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_safeBe 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 Hardware Tutorials – 8 Videos

photoFIRST Tech Challenge has created some hardware tutorials to help you get your robot build on. This would be helpful for rookie teams, and possibly veteran teams as well.

  1. How to Mount Motors & Wheels
  2. Connecting Driver Station to Robot Controller
  3. Powering & Wiring Your Robot
  4. Configuring Your Robot
  5. Configuring Gamepads
  6. Testing Motors
  7. Testing Servos
  8. How to Connect Beams Using Bolts & Nuts

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 about an 8-9 minute presentation ready and be ready to answer Judge questions during and 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 (The PRIDE has a separate scrapbook that we bring to interviews and keep out on our pit table that shows all of the outreach activities that we’ve done through our 3 seasons in FTC)
– 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.  The PRIDE has left pens and buttons with our logo on them for Judges, and FTC Team 7655 – The Q is Silqent from Eagan, MN leaves 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 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.

FTC Tip #6: Tournaments – Teams

All team members are expected to participate in tournaments—this is what you’ve spent months working towards!  If you are not available for a tournament, make sure to let your mentor know as soon as possible so they can prepare for your absence.

Arrive with plenty of time to be ready for your Interview, Inspections and Practice Matches.  Generally doors open at 7:30am and Interviews start at 8:00am. Check the High Tech Kids Website (Minnesota ONLY) for each tournament’s specific schedule.  Information on concessions, directions and other tournament details can also be found here.

Be sure to be in your team uniform!

Make sure you know what your lunch plans are and make sure you have money with you if it’s needed.  Competitions have concessions stands where you can buy food and some competitions have “Meal Deals” that you can buy ahead of time.

Your Mentor will check the team in.  Students can head straight to their pit table and begin setting up for the day.

Your Pit
Photo Nov 22, 8 47 28 AM• Each team gets a 10’x10’ space with a table.
• Feel free to decorate your space, but keep it clean, try not to leave food and beverages laying around.  (Treats for visitors are fine)
• Always have a team member present to greet Judges and other teams—even during matches.
• Help other teams who are looking for parts or tools.  Make sure to label tools and parts with your team number in Sharpie if you’d like to get them back at the end of the day.
• No messing around – you are always being watched and the Judges are everywhere!  No games or electronics (unless you are working to solve an issue with your robot) in the pits!
• Always think about Gracious Professionalism – Judges ask around about whether people have seen acts of GP or poor behavior during the tournament and this does affect the outcomes of Awards.
• Visit other pits to meet teams, find alliances and get ideas to improve your team’s presence.

Interview (See FTC Tip #8 – The Interview)

Hardware/Software Inspections
• Before the day of the tournament, teams should review the Robot Inspection Checklist.  Print a copy and bring it to the Inspection with you.
• You need to bring your robot, phones, controllers and your computer with the programming on it to the Inspection.  A simple cart is nice for this.
• At a minimum the Drivers and Coach must attend the Inspection, Builders and Programmers are also needed in case changes are required by the inspector.
• The inspectors will look at the robot to make sure that the parts used follow the game rules and that the size of the robot is within the 18”x18”x18” sizing rule.
• The inspectors also look for anything that might damage the playing field and elements and any unsafe items.  If issues are found you will have a chance to bring your robot into compliance and it can then be re-inspected.
• Team numbers must be displayed on two sides of your robot; the numbers need to be 3” tall.

Photo Dec 06, 10 00 53 AM

Practice Rounds
This year each team gets 2 practice rounds before their 5 qualification round matches.  The practice rounds help teams try out their robots on the competition field before it counts.  If you have problems make sure to work with the FTA’s (Field Tech Advisors) to understand any issues you have and listen for any ideas they give you to fix any issues.

Drivers Meeting
• Held just before the Opening Ceremony, the location will be announce.
• Both Drivers and the Coach must attend the Drivers Meeting.
• You’ll be given instructions on how the tournament will run and any special instructions for the day. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask the Referee’s any questions that you may have.
• Drivers and the Coach will receive their badges at this meeting.  Badges must be returned at the end of the day to High Tech Kids staff.

Opening Ceremony
All team members and mentors should attend.  It’s OK to leave the Pit unmanned during this time.

• Pay attention to what matches you are scheduled for and what matches are currently being played.  Know which color alliance you are on and where you will be starting (based on where your alliance partner starts) and get the appropriate Autonomous program ready to run.  Your drive team, coach and robot should be in the queuing area ready to go during the previous match.
• Use your time in the queuing area to meet and work with your alliance partner on match strategy.  If possible, help them if they are having any technical issues.  Positively mentor less experienced teams and learn from more experienced teams!

How to get help with your robot on the Playing Field?
Call “FTA!” – Field Technical Advisors are in attendance at each match (they will be at the competition floor and will be wearing yellow volunteer polo shirts, make sure to learn who they are during your practice rounds) and are there to help teams with technical issues, but you must ask for their help and you have to get their attention.  They are the only people who can possibly touch a robot during a match.  You can also ask for their help before a match starts if you are having problems with your robot.  There are times when FTAs may ask the Head Referee to replay a match due to technical issues.  While rare, replays do happen, usually they happen at the end of the currently scheduled matches.

