At the start of every season, it is important to have every person on the team brainstorm their ideas about the game. This includes general strategies, possible drive trains, or other systems that might be plausible. One idea that our team found to be very helpful was that every person write ideas on post-its, which were color coded based on various aspects, such as drive trains, scoring and collecting systems, etc. Once the build season starts, it is important not to rush into building, but instead go through a process to determine what design would be best. Brainstorming is a great time to discuss complex, even crazy ideas, since anything is plausible. Once ideas have been discussed, we often split into different groups to try out the various designs.
Even though it can be very time consuming and one would much rather start putting C-Channels together, CAD is a very useful tool for designing and seeing the plausibility of a design before it is even built. This includes seeing the spacing of the robot and if the various systems can coexist in a space, which can be hard to visualize. However, we do not recommend CADing out the entire robot before it is built; it’s too complicated, overly time consuming and one will run into problems when building the robot. While CAD is a useful design tool, prepare to be flexible and change designs when necessary.
This is perhaps the most important step. Before charging ahead and sticking with a design, test it beforehand and see how well it works. For example, we use a lot of cardboard, foam board, duct tape, even paper to test out various designs. For example, we used foam rails for collecting balls before ultimately making the final design out of lexan.
While testing, make sure to take data of the various ideas, in order to make evaluations about which one is best.
Test and Evaluate
Analyzing the results of the prototype tests is the only way to make educated decisions. This way you can determine which design is better. For example, for our collector we tested the rate of collection of five balls 5 times with one design compared to the other; we then took the average time of the middle 3 times out of the five. We could then choose the faster and more efficient one.
Once you have decided on a design, time permitting, it is always important to try to make it as efficient as possible. This can be done in various ways, such as making a design more compact, speed it up by increasing gear ratios, etc. For our collector, we improved it in many ways, like adding 2 additional tank treads, increasing the gear ratio to 2:1, using a smaller tank tread sprocket, and using zip ties instead of flaps to prevent jamming of balls.
Once all testing is done and improvements made, its time to implement the design onto the robot. No more cardboard or duct tape; final designs have to be sturdy to take on the wear and tear of the season. We made the collector rails out of lexan because they were easy to make and durable.
Keep in mind that even after a design is implemented onto the robot, it can still be improved and changed after testing it in various competitions and meets. The build process should be repeated as many times as possible to make the design efficient on the field.