Strategic Design


  • Designing and building a cool robot is a lot of fun.
    • Designing and building a cool robot that does well in competition is even more fun.
  • Very hard to go through the build process without a concrete aim.
    • The clear choice is success in competition.
    • Lots of other (secondary) objectives: aesthetics, design elegance, coolness factor, etc.
  • Beware of the "cool factor"
    • It can be fun, but sacrificing effectiveness hurts your partners.

Analyzing The Game

  • Read the rules!
  • Examine every possible way to score points, no matter how obscure
    • Laps (2008), Hanging off the bridge...? (2012)
  • Examine every possible way to prevent your opponents from scoring
    • Stealing balls (2000), Capping robots (2004)
  • Understand the ranking system
    • e.g. Win-loss-tie, loser's score, own score plus double the loser's score, Coop Bridge...
  • Consider possible strategies
    • Leads into overall robot designs

Chokehold Strategies

  • A strategy which, when executed, guarantees victory, independent of any action by your opponents
  • Determining if one exists should be the first step in game analysis.
  • FIRST tries to design games with no reasonable chokehold strategy
  • If one exists, it will be very difficult to perform
    • Pulling three goals - Team 71, Beatty & Hammond (2002), Deflecting Balls? (2010)
    • 133, 134 (2011) – Why are these numbers relevant?
  • Try to find one single, finite task that overwhelms all other possible ways of scoring

Cost-Benefit Analysis

  • For each task you must compare the difficulty of accomplishment to the reward for doing so
    • Balancing easier than scoring (2012)
    • Small balls (2001)
    • This is where the strategic value vs. coolness factor decision often pops up
      • Vision tetra vs. hanging tetras...
  • The best tasks to perform are those which are relatively easy, yet provide big points
  • Remember denying your opponents 10 points is just as good as scoring 10 points (at least in terms of win/loss)
    • Descoring much easier than scoring (2003)


  • Two separate lists
    • Desired robot qualities
      • Things like speed, power, agility
    • Desired robot functionality
      • The things you want your robot to be able to do
        • Shoot balls, climb bridges, traverse field
  • At this point you can merge the two lists, and decide on a drive system and functionalities

Simplicity and Golden Rules

  • Golden Rule #1: Always build within your team's limits
    • Evaluate your abilities and resources honestly and realistically
    • Limits are defined by manpower, budget, experience
    • Avoid building unnecessarily complex functions
    • On the other hand, as you get more experienced, start cautiously pushing a few boundaries
  • Golden Rule #2: If a team has 30 units of robot and functions have maximum of 10 units, better to have 3 functions at 10/10 instead of 5 at 6/10


  • The key to deciding upon a design is to evaluate the tradeoffs
    • e.g. Speed vs. Power, Complexity vs. Durability, Shooting vs. Balancing (High CoG vs. Low CoG), Wide vs. Long
  • Making the right choices based on your analysis will determine the fate of your season
    • Make sure tradeoffs are consistent (hard to do when the design is always changing!)
  • Remember the Golden Rules - Teams who try to do more than they're capable of tend to fail
  • Try to maximize functionality with simple additions or modifications to mechanisms
    • Shoot out of a claw, instead of a claw loading a shooter (Team 1114, 2008)
    • Drivetrain as power for winch (Teams 60 & 254, 2004, 254 & 1114, 2010)
    • Intake used for bridge manipulation
    • Be careful - hard to change one part without affecting the other
  • When making tradeoffs, remember your initial priorities!
    • Let your strategic priorities dictate design

Other Tips

  • This strategic analysis is a MUST
    • There's a tendency to skip this stage, and to head straight into design and implementation
    You must know what you want to do before you can figure out how to do it
  • Be realistic when evaluating strategies
    • How high did the stacks get in 2005?
    • Did anyone stack and win in 2003?
  • Remember, you have partners. It's okay do depend on them for certain tasks. (How much you leave to them should be decided by the Golden Rules)
    • However, be careful not to leave too much in your partners' hands
  • Try to identify the different types of robots that will exist
    • Go through the different permutations of alliances
      • e.g. How would we do paired with type 'X’, against type 'Y' and type ‘Z’
      • What would we do if we had to play ourselves?