What to do if you disagree with how the Referees scored the match?
• A single student team member can go stand in the Question Box on the field floor (It’s marked with a “?”).  Adults are not allowed to question the refs.
• The head referee will talk to you about your question.
• Students cannot show the Referees video or pictures from a match.
• Remember Gracious Professionalism! (See FTC Tip #1)

Final Alliance Selection
• After the qualifying matches, alliance selections will begin.  Each team at the tournament will send 1 student to the competition floor.  The top 4 teams from the qualifying matches will be the Alliance Captains.  Alliance Captains can ask other top alliance teams to join them, so it is possible for the teams ranked in 5th, 6th and 7th positions to become Alliance Captains.
• For most tournaments, each alliance will consist of 3 teams.
• All teams finishing in the top 7 should be ready to build an alliance based off of qualifier match performance, scouting information, and previous experience with other teams.  Have a list of teams that you’d like on your alliance.
• Certain phrases are used during Alliance selection:
1. Alliance Captain ask teams to join them by saying something like “Team #xxx would like to invite Team # to be our Alliance partner.”
2. The appropriate response to the above question is “On behalf of Team#, we graciously accept (or decline) your invitation.”
• The reason to decline would be because you are an Alliance Captain and you would like to build an alliance with other teams or if your robot isn’t working and you don’t want it to cause the other teams to possibly loose matches because of this.
• If you are an Alliance Captain, choose the teams that you feel have the best chances of helping you win the tournament.  You are not required to choose teams from our district unless you feel like it’s the right decision for your team.

Final Rounds
• Play starts with the semi-finals.  This is a best two out of three format.  The Alliance Captain team will play a match with each of their Alliance picks and then the 3rd match (if needed) can be any of the 2 alliance teams matched up.
• Next the winning alliances play in the final matches with the same format until the tournament winner is decided.

Awards Ceremony
• Please stay for the Awards Ceremony.  It really is disrespectful to leave until teams have been recognized for all of their hard work, and you never know if you team is going to win something!
• If your team wins an award, all students on that team should go to the line of tournament volunteers to collect their award and to high 5 the group of adults in the yellow polo shirts.  Please celebrate your accomplishment but do it with Gracious Professionalism.  Return to your seats for the rest of the ceremony.
• Make sure to take a team picture with your award!

Retrieve your Engineering Notebook after the Awards Ceremony

Packing up
• If you are not part of the Final Alliances, you can begin packing up your pit after the Alliance Selection. This will help you so you can leave soon after the Awards Ceremony.  If you are part of the Final Alliances wait until your matches are over to begin packing up.
• Make sure to get all tools and parts you may have borrowed to other teams.
• Don’t forget team banners or anything else that you hung on a wall.
• Make sure your pit space is as clean (or cleaner) as it was at the beginning of the day.
• All team members are expected to help with clean-up and carrying all of our equipment out to cars or buses.

FTC Tip #5: Communication Issues

If you are having issues getting the Robot Controller phone and the Driver Station phone communicating with each other please read this interesting forum post.

It says that the versions of the software on the robot controller and the driver station need to be the same version AND that version needs to match with what is being used from the Android Studio SDK that was downloaded from GitHub.

The most recent versions of the driver station and robot controller are 1.25.  If you load both of these on the phones but don’t have the most up to date SDK, when you connect the robot controller phone to Android Studio and transfer your programs to the phone, it will replace the Robot Controller Application on the phone with the one from the SDK.  So now your versions won’t match.  The first time you do this Android Studio provides a message stating that the version on the Robot Controller App is newer and that if you continue it will replace the version on the Robot Controller phone.

To fix this, download the latest version of the SDK from, then save your opmodes to another directory and totally replace the ftc_app-master folder on your computer.  Then copy your opModes back to the directory, update the FtcOpModeRegister and then when you transfer the new Opmodes to the phone, it will be on the most recent version 1.25.  The first time you transfer to the Robot Controller it might give you a message that the versions were the same, but the signatures were different,  just press OK to continue.

The new version of the SDK also had gotten rid of setChannelMode and replaced it with setMode.

After these changes, the phones should communicate more consistently.

Photo Jan 21, 9 36 00 AM

To find this screen, click on top right button (three dots in a row) and go to About.


After further testing with matching 1.25 versions on the phones and the SDK, I can confirm that the communication issues are improved.  The 1.25 version of the robot controller program seems to handle communications with the USB controllers better than the older 1.2 version we were running.  You need to update your SDK to get to the new 1.25 version of the robot controller program.

The steps we found that most consistently got the 2 phones to communicate and not get any red errors on the Robot Controller phone were:
1) Exit the program on the Robot Controller phone, so that you are at the main phone screen. You don’t need to reboot, just exit the program.
2) Power on the robot, without the RC phone plugged in to the robot.
3) Once the robot is fully powered up, give it 30 seconds or so, then plug the phone into the robot. It should then automatically open up the Robot Controller program and find the USB Controllers
4) On the Driver Station phone, most times it automatically recognized the Robot and went into a ready state waiting for selection of an OpMode. Occasionally, we had to exit from this program and re-start it.  This seemed to work better than restart robot.
5) If we had to remove the phone, we didn’t even power off the robot, just unplugged the phone, compiled a new program and made sure before we plugged the phone into the robot that we were at the main phone screen (don’t have the program running when you plug it in the robot!).  The program should start automatically once the phone is plugged in.

Hopefully this helps other teams that might be having communication issues with their robot!