My family has spent the last three seasons with Lord of the Bricks (LOTB), a FTC robotics team in Mechanicsville. At this point, we are familiar with the flow of a season. Please note that below we have only described the competition season. Outreach, fundraising, and off season are covered on other pages, and there is some overlap.
September – November:
Every season kicks off with a “game reveal”. One Saturday early in September, FIRST will release the game materials for the upcoming season. This always includes a video that explains the game, like these for the past three seasons: 2018 Rover Ruckus ¦ 2017 Relic Recovery ¦ 2016 Velocity Vortex. FIRST has just started releasing small teasers for the 2019 game named “Skystone”. This should be an exciting year for FIRST as they are teamed up with Lucasfilm and parent company Disney to bring us the Star Wars: Force for Change initiative.
After the game reveal, teams will start (or continue) meeting regularly to design, build, and program a robot to accomplish the tasks set forth in the game. During our time with LOTB, we always had 2 meetings per week at the beginning of the season. But we know that other teams meet more often.
Early meetings usually consist of brainstorming design ideas, and this will lead to some prototypes (cardboard and duct tape). This should lead to a fairly complete robot design, and the team should then move to CAD in order to fully flush out the design. The object with CAD is to know exactly what parts will be used in the final build so that we can place a single order for any additional parts that may be needed.
Once we receive the parts that were ordered, the build team will construct the robot, testing as much as possible while the programmers write the code that will control the robot. From here the team will continually iterate through an engineering life cycle of Plan → Implement → Test → Evaluate. This life cycle will continue throughout the season.
November – January:
Usually in late November or early December, a team will have it’s first qualifying competition. Before that, the team coaches will evaluate the list of qualifying events and determine which ones we would like to attend. But since the selection process is several weeks long, we may not know which competitions we are attending until early or mid-November. The number of FTC teams in Virginia continues to grow, and last year there were nine different qualifying competitions. They are held at various locations around the state, and scheduled from mid-November through mid-January. Usually there is one event in Newport News and one in the Richmond area. They typically schedule four or more in Northern Virginia due to the number of teams in that locale. Each FTC team should attend at least two qualifying events, and some will compete in a third. The goal during qualifiers is to earn advancement to the State Championship competition. You can read more about these events on the Competitions page.
Usually by late October our LOTB teams began having meetings 3 times a week. Then two weeks before the first competition, we would try to meet 5 times a week. Some teams hit pure panic mode and pull one or two all-nighters right before a competition. As a coach, I personally never bought into that philosophy, believing that a well-rested team competes better even if all tasks are not as complete as we would like.
After each competition the team should evaluate all aspects of their performance. Obviously, they will consider the performance of the robot on the field, and may contemplate minor tweaks to the design or even major changes. Often times a team will try to incorporate a design from another team’s successful robot. They should also evaluate what went well with judging, and what they can improve on, as well as other aspects of competition day, like scouting and networking with other teams.
The Virginia State Championship competition is usually held in late February. Teams that were fortunate enough to advance will continue working to improve their robot as well as all other aspects. The State Championship competition format is just like the qualifiers, but the goal now is to earn advancement to the World Championship competition.
FTC actually has two World Championship competitions, teams from Virginia that advance participate in the event held in Detroit. This is a multi-day event that starts on a Wednesday and concludes that Sunday, and is held late in April. My family has never been on a team that participated in a World Championship competition, but we have heard it is a lot of fun.