Week 1 Review

Blog Date: 
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 14:30

Week 1 Review

Positives

I attended the Granite State District event in Nashua, NH, over the weekend. What a wonderful, high energy event! We were in a High School gym, and while it was smaller scale than we’ve been used to with our New England events, there’s something about having the stands full and the spectators ‘right there’, close to the field, that drove the energy. We also had a NH Senator, a NH Congresswoman, and Dean himself show up to speak, which made things even more special. 

Once we got in the swing of things, with everyone having a better handle on the rules, the matches flowed pretty well – but not without some problems (see more below!). Some of the matches in the finals were among the most exciting I can remember seeing in FRC. Special shout-out to Team 1519, Mechanical Mayhem, for a sweet two-ball autonomous that worked nearly every time they employed it. It’s no wonder they ended up in the finals.

During his talk, Dean revealed that will.i.am is working on a theme song for FIRST. His ‘homework’ to the crowd was to tweet thank-yous for this and all Will does for FIRST, and including @iamwill in those tweets. Might not hurt to include the hashtag #omgrobots while you are at it! Dean said the intention is for the  theme song to be based on ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script featuring Will. Danny O’Donoghue, lead singer for The Script, when commenting on the lyrics for the song, said “We wanted to inspire people to stop trying to be famous for the sake of it." Sounds like it fits right in with FIRST.

Problems

As enjoyable as many events were, Week 1 did not go as smoothly as we had planned, and for that I apologize. We’ve taken some steps to make things better, some of which were covered in the rules update last night, but others are a little more behind the scenes.

Upper Goal Bounce-Outs

We knew some balls would go through the upper goal and bounce back to the field, not counting as a score, but we saw more of that last weekend than we expected. This seemed heavily dependent on robot design, so some teams were experiencing this regularly. This was frustrating for those teams and their alliance partners. While we want to keep FRC challenging, it’s possible to push ‘challenging’ too far over the line to ‘frustrating’. We’re adding sheets of polycarbonate to the upper goals to reduce the chance of bounce-outs happening. Changes will be made for all Week 2 events onward, though in some cases the sheets won’t be in place for practice day, they should be in place when quals start. Bounce-outs still may happen, and they still won’t count as a score, but the frequency should be reduced.

Fouls

We’re seeing lots of penalties being called. We’ve modified G40 and G28 to hopefully reduce the frequency of these particular fouls being called, which were the most prevalent. We did not adjust the points associated with these penalties. With all game-play related penalties, we don’t want an alliance to perceive a potential strategic advantage to intentionally ‘taking the foul’. This is carefully considered when assigning point values. Also, regarding G40, the penalty is high because this is a potential safety issue.

Refs 

Refs have lots to do in this game, and in some cases are having trouble keeping up. We’re working to recruit more refs to get an extra set of eyes on the field. This additional ref will help watch for things the other refs may miss while they are entering information on their touchscreens or are otherwise occupied.

As with any High School sport, refs can’t call what they don’t see. Refs are being trained to give priority to watching for scores and assists over watching for fouls. There will always be more spectators watching each individual robot than we have refs on the field. Some fouls will be missed, but we are working to minimize this by reducing the need to call fouls in the first place – through the rules changes last night - and by adding those additional refs.

System Issues

We’ve fixed some bugs we found in the system from Week 1. For example, we found that in the corner case of zero balls being placed by teams in an alliance on the field before a match, the system was not transitioning properly to teleop after autonomous was over. We had a work-around for this, but the software has now been updated to fix this, eliminating the need for the work-around. Priority this week has been given to logic-related problems such as this one, but we will continue to work on other improvements, such as system responsiveness, as well.

Balls Being Returned to Field

When a ball leaves the field in such a way that it does not count as scored, being shot over the top of the high goal, for example, field reset works to get it back to a human player for that alliance. Occasionally, we’ve seen delays in getting the ball back to the field. 

Wouldn’t it save time to just have the field reset person toss the ball back on the field? Yes, this would save some time, but in a game with only one ball per alliance, the strategic value of that ball is extraordinarily high. Where and how that field reset person decides to toss that ball back in could swing an entire match. The GDC discussed this at length, and decided it would be most appropriate to give that ball back to a human player for the alliance, who can then attempt to use their control of the ball to strategic advantage. It takes more time, but puts the alliance unquestionably in control of their own game piece. You will see that in yesterday’s update we clarified that a replacement for a damaged ball gets delivered to the alliance’s human players as well, for the same reason.

All this being said, the field reset folks do have an important role in this game when the ball leaves the field, and need to be trained for that. Our Volunteer Resources Department is contacting the Volunteer Coordinators for events to encourage field reset volunteers to be assigned, to the greatest extent possible, for the entire length of the event, rather than having new crews coming in daily. This should reduce recurring training needs, and help ensure more consistent performance.

All told, I believe the Week 2 events will go more smoothly. Good luck to all our teams competing this weekend!

Frank