FTC robotics

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 | www.firstinspires.org
Phone: 603.666.3906 x 237 | tdegiso@firstinspires.org
Connect: @firstweets | facebook

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: http://firsttechchallenge.blogspot.com/2016/11/how-to-prep-for-event.html

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