Engineering Notebook

Checklist Elements

  1.     Front cover
  2.     Team summary page
  3.     Tabbed pages for special consideration (6-8)
  4.     Table of contents – not required, but good to have
  5.     Team section
  6.     Business/strategic/sustainability plan
  7.     Engineering section

Notebook evaluation generally skews heavily toward the engineering elements, but anything which is a unique way to highlight any element, even outreach or business plan, will give you an edge. Think outside of the box. Come up with a clever design.

Documentation Standards

Rules and guidelines for creating, formatting, revising, and distributing information, and communication on behalf of an organization.

  • Choose two complementary fonts (one serif and one sans serif) – choose ones that are readable!
  • Use pleasing colors, ones that will print well. Make sure they are readable.
  • Come up with an easy to navigate and eye-catching format
  • Make the formatting consistent throughout the notebook

Team Summary

  • Highlight what makes the team stand out, give a brief summary of the season
  • One page only, right at the front of the notebook
  • Include team # in case it falls out
  • Add a chart that shows tabbed pages, so judges can see a summary

Design Strategy

Identify challenges of the game, and strategy for addressing them, spelling out how you got to that design from your strategy. Tab it. If strategy evolves over time, spell out how and why.

  • Show the process you used to arrive at design (design process)
  • Show an understanding of the tasks and points in the game
  • Show the strategy (ranking chart, for example, of what is most important in the game, or what is easy to accomplish and what is more difficult)
  • Show how this strategy dictates the design of the robot parts
  • Explain the design of the robot

Math & Science

  • Geometry of robot (dimensions) – CAD
  • Calculating maximum arm height/length/reach – basic Pythagorean theorem
  • Torque calculations
  • Spell out and highlight any explicit math and science (tab it)
  • Doesn’t have to be NASA level stuff, basic math theories are fine, just spell out
  • Highlight as much of it as you can, the more the better

Testing & Verification (Iterations)

  • Separate section (sub-section) if possible – design section?
  • Grids, for example, to show problem > attempted solution > result
  • Break it out by subsystem (each part of the robot)
  • Highlight failures and successes/iterations – don’t let it get buried in the daily logs unless you can make it visually stand out as a regular occurrence/procedure – make it as obvious as possible how you actually used your design process

Engineering Section

  • Should have an initial concept description
  • Robot level design/description
  • Individual component description
  • Sketches/CAD drawings
  • Processes and obstacles – Show how you used a design process to solve problems. Spell out the process you used to arrive at the design.
  • Highlight individual’s feedback over time as well as more general “team level” reporting – make it stand out (One team simply used post-it notes for individual’s feedback)

Programming Section

  • Programming strategy
  • Control map

Present more on programming (there is a strategy, and a process for this). Judges liked a team’s engineering section, because in the meeting notes, there was info on what was happening with the programming. They wanted to see more. The programming can be dictated by the design, but also the design can be dictated by what you want the programming to achieve.

As a team, you need to be consistent in your message (goals, strategies) across all platforms – notebook, robot design, and in the interview.

Not only highlight your game strategy, but also show your team’s strategy/goals – what do you want to accomplish this season as a team, and even include your individual goals.

Goals in FTC

Recognize the design process – the journey that a team makes in the phases of creating their robot, and the business aspects of running a team.


  • Problem definition
  • Information gathering
  • Brainstorming solutions
  • Concept design
  • System-level design
  • Testing/design improvement
  • Production
  • Promotion
  • Budgeting
  • Planning
  • Outreach

Team Plan

  • Direction team wants to take
  • Outline team goals
  • Type of outreach team wants to focus on
  • Creating a team budget
  • Fundraising needs
  • Seeking out sponsors

Beyond the robot – What do you want out of this season? What skills do you want to learn, or work on? Why are you here? What do you want out of this experience?

