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How to Build a Robot

A beginner's guide to constructing your first robot.

01

Analyze the Competition

Before you begin building a competition-ready robot, a wise thing to do is to scout out well-performing bots. Analyzing the competition helps you desgin a better robot. It also makes the design process a lot simpler because you won't have to create an entirely new robot style.

Before Designing

As you start designing your robot, think about what the goal of it is and how you will accomplish them. It is a good idea to compare all the robot styles you came up with and come up with a solid idea of how your robot will come to fruition.

It is always important to create a design journal to record your plans, ideas, and changes throughout the season. This helps you communicate with your team of what you have done to the robot and to help avoid making previous mistakes and errors. It also helps in judging to explain to the judges how you accomplished a task or overcame a design issue.

02

Design

The most important part of building a robot is the thought put into the design. It helps make the build process a lot easier and helps you outline how you will build your robot. It makes changes visible and clear to help focus you attention on building and reduce time troubleshooting mechanical and design errors.

CAD & Sketches

Visualizing aspects of your robot is crucial before building. CAD and sketching in your journal are great ways to communicate your ideas. CAD makes it easy to spot errors in your design. Sketching is a great alternative, but not as detailed and effective.

Top-Down Design

Designing from the top-down allows you to focus on perfecting the mechanism that interacts with the game objects. Those are the most important parts of your robot and you can design the chassis around the mechanism, not the opposite way around.

The Design Process...

...is an important guide to follow when building your robot. It helps define, plan and produce the robot that you will build. It helps communicate what you are doing to the robot next and it reduces the pain of going back and retracing your steps to find an issue. It is used in a variety of sectors to help manage the project more effectively and efficiently.

This flowchart is mainly for large projects, but you can incorporate a few aspects into your robot and create your own design process.

For example, you should always have a meeting with your team to discuss important milestones of building your robot (eg. strategy, design, planning for the future etc.). These purple blocks shown on the flowchart ensures everyone is on board with your plan and allows others to pitch in their ideas.

Other minor blocks in different colours could be one person. Blue for your programmer or yellow for main designer, it's up to you to decide how planned out your robot's build will be.

03

Build

Now it is time to build. Gather your resources and contruct to your hearts content! There are many ways to build a robot, but the more people you have building the more modular your robot should be. You don't want three people working on the chassis when it's attached to the mechanism. Work efficiently and don't try to rush your build. If you forget one screw in an important area, it could lead to major issues in the future.

Top-Down Building

Build from the top-down, just like when designing to allow easy changes to the important mechanisms before you finish your robot.

Building Suggestions

If you have a lot of moving parts, make sure that they are reliable and require little maintenance. You don't want to tighten 10 nuts after every match, use lock nuts for the important aspects of your build. Yet don't make everything use lock nuts because it would be very time consuming to take your robot apart if you had something go wrong in the middle of a competition.

Another important but often overlooked part of a good robot is cable management. Well thought out routes paired with reusable cable ties or mounts helps cut down time when troubleshooting electronics.

04

Code

Good code helps your driver succeed. Unless your driver is a god, then it is useful to use these different features of robot code to make it easier on them when the pressure is on.

Sigmoid Map

A sigmoid map helps the driver make more precise movements with the robot. It autocorrects the driver's controls to reduce the variation of the robot's speed and to make it smoother to drive.

PID

A PID controller is a fast and lightweight movement controller that helps achieve fast movement without error. Some uses are: aligning 2 motors, moving using sensors, and moving using encoders.

05

Troubleshoot and Reliability

It's always good to have a robot that won't function properly in the middle of a match. After everything is done, figure out how much you can push your robot to ensure that you don't lose a match because of it. Test your robot, find flaws and fix them. We always make mistakes, but we can fix them. It only takes a little patience.

06

Play!

Congrats! You have built a robot from scratch! Now go enjoy your accomplishment by competiting with others. Learn some more through other teams that have more experience. The VEX community is always helpful.

P.S. This guide applies to all robots, not just VEX or FRC. Whether they are build using premade parts, from scratch, or from the labs at MIT, you can use these skills to build whatever you want!

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