you can jump in the filler line and get more practice time! The sooner you let us know that you are ready for your robot to begin the inspection process, the sooner we can get an inspector to your team. Inspectors want to see robots early to catch major issues. Remember, partial inspections are welcomed and encourage progress! Come to inspection early and let us know you are ready for an Inspector even if you don’t think you are 100% ready. It helps you, and it helps the Inspectors!

The LRI is easily distinguishable from the Inspectors. Inspectors wear a bright yellow hat. In addition to the bright yellow hat, the LRI also wears a black vest with lots of pockets. The LRI has the final say on all inspection issues, but if they need clarification or help, they will contact us and we can help advise them. We also want you to know that the LRI is to be an advocate and resource for teams. So teams, you are encouraged to interact directly with the LRI and ask for their help and second opinions on issues an  Inspector may find. If it anything isn’t perfectly clear, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the LRI. They are there to help you.

Speaking of bright hats and people there to help you, we want to mention the Control System Advisors (CSA). You will see them wearing bright orange hats. They are there to help teams with, you guessed it, control system questions. This includes checking your log files and diagnosing issues such as brownouts due to low battery voltage. They can usually help with software, electrical, and wiring issues as well. The CSAs and Inspectors lean on each other to help teams with all manner of robot issues. So, if you are having software or electrical issues with your robot, don’t be afraid to connect with a CSA. They will be happy to help you!

We hope all teams have a fantastic competition season and stay safe! We love the ingenuity we see in teams and are truly inspired ourselves by the creative designs and robots teams bring to competitions. It is our honor to serve as the FIRST Robotics Competition Chief Robot Inspectors. Speaking on behalf of the entire Inspection Staff across all events, we look forward to seeing each of you and your robots at competitions and stand ready to serve. We commit to being your advocates and helpful resources whenever there is a need.

Good luck and we will see you at the competitions!


Al and Chuck

FIRST Robotics Competition Chief Robot Inspectors

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