No “Filler”

Weed out, or at least freshen up anything that might be reused. Some judges have the tendency to discount stuff that looks like it was carried over from a previous year, especially if it looks like filler. Remember, quality over quantity. Less is more!

Design Process

What do you want to accomplish in this season’s game?

Write down all points, tasks, rules, goals, strategies, etc. Based on these findings, what does it need to do? What do you want it to do?

Brainstorm & Research – What do you think will work for what it needs to do, and for what you want it to do? Figure out the best way to accomplish this. See what others are doing.

Design it – Draw it out, write it down, come up with a rough prototype (even with cardboard, zip ties, and duct tape), CAD, 3D print, math equations, etc.

Prototype & Build – Take your drawings, writings, math, CAD, or rough prototype, and create it with parts (COTS, 3D printed, or fabricated).

Try it out – What works? What doesn’t work how you wanted? How can you improve it?

Start the process all over again if needed, or start at any one of these steps above.

Document everything! Take photos. Keep all drawings, charts, graphs, math, and CAD for your Engineering Notebook.

Get Your Team Ready for Their Next Competition

Many teams have already begun the competition season, while others are still excitedly waiting for event day. Regardless of where you are at, this information is to highlight some specific resources that get your team ready for their next competition.

As you prepare for the season ahead, in all the excitement of getting ready (building, programming, engineering notebook making, outreach, etc.), we wanted to take a moment to share some great tips experienced coaches/mentors have shared with us over the years.

  • STAY CALM. It might feel like there is so much to do before the competition, but just know, you are doing an amazing job.
  • You MUST have ANSI Z87.1 certified safety glasses for every team member and guest (including parents).
  • Even if your robot is not competition ready, GO TO YOUR EVENT. Attending an event is the best way for your team to learn from other teams, ask for help from volunteers, and learn from their fellow FIRST Tech Challenge participants.
  • Learn when to STOP ADDING FUNCTIONALITY to your robot. It is better for your robot to be consistent when it arrives at competition. A week or two before your event, have your team work on practicing, testing, more testing, and more practicing. Last minute adds may not benefit your robot as much as spending time testing, practicing, and packing.
  • PRACTICE YOUR JUDGE INTERVIEW. FIRST is More than RobotsSM. All events above a Meet level has a Judge Interview component (Game Manual Part 1, Section 5.4 and Section 10.3). Please review the Game Manual to ensure your team understands what to expect during the interview. FIRST has also created a Team Judging Self-Reflection Worksheet (under Preparing for Competition). Practice sharing your experiences over this season (both ups and downs) and explaining how your robot works. Try to ensure that everyone on the team understands how your robot works and can navigate your Engineering Notebook.

Email provided by:
Tina De Giso
FIRST Tech Challenge Program Coordinator

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology
200 Bedford Street | Manchester, NH 03101 |
Phone: 603.666.3906 x 237 |
Connect: @firstweets | facebook

The Static Solution

Most teams know the wrath of static, what it can do to your robot, and how bad it can be during a match. If you don’t know what it does, here is the easiest way to describe it.

When there is a lot of static on the field it can cause trouble for the robots. It can be triggered simply by two robots touching, or a robot bumping into an object on the field. It affects your robot by sparking the main power system, which causes your robot and phone to go into a loop, and you are unable to fix it unless you do a hard reset at the end of the match. Long story short, it disables your robot for the rest of your match!

Of course, when building your robot, you should go through the process of zip tying all your wires down, mounting your electronics on plastic instead of the metal frame, and insulating your wires to reduce static, but those are harder to do and more time-consuming. We do highly recommend that you do all of these above first to minimize your static risk.

But now, there is a simple solution to help reduce static, and just about everyone has them in their home.

Dryer Sheets!

It might sound weird, but let me explain how it works. When you are driving around, your robot wheels are collecting electricity from the floor mats, the beacons, the corner vortex or even other robots. When your robot collects too much static energy, it gets hard to control what happens and when it discharges. It usually discharges when it hits another robot because they also have a lot of electricity built up. When your robot and another robot collide, they have a battle to see who can give off the most static, and the robot who earns more static suffers the consequences.

