They say all good things must come to an end. Hopefully those things end up paving the way for something great, and that’s what we hope to be starting today: May 4th, 2019.4
Curtin University registered its first FRC team: Team 4788 “Project 215”, named after the Engineering Pavilion (Building 215). 4788 competed in the FRC Offseason Event: The Duel Down Under (DDU) in Sydney, over 3900km from home (2450 miles).
Team 5333 also begun at Curtin University, under the name “Duck Tape”. At this point, the University had two teams, both of which competed at the Duel Down Under. Looking around campus today, I still see people occassionally wearing the Duck Tape hoodies.
We registered our third team: Team 5663 “Ground Control”. We also rebranded the other two teams, as 4788 “Ace of Spanners” and 5333 “Can’t C#”. This was also the first time we started donning the title of “Curtin FRC” - a united title for our small empire of FRC teams. We attended the first ever FRC Regional in Australia: The Australian Regional.
On a personal note, this was my first year in FRC, as a student on Team 5333.
In 2016, Curtin FRC qualified for the FIRST Championship for the first time. With only one championship event at the time, 5333 was in the Carver Division and 5663 in Carson.
This was my last year as a student.
2017 - 2019
In 2017, we made the decision to drop to only two teams. For many reasons, we decided to retire the 4788 team number and go ahead as 5333 and 5663. 5663 proceeded to qualify for the FIRST Championship through the Engineering Inspiration Award.
In 2018, 5663 qualified for the FIRST Championship for the 3rd year in a row through our first ever Regional Win (and blue banner!). In 2018, I became the Lead Mentor of Team 5333.
The reason I’ve grouped these years together is because I believe they are the most influential years we’ve had in our team history, and contribute a lot to the culture we have today.
After 2018, a lot of tension and stress started building between the two teams. From 2016 to 2018, we were awarded the Engineering Inspiration Award three times: once to 5333, and twice to 5663. Although this is a great achievement, the nature of the award only being awarded to one team started to take its toll. Although both teams contributed to the success of Curtin FRC, only one team would get recognised.
At this point, an unhealthy culture started developing between the two teams. Jokes about the teams started to take their toll emotionally, the sharing of resources became harder to negotiate, and more.
In preparation for 2019, myself and Connor, the Lead Mentor of 5663, decided that we would encourage a one-team mentality. We would no longer ask students for their “team preference” (which team they want to be on in the new year, when we do the split of all our incoming students), during our preseason “Robot in 3 Days” activity, we would have two teams: A and B, made up of 50% 5333 and 50% 5663 each, and we would have weekly “all hands” design review meetings between the two teams.
In 2019, we also decided to only submit one Chairman’s award, replacing all references to either team with “Curtin FRC”, and never using either team number1. We implemented a new policy of “if either team wins any award, both teams go to the field to accept it” (although we never got to use this in practice2). We also jokingly chanted “Four! Seven! Eight! Eight!” during Alliance Selections.
Throughout 2018 and 2019, the mentors, and a small committee of students, were thinking about moving to only registering one team. There were many thoughts and concerns on this, but after meeting up after the 2019 event, the decision was almost unanimous. We were going to merge to one team.
There were a lot of factors to this decision, so I’d like to highlight some key ones here.
- We can offer the same culture and experience to both teams. 5333 and 5663 had very different cultures, especially in the way they approached problems. This was partially due to the different leadership / teaching styles of Connor and I. Connor and I both agree we both need to be able to dedicate our full time and attention to all students. The important part is that this increases the per-student impact of the program.
- The issues surrounding an internal competition between both teams are relieved (at least partially).
- Team morale, especially around event performance, should increase.
- Splitting students into two teams is REALLY HARD. You don’t quite understand how hard it is until you have to do it. Who works best with who? Who’s skills are complementary to who elses? Do we have a good age split? Do we have the same gamut of skills on both teams? Who are we expecting to come to the regional event in Sydney?
- We (possibly) can attend both Sydney events with different drive teams, still getting the two teams’ worth of field time and two chances to qualify for awards and championship.
- The longer build season of 2020 (lack of bag day) is more condusive to one team than two.
- We can refresh our team identity and image.
- We’ve already built up 3 teams’ worth of parts inventory, so let’s put them to use and prototype more, and fail harder.
- We can use our unused prototypes to put on another robot to get more schools involved in the program in our home state of Western Australia (a state almost 4x the size of Texas, with only 5 active FRC teams including us).
We bought the idea to the full student body on the 30th of March, with the disclaimer that the decision was not final.
It was met with mixed responses, all very well justified. Most were positive, but with some key caveats.
“We already have a lack of jobs in Build Season, how are we going to deal with half the teams but the same amount of people?”
Short answer: 2nd robot, more prototypes.
Long answer: We want to spend more time in prototyping. And I mean prototyping, not proof-of-concept. A prototype is a working mechanism that isn’t final, but as close as possible. A proof-of-concept is what we’re used to: quick trials of a mechanism made of wood or cardboard.
With the longer build season, we also want to implement the concept of not needing everyone every single day. This should help reduce burnout, but also means that we should end up with roughly the same amount of time as the normal 6 week season, just more spread out, making delays in outside manufacturing (e.g. sponsors) and shipping less of a burden for us.
“Which team will we keep?”
Neither. We re-register 4788. Talking to FIRST HQ, it’s looking like we’ll be able to merge our award histories as well, which is a bonus.
“What about our existing team culture?”
We want to adopt the best parts of each culture into the new team. It’ll be a rough period, and we honestly don’t know what the final culture will look like, but that’s why we want to pay a lot of attention to this process and make sure we do it right.
The new team
After many suggestions for the new team identity, the team has decided on one. I will highlight some of my favourites, though:
- Orange Juice
- Ace of Spoons
- Can’t C Ground Control
We have decided on…..
Team 4788 - Curtin FRC “Can’t Control”
Beyond, and the purpose of this blog
We’re excited for what the future holds for us, but this wouldn’t be a blog if I wasn’t honest. We have no idea how this is going to turn out. We’re hoping it works, but it may very well not. It’s a learning experience for us, and for me.
This blog is going to follow our journey through this merger, at least from my perspective as Lead Mentor. I also want to put some focus on thoughtful approaches to problems, which I think is a key part of not only difficult transitions like this, but running a team, and designing a robot (or any system) in general. The approach I teach my students to thoughtful solutions is simple: “Always ask: Why?”.
1 That’s a little bit of a lie, we did use the team numbers in the opening sentence, to introduce what “Curtin FRC” is.
2 I guess this a little bit of a brag, but I did win the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, submitted by both 5333 and 5663 without my knowledge of either. They sent me the essays after I won. I cried. A lot. Best. Students. Ever.
4 What a fitting time to announce this, given the 2020 “Star Wars” and FIRST collaboration. May the 4th be with you.