My, what a flurry of excitement it's been over here at Mechakana Systems and Cafe Bot (really, we're almost the same thing these days).

New Game

Just over a week ago - on January 3rd - the 2015 FIRST Robotics Competition challenge was announced: Recycle Rush!

In brief, the goal of the game this year is to stack multiple large shipping totes upon one another, and then place a giant recycling bin on top of those totes.  Finally, you'll get extra points if you can place litter (AKA, pool noodles) into the previously mentioned recycling bins, culminating in a total of six totes topped with a recycling can with a pool noodle inside.  You can find a detailed game description and field overview over at

New Rules

In addition to a new challenge, US FIRST has radically changed the rules, forever changing the way that we approach the design of our robots.  Some highlights include:

  • Bumpers are no longer a requirement.  We can use them, but they count towards the weight and size restrictions of our robots.  Ouch.

  • There's a hard height limit of 78" on the robots that teams make this year, but they can be as long or as wide as they want to be once they get to the competition - provided that they can fit within a modest 28" x 42" rectangle with only minor disassembly when being shipped to/from events.

  • Defense is gone.  That's right, gone!  Opposing alliances are now separated by an impassable "step" in the middle of this year's playing field.  This puts a much larger emphasis on team work and ability to play the game, instead of allowing teams to just ram each other all day long during the matches.

  • Teams are now ranked based on their overall match performance and score instead of how many matches they've won.   This, again, puts even greater emphasis on the quality and ability of a robot to play the game, and not it's ability to shut down the opposing alliance.

Even cooler than the new rules, though, is the new control system.  This season, teams will get to utilize the all-new National Instruments Roborio which runs Linux RT alongside integrated I/O for all of our robot needs - we've never had a better computer on board our robots.

Where We Are Right Now

So, now that my team is a week into the season, you might be wondering how we're handling the new game...

Without spilling too many fun facts about our robot for this season, we've currently finished up the following things:

  • On day one, we finished the kit of parts drivetrain and got it wired up and running.  Afterwards, we started thinking about this challenge and how to play it.

  • By day three, we had a solid set of ideas and began refining them into an abstract design for the robot.

  • On day six we finalized the overall design of the robot, and began moving on to the detailed design of the subsystems (drivetrain, scoring, etc.)  We also completed a full-scale, wooden mockup of the robot and did some drive practice with it to determine a few other fun things - like how high our center of gravity will be when wielding multiple totes.

At this point in time, the detailed drivetrain and frame designs have been completed, and we expect to have the base of the robot built, wired and running by the end of this week.  Barring more snow and ice like yesterday, we're now proceeding to work on the fine details of implementing our manipulator systems, and we expect to be moving on to full-scale production by this coming Sunday.