Archive for January, 2012


Prototyping and Trying it out

I hope everyone is doing well this second week of Robot build season. Last week and possibly early this week everyone should have a chassis planned, a way to get up and down the field, and maybe some way to get the balls to a hoop.

But first, a lot of people are having trouble setting up the cRio and LabVIEW software. I’d like to suggest to RTM (Read The Manual). Most of the information is in the document at this link (

On with prototyping: You don’t necessarily need to do everything in the game. If you’re a rookie team you might think about doing one thing very well. One thing that can be helpful is getting the balls from one end of the field to the other. Or you might play defense well, keep the balls from moving or have some type of shield that moves up to 84 inches to block shots.

No matter what, by now you should understand the game and how you plan on playing it.

When you know how you want to play the game and are designing your robot to play you should brainstorm on how to get your robot to do it. Prototyping is a way of trying out thing quickly before going to the time and expense of building it on your robot.

To prototype, decide what you are trying to test to see if it would work, quickly build something out of wood or plastic that is approximately what you want and try it. Sometimes parts are C-Clamped together or tied with rope.

One example is a couple of years ago on Breakaway, we were prototyping a ball kicker. First we rigged up some pneumatics on the kitbot, held a pneumatic cylinder by hand and punched the ball. It didn’t work well. We then screwed a frame down to the floor (Our Robot room is an old trailer), took some surgical tubing, rigged up a wooden kicker on a long meddle screw. We would pull the kicker by hand and see how well it would work.  We the switched the surgical tubing to pneumatics and tried it again. We liked the pneumatics the best. It took about 5 hours to try everything, we didn’t waste time building a full robot part to see if something worked or not, and we had a pretty good robot that could score from two-thirds of the field and move the ball the full distance.

Good luck to all


Sample Schedule for FIRST 3 weeks

Hey every one, due to work, I’ve been out of pocket for a while…But it’s Robot Season and time to really get down to the most fun work you’ll ever have.

Scroll to the bottom for Woodie Flowers presentatono from the kickoff.

To all the Rookie teams: One problem I’ve seen in the past is, teams that have never been through this get over whelmed easily. Between the robot build, reading the manual, and organizing the team with kids who have never been through this before either, time gets away from people. Teams will put off building the robot until the last minute. This is a huge problem because a robot is not built in a week. Here is a sample schedule for when things need to get done.

Please try not to stress out too much and remember there are people out there who can help. Look at FIRST event at the teams that will be at the event you will be attending and contact one of the veteran teams. They’ll usually help. Or contact your regional director, or contact me and I’ll see what I can do to help. I’m Joe Varnell, Engineer at Lockheed Martin, Technical mentor for Team 704, and my e-mail is I don’t want the rookie teams to get stuck. Also, don’t wait until the last week of the build to get help. Ask as early as you can.

Organize your team. There needs to be programmers, electrical people, frame/gear/build people (i.e. gear heads). Unless you have a large team, everyone will probably be doing a little of each. Plus, some kids may want to try it all so they can see what they are most interested in. There should also be a student team leader who knows what’s going on in the various parts. FIRST has information on organizing teams at this link (

Week 1 – Figure out “What” needs to be done (Requirements) and “How” your robot will drive

Read the manual!!! This is probably the hardest part because there is a lot of other stuff to do and people, especially kids, want to get on with the robot building.

Analyze the game and the rules for the Robot. Figure out your drive train.

Brainstorm on what how you’re going to do things. Remember when brainstorming, no idea is a bad idea. Some ideas that seem to be “out there” may start other people thinking about different ways of doing things. Once you have a bunch of ideas, start narrowing them down to idea’s that can be implemented by you. You can also refine some of the ideas that have already been brought up.

Have the programmers start testing the sensor’s, learning the language, and running the example programs.

Find someone who can help with building using whatever materials are going to be used on the robot. Some teams will use aluminum, some use carbon fiber, possibly fiber glass, and many people used wood (Last year many teams used wood). A mediocre to good machinist can really help a team.

Week 2 – Continue design and prototype

Figure out what type of appendages and apparatuses you need to do the job you want and try some stuff. Issues that should be though about are things such as, this year is a shooting game, do you just want to dump balls in the lower basket? Do you catapult like arm to throw balls? Do you want something like a baseball pitching machine?

Build prototypes to test the designs. Prototyping is just rigging up something that is similar to what you want and seeing if it will work. You might use wood or PVC. Be safe while your prototyping, sometimes the apparatus need to be held together by hand while testing.

Begin building the chassis frame, put on the transmission, and figuring out where everything will go.

Week 3 – Build the drive train and continue to prototype.

Continue on with building the Chassis, putting on the motor’s, wheels and chains.

Finish up prototyping the appendages and apparatus. Once you get something decided for the apparatuses and start building it.

Good luck

PS Here is the link to the youtube video of Woodie Flowers from the 2012 kickoff. I thought it was very good.