Overconstraining and How to Force Good Design

Leave a comment

So this build season’s painfully short hours have, in my opinion, led Shaker to unintentionally stumble into a great design process. The process has essentially been this:

1. Analyze strategy and prioritize.

2. Come up with a concept for each subsystem to match the strategy.

3. Simplify the subsystems.

4. Integrate subsystem design.

5. Simplify the integrated design.

6. Cut out all non-essential features and see if it still works.

7. Repeat steps 4 on until the robot is doable.

This rough process, combined with some lessons from JVN’s excellent design presentation, has served us very well. Eliminating robot design on strategy day made picking and prioritizing quite easy. Egos were put aside and consensus was built – we did strategy and drivetrain selection in 2 hours! Then we come up with ideas… then we cut them down, with never ending revision after revision. This eye to detail and critical attention put on the design as a whole instead of building piece by piece has led to part after part getting simpler and simpler.

I think the key to FIRST design is a lot like weight reduction. Start big, think big picture, make sure your piece does what you want it to, then cut away everything extraneous and non-essential.


Thoughts on the 10 Hour / Week Build Season: Week 1

Leave a comment

So Shaker is working on a unique schedule because of mentor time constraints. As a result, we have 5 meetings a week in 2 hour bursts. This is a lot less time than we’ve had last year and have spent the better part of preseason preparing for this and as a result we’re better off.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that for early design, we are getting as much if not more done than at a longer meeting. 2 hours seems like JUST the right amount of time to really work on concepts and think as a team without getting bored, distracted, or losing interest. I’m sure as the season goes on I’m going to loathe having short meetings where “nothing gets done” – but right now they are the perfect time to work through tough problems.

We try to use the time wisely by doing a lot of the “hard work” outside the meetings and bringing them to the full group to present and discuss. For example, I did a sketch of Shaker’s current four bar arm concept completely at home over about 3-4 hours of work and discussion. This saved time that would be spent at the meeting fighting over it. Then I brought it in and it was presented alongside student concepts that were just as refined if not more so at home. If we can keep this up for CAD design and robot building, we will have a smooth season.

2791 Nonteaser

1 Comment


Scoring Calculator

Leave a comment

This has been by far the most helpful tool ever for my team and me.


It is a great way to calculate rack scores and otherwise figure out where ideal places to score are. Thanks 103!


Oh yeah, here’s a design sketch.

It's a little old, the numbers have been adjusted a bit.


Leave a comment

My Kickoff is really weird this year. Traditionally I wake up at 6 AM, drive across the state of Wisconsin, then meet up with 1714 and eat Krispy Kremes waiting to go and sit in front of the big projectors at the Wisconsin Remote Kickoff.

This year, I rolled out of my bed in New York (or rather, the friend I’m staying at’s bed) and checked if we got NASA TV on cable. We don’t. Streaming it I guess.

Later today I’ll spend a few hours on the phone with 3450, then roll out to Shaker’s Kickoff meeting, now delayed until 4 PM due to weather. I suspect I’ll probably get a call from a team member before then.

Shaker Robotics Build Blog

Leave a comment

So a few weeks ago I announced that I would be documenting Shaker’s build on this blog.

I’ll still be doing that, but instead I and others will be documenting Shaker’s build on a dedicated team blog, currently located at http://team2791.wordpress.com/ .


I’ll still make some posts here to keep hopefully interesting content coming – this blog isn’t moving and won’t be any more devoid of content than it is now. It just makes more sense to put a team effort on a team blog rather than making me a constant liason.