Robot Build: Prototyping / Basic Design Completion
Decision and determination are the engineer and fireman of our train to opportunity and success.
By week two, you should be well into prototyping the selected functions of your robot. You can begin estimating weights, sketching the completed look of the robot, defining what the chassis will look like designing the electrical system, selecting the drive train, developing the basic control system, and ordering materials. While all of that is going on, one or more parents, or students, can be monitoring team updates, FIRST Q&A's and Chief Delphi.
- Hopefully, your team is still very much engaged in the robot build and you are making progress. Certain team members may not be fully engaged in your build because they do not agree with your design. Take time to talk to these team members to encourage their input to make the concept you have decided upon better.
GRADES / MUlTI-TASKING
- Monitor how your student team members are handling a multiple-day work schedule and maintaining their school studies. Some teams have grade requirements necessary to stay on the team. Try to suggest ways the students can balance school and robot building. Teams could provide mentors or homework sessions before or during parts of the build session.
- By now your adult mentors may have begun to realize the true scope of what they have volunteered for. Try to be flexible with their schedules to minimize burn-out. There is a delicate balance between needing to make progress with your robot design and appreciating the non-robotics needs your adult mentors have (i.e., family obligations, work obligations, etc.).
- Building a working robot can be broken down into successfully completing smaller milestones (i.e. drafting a concept, building the FIRST chassis, wiring the controls, etc.). Find opportunities to celebrate when your team reaches a milestone. Examples of celebrations made include a team cheer, high fives, or team hug (not recommended for all teams).
KEEPING YOUR SCHOOL / SPONSORS / PARENTS IN THE LOOP
- Keep your school administration aware of your progress. Invite them to come to your work area and see what the students are doing and talk with them to see what they are learning. This may be a significant step to securing support and sustaining your team over time.
- Find a way to communicate progress with parents who are not actively involved with the team and with team sponsors. E-mail or website updates are good ways of doing this.
PARTS INVENTORY / TRACKING
- Controlling the robot weight is something that is very important, but also something some teams don't do very well. Trying to estimate robot weight only by weighing individual components doesn't always work. It is very important to continually weigh the robot as you build it. Remember - wiring weighs a lot more than you think it does. The more sucessful teams are always pushing the maximum weight limit. Very few teams come in danger of having a robot that is underweight. If your robot weight is too low then you have room to add something, either another function or added strength to a component.
- You should have crude prototypes of the key mechanisms on your robot built by now and should be testing them for basic functionality. A wooden frame with casters can serve as your chassis and any arms etc can be mocked up with PVC or wood. Make sure your ideas work before you spend hours designing and fabricating final parts.
DEFINING THE CHASSIS
- The robot chassis is the base of your robot. Consider it the cornerstone on which your functional design will be built. From your game strategy decisions, brainstorming & prototyping efforts, you'll begin to envision what the chassis needs to look like. Creating a 2 or 3-D sketch or model of the envisioned chassis can help immensely in prototyping and will help the team rally around a single design concept.
- As the base of the robot, the chassis will need to be robust and sturdy in construction as it will likely need to stand up to occasional, or frequent, interactions with the other robots or the playing field. The chassis will likely contribute significantly to your weight limit.
- Pay close attention to the materials chosen to ensure a workable balance between durability and weight.
PNEUMATICS - SYSTEM SET-UP AND WEIGHT
- Pneumatics, like the electronic controls, is a support system for the mechanical functions of your robot design. If you've decided to use pneumatic controls on you robot and haven't already, assign a subteam (one or two is plenty) of team members to familiarize themselves with the pneumatics kit of parts and rules for their use.
- There are specific rules for using pneumatics on a FIRST robot. Pay close attention to the "required" parts that must be included in any system design.
- Having a general sense for the weight of your pneumatics should help in some of your design decisions. A pneumatic system can add 10-15 lbs. or more to your overall robot weight.
- The compressor will likely be the heftiest component of your pneumatics system. Depending on your design, you may want to consider designing a system without the need for an onboard compressor.
- If you require only single action (non repeating) movements, you may very well be able to accomplish by charging your system up to the maxium allowed pressure before a match and distributing it as needed during the match.
- Be reminded, you are permitted to use 2 storage canisters on your robot even though only one is supplied in the kit of parts. This can save you about 7-8lbs in robot weight.
- Make schematic drawings of your envisioned system and use this to verify you meet the minimum essential rules for component use. There is a model system in the pneumatics manual, which is a great schematic on which to base your system. Use this as a starting point and change the configuration as you are allotted space and weight on the robot.
- You might also want to mock up some pieces of you designed system using the kit components to become familiar with their operation. Do not attach anything to your board until you have the entire system laid out, because you will most likely need to change it once or twice before it will operate. To test out, you'll need a power source for the compressor. You can demonstrate cylinder actuation using the manual controls on the solenoids.
- Order any additional (not part of kit) pneumatic components that you've decided to use on the robot.
- TIP -> In the past, we (MOE) have made the mistake of ordering metric-sized parts. Ensure you are not ordering these, they may be confused with the FIRST regulation parts.
FIRST WEB SITE / TEAM UPDATES
- Updates are posted by FIRST usally on Tuesdays and Fridays. Make sure more than just one team member reads them.
- AUTONOMOUS- Decide what you want your robot to do during autonomous mode and how you plan to do it. The easiest would be a routine that would use dead reckoning (i.e. tell the drive motors to run for a set amount of time). If you want to use feedback to guide your robot, select one or more sensors and order them if necessary.
- PROGRAMMING - Continue to familiarize your programming team with the default code, noting where you should add your own code for the autonomous mode and for the human control mode in the "users" routines.
- Determine if you have time and/or resources to use new technologies. They may provide an advantage, but the game may also be played effectively with out them.
- VISION SYSTEM - Confirm operation of camera using the standalone software and PC. If camera hardware is suspect see troubleshooting at the end of the camera manual for a diagnostic tree with LED indications. Also check Chief Delphi threads for others experiencing similar problems.
- OPERATOR INTERFACE / ROBOT CONTROLLER - Confirm proper operation. Set team number in OI, connect to RC. Then load program into RC and confirm proper LED indications on RC.
- Discuss needs of various mechanical subteams for motors and control functionality. Order additional parts for operator interface (toggle switches, LED's, encoders, etc.)
- Determine your method of transportation to the competition event. If you have access to school transportation, ensure it is reserved ASAP.
- Ensure that any overnight lodging required for your team competitions is reserved. Try to find the best rates you can. For hotel selection, consider factors such as cost versus quality/value, proximity to competition venue, costs for parking, amenities, available funds, etc.
TEAM MEMBER COSTS
- Based on your sponsorship and available funds, determine how you expect to pay for lodging / transportation to competition events. Develop a cost per student and mentor if you plan to charge for travel. Communicate this info to parents.
- Parents may also be interested in attending, so you may want to include some arrangements for them.
- Find out what types of food concessions are available at the regional venue and what local restaurants can accommodate your group for evening meals. Perhaps the hotel has a large room where you can gather and where pizza can be delivered.
- Understand if your school requires permission slips for students to miss school days for the competition events. Ensure that you hand out, obtain approvals, and have the slips returned before the competition.
FIRST COMPETITION AWARDS
- Start thinking ahead and begin to track / document the types of events, milestones, and other activities the team does over time that would be appropriate to use for award submissions
KEEPING RECORDS OF PROGRESS
- Have a team member or parent videotape and take photographs of parts of your build process. This helps maintain a record of progress and may motivate the team to reach that next milestone more quickly.
- If possible, archive your photos on a website for all team members to see. Another option is simply to post them in your work area.