The spots that collect the most electricity are your side walls if you have plexiglass, or if you place your phone in the middle of your robot.

Dryer sheets are easy to use! All you need to do is take a dryer sheet and wipe down pretty much everything on your robot, from the wheels to the modules, to the side walls, and even the motors and battery. Dryer sheets are an easy way to reduce the static by evening out the amount of positive and negative charge from the robots.

We used these in our last tournament, and we wiped our robot down every other match and found out that it worked for us. We noticed that when we wiped down our robot, the static seemed to be a lot less than for other robots.

Also if you need to reduce static before a match, make sure to place part of your robot that has metal against the wall that has some metal on it. This helps dissipate any charge buildup.

Our team wanted to share this information with other teams because we have noticed that static can be a major problem, and this is an easier solution than making the anti-static spray.




Safety Check!

Hello Teams

This information is to remind you of the major safety rules at tournaments and when working on your robot at meetings. Be safe, good luck at your tournament, and have fun!

FIRST things first
We all know how important safety is to the FIRST community. Everyone is responsible for safety during team meetings and the design, build, travel, and event phases of the competition. FIRST believes that teams that take the lead in developing safety policies have a positive and lasting impact on each team member and mentor, in addition to their communities and present and future work places.

Be safe while working on your robot
Here are important safety tips you need to know while working on your robot at team meetings and at tournaments:

  • Work in a safe and responsible manner. Maintain a healthy attitude regarding safety.
  • Make sure before working on the robot, that it is turned off and the battery is unplugged.
  • Keep full control of your robot at all times.
  • Use protective equipment properly – eye protection, ear protection when needed, gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes.
  • Use safety glasses (or face shield) when doing any work on the robot including grinding, drilling, soldering, cutting, welding, etc.
  • Use safety glasses when there is a risk of exposure to flying particles.
  • Before using any hand tool, check to see if it is in good condition. DO NOT use any defective, dull or broken tools.
  • Use all electrical tools properly and safely according to guidelines.
  • DO NOT use any battery that is visibly damaged in any way. It is dangerous!
  • Keep a first aid kit on hand, in case of injury.

At tournaments
When at a tournament, it is important to remember these few safety tips:

  • Properly use power strips (do not daisy chain – plug one power strip into another).
  • Keep work area neat and orderly.
  • All participants must be wearing safety glasses at all times in the pit, the playing field, practice field area, or any area posted requiring eye protection, such as machine shop.
  • Wear appropriate footwear, that covers entire foot (no open toes).
  • Report any unsafe or hazardous conditions to FIRST volunteers.

Make sure to have fun, but be safe, and show gracious professionalism!

How to Prep for an Event

photoBlog post from:

It is well into the FIRST Tech Challenge Season and events are in full swing. If your team has not done so, make sure to connect with your local Affiliate Partner and register! If your event is just around the corner, this blog post is for you.

Events can be stressful, not only for Rookie teams, but also Veterans. You may ask yourself, “Do you have all the tools you will need? Do you have your Engineering Notebook? Did you remember to pack the Robot?”

What to Pack

When asked what to pack, the same response is often given by Veteran teams, “Pack everything… and just in case, pack it twice.” The point they are getting at is that at an Event, you never know exactly what you will need. Your Robot could break down during a Match and you will need spare parts; the code you have been working weeks on may not initiate properly and you will need your laptop to proofread; your team may want to show off their team spirit and pride with team swag, banners, and an exciting pit display. To ease things, here are some areas you want to keep in mind while packing:

  • Tools
  • Spare parts
  • Safety glasses (enough for team, mentors, parents, friends)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Extra surge protector
  • Phone chargers
  • Battery chargers
  • Gamepads
  • Phones
  • Laptop
  • Engineering Notebook
  • Team Swag and pit display
  • Your Robot

