Frank Answers Fridays: August 30, 2013

Blog Date: 
Friday, August 30, 2013 - 09:27

Today’s question is from Andrew Palardy, from Team 33, in Pontiac, MI.  I asked one of our great FRC staffers, Matt Pilotte, to respond to this one directly.  Matt is our Electrical Engineering Manager, and manages all FRC Engineering work on the control system and FMS, including software.  He also monitors, along with other staffers, event activity as official FRC competitions are taking place.  If you’re at an official event anywhere in the world, Matt is likely keeping track of what the FMS is doing and watching the webcast if there’s one available.*

Question:

Why is it that the new software for a given season is released at kickoff for download, or password-protected until then? Things like driver station updates, utilities, and LabVIEW updates aren't related to the game at all, and installing them on many computers is a rather long task during the first few days of build season.

Would it be possible to release unencrypted software downloads for the next season a few weeks prior to kickoff, to allow teams to prepare better for the season?

Andrew Palardy
FRC #33 - The Killer Bees
Kettering University - Electrical Engineering
Chrysler - Powertrain Controls and Calibration

***

Answer:

Thanks very much for the question Andrew. I recognize that applying multiple software updates to several computers can be time consuming.

The software tools are essentially an extension of the Kit of Parts, which is, with some exceptions like FIRST Choice items, distributed on Kickoff day. We post the software packages prior to Kickoff so teams can download them at their convenience. Each of these packages can include game specific material, so it’s necessary to password-protect the content.

The objective is to minimize the number and frequency of software releases. We do this for a few reasons…

  1. Streamline the effort. We’d prefer that teams only need to download packages once, rather that download one set and require them to come back later to get the updates that include game-specific content.
  2. Minimize team confusion (e.g. what the is the most recent version? Which version do I need to compete on the field?)
  3. Avoid distributing software that may not be the legal version for competition (this gets back to #2, teams think they have the right stuff, it was distributed by FIRST after all, only to find out that they need to update before getting on the field – a frantic and frustrating experience)

Providing teams with the opportunity to download the files before the build season starts reduces the number of tasks on Kickoff day. This is particularly helpful to teams attending Kickoff events with Quick Build sessions where Internet access may not be convenient or available. If the software updates are already saved to a USB drive or copied ahead of time to a Driver Station or development computer, the team only has to enter the decryption code to decompress the files and begin the update process. 

-Matt

*In case you were thinking otherwise, Matt is NOT a creeper, he’s a really nice guy. This is part of his job.

Frank Answers Fridays is a weekly-ish blog feature where I’ll be answering ‘good questions’ from the FRC community. You can e-mail your questions to goodfrcquestion@usfirst.org. Please include your name, team number and where you’re from, which will be shared, if selected.

Comments

Follow-up question to your answer:
Why must programming software releases contain game-specific information?
Specifically:
FRC Imaging Tool and images
FRC Driver Station and Dashboard
Programming software base installers - LabVIEW and WindRiver without FRC plugins - these are not even FRC specific
FRC language updates - These are not usually game specific but usually include game-specific vision examples. Could the vision examples be provided as a separate release?

I disagree with the logic you are using. Installing all this software takes a large amount of time. If we have the software early, we can have the computer(s) setup ahead of time and hit the ground running. As for multiple downloads, those exist anyway and are mostly a result of bugs. If the software is released early, teams will find the bugs early. Countless teams didn't have the updates anyway, our programming mentor is an FTA and we weren't even good. So I'm not sure I agree with any of what you said. All of the problems you described still exist without the time to correct it early.

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