Designing for Improvement

For teams who are planning for a competitive season-long commitment, how your robot performs at early events may be less important than how it performs later on. Some designs are built to improve with time, whereas some are not. Neither is necessarily bad, but it depends upon your priorities as a team.

To demonstrate this point, I’m going to compare and contrast two successful robots from 2013: Team 20’s robot, Cathy, and Team 195’s robot, Oddjob.

2013
Team 195’s 2013 Robot, Oddjob. Winner of the Connecticut Regional and semifinalist in the Newton Division.
Rocketeers-NNO-5-2013
Team 20’s 2013 robot, Cathy. Winner of the Connecticut Regional, Finalist at the WPI Regional, and Quarterfinalist in the Archimedes Division

At the two robot’s first events, they couldn’t have performed more differently. 20 was the most consistent robot at the WPI Regional, having 95% accuracy in the high goal, seeding second, and being the first overall selection, losing in the finals due to broken partners and incredible defense.
195 had a rough first event, having a ton of issues and being unable to perform at the level they wanted to.

Both teams were looking to improve at their second event, and they did, but by different amounts.

195 went from barely functional through the Virginia Regional qualifications to being an unbelievable full court shooter, sinking shots like it was nothing from 54′ away.

20 went from 3 cycles a match to 4, being slightly more versatile and working on an improved autonomous mode and collector.

The two went on to win the regional together in impressive fashion, being similar in ability at that point in time, but they continued to diverge after that.

195 continued to improve drastically, being able to shoot from near anywhere on the field by championships, regularly shooting from various locations on the field under defense.
20 attained a 4 disc autonomous mode, and a few more shooting tricks under defense, which definitely improved the team’s ability to score at the championship, but only by a few discs on average.

By season’s end, 20 was the sixth overall selection in their division, losing in the quarterfinals, and still shooting from essentially one location on the field. 195 was the second overall selection in their division, shooting from multiple locations with high volume, losing in the semifinals to the eventual division champions.

Both teams had exemplary seasons, but 195’s robot was built to improve over time- shooting from multiple locations at high volumes, while 20’s was not.

And neither team was wrong to build what they did: 20’s goal was to have some level of success, after mediocre 2011 and 2012 seasons, while 195 was clearly gunning for higher levels of success, improving on their 2012 championship performance considerably.

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