How to Prepare

  • Practice, Practice, Practice – Test, Test, Test – Practice your presentation, practice for your judge interviews, practice driving your Robot; test your programming, test your autonomous mode, test every part of your Robot. Practice and Testing are how top teams prepare for their events.
  • Understand the Rules – Make sure your team has read Game Manual Part I and II. Not only do they include the game and tournament rules, but they go over the criteria for each Judge Award. The more you understand before Event Day the easier your Event will go.
  • Understand Judge Interview Process – Judge Interviews occur first thing for Events (with the exception of League Meets). Download and review the Team Judging Self-Reflection. Practice in front of friends, family, and strangers to help prepare for your Judge Interview. Remember to keep current on your Engineering Notebook (review the Engineering Notebook Guidelines) and continue even after the Event concludes.
  • Pack – How are you traveling to your Event? That changes how much and what type of packing you will be able to do. Traveling by Car?  Truck and trailer? Airplane? How far away your event may also play a factor into your packing plans. Make sure to plan ahead and pack the essentials. Create a packing list for both checking everything is packed away (and where they are located), as well as to make sure they return home with you.
  • Get Excited! – Everything you have worked hard for is here. Get excited and make sure to have fun!

FTC Tip #10 – Electro Static Discharge Mitigation

FIRST has been conducting electrostatic discharge (ESD) tests with the new Android-based platform for the past year. In general, the new platform tolerates ESD well. According to our engineering contacts at QTI, the test standard IEC/EN 61000-4-2 outlines the procedure that is used for smartphone ESD testing. Most Android smartphones typically adhere to even higher ESD standards, with the ability to withstand a minimum 10 to 12 kV air discharge, and an 8kV contact discharge. Similarly, the electronic modules that are used with the new platform were also designed to tolerate ESD events.

In our testing over the past year, we have found that the new platform tolerates ESD very well. We have used an electrostatic voltmeter and conducted several driving and Van de Graaff generator tests with various test robots. We have conducted discharge tests where the surface voltage on the frame of our robot (as measured with our voltmeter, which has a limit of 25kV) exceeds 25kV without any disruption to the robot. However, we have received credible reports from the field and have seen in our lab testing that ESD events can disrupt the reliable operation of the robot. In our lab testing, the observed number of suspected incidents is low (on the order of 6% or lower), but we do believe that an ESD could occasionally affect the operation of a robot.

Based on our observations over the past year, the risk that a large ESD event can disrupt a robot is relatively low. However ESD is a regular, naturally occurring phenomena and there are steps that teams can take to help reduce this risk even further:

Static Dissipation
• When Teams arrive at the Field, a member of the drive team should touch the metal frame of their robot to the metal frame of the Field perimeter prior to placing the Robot on the Field.
• Doing this should help dissipate any charge buildup that occurs off of the Field.

Robot Construction/Wiring
• Mounting the electronic components of the robot onto non-conductive substrates (such as a sheet of dry plywood, a piece of PVC Type A, or even a polycarbonate sheet) and using non-conductive fasteners (such as zip ties or nylon bolts and nuts) can help reduce the likelihood that an ESD event will disrupt the robot operation.
• Using shorter runs of cables and wires, and keeping the cables and wires off of the frame of the robot (for example, by routing them through PVC Type A pipes or some other non-conductive conduit) can help.
• Covering or cladding the exterior parts of a robot with a non-conductive material reduces the risk that metal parts of the robot will touch a metallic object on the field and cause an ESD event. Wooden bumpers, cloth/tape and other non-conductive coatings can help.

