FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Technology Updates: Past, Present, Future, and Beyond

Sep 13, 2023 Written by Kevin O’Connor, FIRST Robotics Competition Senior Robotics Engineer




Past - Usage Reporting

I have some exciting technology updates to share for this coming season, next season and beyond. But before we get to that, I want to share the usage reporting data from this past season. The FIRST® Robotics Competition software has a feature called ‘usage reporting’ that tracks what WPILib objects are created in each team's code and reports that data back to the field when the robot is connected. Data from the 2023 season can be found here. Some notes about the data:

  • The data has been anonymized. Team numbers have been removed and the data has been re-sorted so teams are not in order by team number. We can only track the objects teams create in code. If a team creates extra motor controllers that aren't on the robot, they will still be captured by this system. If a team creates motor controller objects of the wrong type, that wrong type will be captured by this system.
  • Some objects naturally result in double counting (e.g. Encoders use Digital Inputs).
  • Counted objects and TRUE/FALSE show the largest number of any given object used in any one match (i.e. if a Robot plays match 1 with 3 Encoders and match 7 with 2 Encoders, 3 will be reported). This means that if a team switched motor controller types, or IMUs, or anything else during the season, the sheet will show numbers for both devices. Language and Framework report what was used in the last recorded match.
  • Some bugs in the reporting resulted in Phoenix Pro devices and WPILib PS4 controller data being recorded incorrectly. This information has been removed from the spreadsheet to avoid confusion.


Present - AprilTag Update

While the general feedback on the 2023 implementation of AprilTags was pretty positive, we did learn some lessons that we plan to apply to 2024 and beyond.

The first lesson was regarding tag family. We chose the 16h5 family for the 2023 season as our testing showed increased detection range for a given resolution. In practice teams were often finding the data too noisy to take advantage of the additional range. Given that, for the 2024 season we will be moving to the 36h11 tag family. This will substantially reduce false positives with default settings and is compatible with a wider range of software implementations.

Many of the other lessons learned were minor items with the physical implementation of the tag plates. The plates used for 2024 will be revised based on these lessons but we currently expect they will be compatible with 2023 plates such that teams could potentially sticker over their existing 16h5 tags. Some 2024 field tags will be mounted differently, but we expect team versions will likely be able to use similar tag plates. Tag size will be tweaked slightly to 8.125 in overall, with a 6.5 in. internal black square.


Future – Radio Testing

Over the past year, FIRST® has been working with Vivid Hosting on designing a custom radio for FIRST Robotics Competition teams for use starting in the 2025 season (the 2024 season will continue with OM5P radios). Vivid Hosting may be new as a supplier to FIRST, but many of their employees have extensive team and volunteer experience and we are excited to work with them on this device. Features such as power connectors, device size/shape, and number of ethernet ports and their layout have been directly driven by their experience as team mentors and volunteers. We are planning on testing the prototypes of this radio at the following events:

  • Chezy Champs: San Jose, CA September 30 – October 1
  • Oregon Girls’ Generation & FIRST Chance: Wilsonville, OR October 7 - October 8
  • Battle of the Bay: Alton, NH November 4
  • Madtown Throwdown: Madera, CA November 11 – November 12

Here’s a quick rundown of features we think teams may be interested in:

  • Size: 4.5x2x1.25 inches
  • Mounting: Cable tie notches
  • Power: Passive Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) or wire-to-board connection. Designed to operate directly off battery voltage (though has also been tested downstream of a VRM or RPM)
  • Ethernet: 4x total. 1x passive PoE input, 2x passive PoE output for devices (cameras, etc.)
  • Frequency: 2.4GHz + 6GHz dual band. At home, teams can use the device as a 2.4GHz AP to maintain compatibility with legacy devices. At events, the device can be used as a 6GHz bridge.
  • Performance: Among the many benefits, the 6GHz spectrum has more channels, allowing events increased flexibility in setting up on a clear channel. In addition, OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) has been integrated to make better use of wireless spectrum. These features, along with other 802.11ax improvements should contribute to a substantial reduction in matches with wireless congestion issues and will hopefully allow us to increase the team bandwidth cap in the future.



Beyond – Mobile Robot Controller RFP Process

We’re also already looking way out to the 2027 season and starting to think about a new Mobile Robot Controller after the roboRIO 2.0 agreement expires in 2026. 2027 may feel a long way off, but for a major project like this, it’s practically right around the corner! We have created a preliminary draft of a Request for Proposal (RFP) and will be sharing high level information with some existing sponsors over the next few weeks. We will also be collecting feedback from a small number of pre-selected CSAs, FTAs, LRIs and team mentors. After processing that feedback into the final document, we will be releasing the RFP publicly at the beginning of November.

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Will there be any way to run the 6GHz at home?  We have major problems running 2.4 at our school.

Hi Randy,

Sorry for the confusion. Yes, the device will be capable of operating in AP mode on 6GHz as well. This would allow teams to connect a 6GHz USB dongle or a 6GHz capable laptop directly to the device on the robot or operate a Vivid radio as a 6GHz AP connected to the DS and one on the robot as a client.

Is there a specific reason for having the radio not be used on a 5Ghz network to maintain compatibility with older 802.11ac (WiFi 5) and older devices, rather than restricting it to only 802.11ax (WiFi 6) 6Ghz bands? This is presuming that 2.4Ghz is not preferred as a WiFi frequency. I worry since 6Ghz have problems around walls and metal (not significant, but could be a factor since the fields are mainly metal piping and acrylic which I feel could act like antennas).

Hi Nick,

The 6GHz band is preferred as it provides much more frequency space to operate in than 5GHz and ensures that any other networks you may be competing with are WiFi 6 or later which provides a number of features that help the networks coexist together better. While attenuation is a bigger concern at 6GHz, we expect this difference to be small. At the first test event last weekend, some teams with radios buried deep in the robot did see minor signal strength issues. We will be testing with external antennas on the field access point at upcoming events to see if this mitigates the issue or if we will need guidelines for teams on radio placement.

I hope to see connectors such as Weidmuller/Wago everywhere on the new controller, more than one I2C bus, integrated RGB LED management, and more power for buses! DIO should access either 5V or 12V sensors. Finally, the accelerometer should be upgraded to the current 200g. The best 9-DOF chip included with the board will be sweet!

Integrating FRC and FTC controllers into a unified platform would be a valuable requirement in your RFP process. This would benefit teams and electronics vendors by eliminating the need to develop for two unique platforms. The FTC platform’s scale provides an excellent solution for FRC training and prototyping on a less intimidating hardware set. Since most of the FTC hardware is legal in FRC, it would create a more natural flow between the programs and require less effort for FRC teams to grow the FTC program.

In 2011, FIRST released Logo Motion and the mini-bot to inspire FRC teams to create and mentor FTC teams by interacting with the FTC hardware. However, very few FRC teams ended up following this approach using only the battery and motors. This presents a great opportunity for FIRST to try again with a more synergistic approach.

Hi Adam,

We agree! As you can see in the follow-up blog where we released the RFP, we are soliciting a single controller platform to be used in both programs for many of the same reasons you describe.

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