Note: This article is part of a series, documenting the All Sparks through the FIRST robotics season. To find the other parts of this series, see the list at the bottom of the article. 

Everyone knows how it feels right before something awesome happens. The anticipation of Christmas Eve, the excitement of the last day of school before summer break starts, or the long, slow ride to the top of the roller coaster. For our team, and for thousands of other FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams, Saturday, January 3rd represented one of those days. Saturday was the day of the FRC Kickoff, when the game challenge for this year is released. The Kickoff begins 6 weeks of robot build time, which is then followed by 8 weeks of robotics competition, culminating in the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis.

This year, we attended a Kickoff Event in our hometown of Dallas, hosted by Texas Instruments. This event allows us to meet and interact with other area teams, watch the Kickoff video, see the new field and some of the new game elements, and start to plan for a successful season. Afterward, we headed back to our school shop to begin some intensive brainstorming.

2015’s game is called Recycle Rush, and it involves stacking rectangular totes, tall cylindrical recycling bins (similar to trash cans), and pool noodles in particular configurations to gain points. For the official game animation, which does a great job explaining some of the details, click here.

Our design process always begins by reading over the game manual as a group, in detail, to make sure that we fully understand the challenge. Some teams might view that as boring, but it is extremely important to understand all of the rules that may impact your design choices before you begin brainstorming. For example, we quickly learned that a gatling-gun style robot for shooting pool noodles across the field that some team members imagined is, sadly, illegal, due to the restriction on robots moving game elements to the other side of the field.

Once we have read and feel like we understand the game manual and all of the game rules, we can start brainstorming. The first step to our FIRST brainstorming is planning out all of the ways that it is possible to score, no matter how unlikely or far-fetched. This leads to a cost/benefit analysis of each individual action. For example, if one action is worth the same amount of points as another, but the second action is significantly easier to perform, we will start to focus on the second action.

Brainstorming on our team is a chance for everyone to put out their ideas without judgment, and for the team to start to get a really good idea of which challenges we think will be the most important. This year, we think that one of the biggest challenges will be the variety of actions that will need to be performed by one robot. A successful robot should be able to move and re-position totes, create the stacks, stack containers on top of already stacked totes, reposition containers, and manipulate pool noodles. On top of each of these things, the robot also needs to be strong enough to push stray field elements out of the way. Our initial assessment is that the containers will be extremely important for a successful game strategy, but the next few weeks of testing and prototyping and rebuilding will show if that initial assessment is actually correct. We will post more about our prototypes soon!


The All Sparks FIRST Robotics Season