Copied from FTC Forums

FTC Tip #9: Social Media

FTC Tip #9: Social Media

There are many different social media directions that teams can devote time to.  Always remember to have parent and mentor permission before creating an online presence on Social Media sites and follow FIRST’s Social Media Guidelines and practice general Internet safety.  Make sure to connect with other FIRST teams.  Connecting with Local teams is fun and it gives you something in common when seeing teams at tournaments and outreach events.  Connecting with other teams also helps you see what they are doing for both the game and for outreach.

Social Media Guidelines and Recommendations

Living in the technology era means the quickest way to connect with people is often via the internet and social media. Sharing information about your team or program, promoting your events or outreach projects, and helping to spread the word about FIRST and FIRST Tech Challenge can all be done online.

However, being successful at using the internet and social media to achieve your goals isn’t as easy as most people think. We have put together some information to help you be successful

Creating an Online Presence

First, why do you want to create an online presence? Is it to share information? Is it to spread the word about FIRST in your community? Is it to thank your sponsors? Is it to connect with other FIRST teams and alumni? Is it to teach about robotics? You need to identify your purpose so that you can decide the best route to take.

For example, if it is just to share information, a website is often an easy tool with which to do that. However, if you are making regular updates to the information you are sharing, then perhaps Facebook or Twitter is a better strategy. We talk about the various options below.

Second, who are you trying to communicate with? The general public? The volunteers in your state? Students at your school and in your community? Parents and sponsors? Again, this will impact the choice you make: we recommend that you find out which platform your target audience is using the most and start there.

Third, bigger isn’t always better. Don’t try doing too much at once or you might end up making more work for yourself and will have a harder time being successful. How much time and resources can you devote to this project? Is it something you can do every week? Every day? A couple times a year? Most social media outreach works best if there is a regular presence.

Lastly, what is the personality you want to create with your presence? Is it professional? Is it silly? You need to identify the tone that you want to set so that you can be consistent and people will know what to expect.

For more guidelines & recommendations, see FIRST’s Social Media Guidelines

See our team’s Social Media Presence at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube

FTC Tip #8: The Interview

• Relax.  Smile.  Enjoy the experience.  The judges are usually involved as mentors with other FLL, FTC and FRC teams.  They are not expecting perfection from you; they just want to understand what you have learned, what your robot can do and what your team is doing for the community.  These volunteers want you to have a positive experience while gaining experience with public speaking.

• Interviews last about 10 minutes.

• Be on time, interviews cannot be rescheduled.  Interviews take priority over other scheduled tasks.  You can always go back to Inspections after your interview is complete.  If you arrive late for your interview, do not expect to be given the full 10 minutes!

• Plan to have a 5-minute presentation ready, and be ready to answer Judge questions afterwards.

• Everyone on the team is expected to speak in the interview.

• It is perfectly fine to use paper or note cards during the interview.  Try not to read directly from them, but use them to make sure that you talked about the important stuff.

• Have a ‘Point Person’ who will lead the interview for the team.  They will introduce different team members and functions, and they are responsible for watching the time to make sure that everything that is important is talked about in the time given.

• Topic examples that different members can talk about:
– Design
– Engineering (can break this down by parts of the robot, drive system, arm, etc.)
– Programming and Electronics
– Outreach
– Notebook (refer judges to look at certain pages in the notebook that you want them to take notice of, give them time to see the page before telling them about the next page you’d like them to see.)
– Social Media
– CAD (bring examples of 3D Printed parts and hand them to the Judges while you are discussing what your team has created.)  Make sure to know where CAD files came from if you got them off of the internet, or if it is a team designed part, talk about where you got your ideas from.)

• Judges may ask you any questions, whenever possible don’t say “I don’t know anything about that, Bob can tell you.”  Answer the best that you can, if Bob feels like chiming in after your response is completed, that’s OK too.

• Don’t lie!  It’s not that hard for judges to check out what you are saying.

• If you don’t know something, it is OK to say it, but answer with a positive reply like, “That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer right now—but, I’m looking forward to learning the answer as soon as I can!”  Follow through with learning the answer before your next competition as it is possible to get the same Judge at multiple tournaments.

• Keep things positive.  Don’t bring up negative ideas, unless you are specifically asked about them, then be truthful.  Attitude counts for a lot here.

• Mentors may attend the Interview, but they must not speak or give the team clues on how to answer questions.  I try to sit in a spot where the team can’t easily see me so that I don’t accidently influence them.  Take notes to offer suggestions for improvements for next time.

• Teams are getting more savvy on ways to leave a lasting impression on the Judges.  FTC Team 7588 has left pens and buttons with our logo on them for Judges, and Retired FTC Team 7655 – The Q is Silqent from Eagan, MN has left the Judges with “Q-Tips” (Q-Tips are short robotics tips/ideas taped to lollipops.)

• You will be leaving your Engineering Notebook with the Judges at the end of your interview.  They will be reviewing it as it applies to the various awards.  You will get your Notebook back at the end of the Awards Ceremony at the end of the day.

• If you are applying for the Control Award, make sure that your submission form is included with your Notebook and that you mention to the Judges that you are applying for the Award during your interview.  This should be the job of the ‘Point Person’.

Thank you to Retired FTC Team 7655 – The Q is Silqent (Eagan, MN) for these tips and experiences!

FTC Tip #7: Tournament – Mentors

Packing list:

1. First Aid Kit
2. Safety glasses for all team members and mentors.
3. Forms
• Team Roster (from STIMS system)
• Team Demographics Sheet (From HTK Website – MN) – your 1st tournament of the season only.
• Robot Inspection Checklist
4. Engineering Notebook
5. Robot
6. 2 Batteries – Charged!
7. Battery Charger
8. Computer
9. 2 Phones
10. 2 Phone Chargers and Cables
11. 2 Game Controllers

Tools (this list is not yet complete)
o Hex drivers – 3  different sizes
o Power Strip
o Dremel and bits
o Crimper
o Screw Driver (Flat Head, Phillips if your robot has parts that need one)
o Hammer or mallet
o Pliers
o Metal File
o Tape Measure
o Black Sharpie Marker (for labeling parts and tools!)
o Super Glue
o Loctite
o Zip Ties
o Duct tape
o Electrical Tape

Extra Parts (this list is not yet complete)
o Motors
o Servos
o C-Channel
o Screws and Nuts
o Fuses
o Spare Electronics Modules
o Anderson Power Poles
o Wire

Check-In is completed by the Team Mentor
1. Turn in a Demographics Info Sheet – only needed for check-in at your 1st tournament of the season.  This can be printed off from the HighTechKids tournament page (Minnesota ONLY).
2. Turn in a Team list from the TIMS system, if you don’t have access to this, ask Heather or Craig to get you access or to print it for you before the day of the tournament.
3. You’ll be given your morning schedule with the times for your Interview, Inspection and Field Practice.  This is usually available ahead of time on the tournament specific page on the High Tech Kids website.

Consider assigning a student team member the job of keeping track of the schedules for the day and making sure team members are where they need to be at the right times.

Assign a scouting team to meet other teams in the Pits to promote your.  This helps your team gain name recognition, which is very helpful during Final Alliance selection!

Teams get their match schedule at the end of the Opening Ceremony after all teams have completed their Inspections and initial Practice Match.

All Team members should be at the Opening Ceremony.

Engineering Notebooks are available to pickup after the Awards Ceremony, they be on a table in the gym.  Make sure to get the team’s notebook before you leave the gym.  If you notice any other ISD191 team’s notebook, please feel free to pick them up too.

Any trophies or banners that the teams receive at tournaments should stay with the team mentor or the District FTC Advisor.  Please write your team number and date and location that the trophy was earned on the bottom.  Many teams display their trophies at tournaments or outreach events to show their success.  If the team disbands, the trophies and banners should go to the District FTC Mentor for display in the schools.  Team members are welcome to keep any metals that they earn.