When I started coaching back in 2001 (Arctic Impact) the playing field was white melamine.  There was no mat.  You were given instructions of how to apply black electrical tape to the table surface to create lines the RCX-based robot could follow.  Inconsistent and incredibly heavy to transport.  Increased standardization of both the table surface/height as well as the playing field mat size (no trimming required) would be welcome as long as it's not melamine, granite, etc.


On Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 12:37 PM, Anant Narayanan <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Kurt makes a sound argument for adaptibility and bracketing design around the set point, but just for the record, there is no FLL requirement for use of plywood.  The official guidance for building tables, found at http://www.firstlegoleague.org/sites/default/files/Challenge/TeamResources/NaturesFury/2013-14TableOnly.pdf calls for

"Sanded plywood (or other very smooth board) 96” X 48” X at least 3/8” (2438mm X 1219mm X 10mm)."

Under this standard, MDF would qualify (and in fact would be best, but for its low moisture resistance unless treated).  IMHO, Sterling board (OSB/particle board) is rarely smooth enough without lamination/surface treatment and should be disfavored.  In fact I see no requirement for a wood surface -- what we use today is more an artifact of history, rather than design.  The above document notes that:

"With safety, weight, height, and cost in mind, a simple design is offered here, but as long as your surface is smooth, and your border walls are sized and located properly, how you build the understructure is up to you."

Clearly the focus on making the surface smooth -- a running theme throughout the document.  The portable table is made of different materials.

The other thing to keep in mind is that FTC is moving to manufactured tables (from Andy Mark).  In a year or two, so will FLL.  Standardized surfaces offer many advantages -- they make the game day experience more predictable, and thus help in the retention of rookie teams.  A uniform product will let teams focus on the game, and learning important skills.

Soccer these days is largely played on synthetic (astroturf) surfaces (in our areas).  While children in some countries may play barefoot, and sadly, in war zones, there may even be kids who lose their limbs to land mines while playing sports, I don't think anyone would tolerate Darwinian arguments in such contexts.  We hardly want a return to the Spartan practice of leaving kids out in the cold overnight so that the ones who survive strengthened the race.  I say this only to make a rhetorical point, not to paint anyone as having these thoughts.

Encouraging kids to stick and persist with STEM is hard enough with balky robots and sensors to insist on the ritual/tradition of imperfect playing surfaces ("This is how we do it in FLL").  A bad table experience negates in six hours, what a coach may have spent three-six months in training and mentoring.  We lose the kids, we lose the coach.  often, all we have to show is increased entropy.  This is called churn in marketing speak, and there is entirely too much of it in robotics/FLL.

I feel we need to move beyond this culture of poverty (in thought, and in resources).  We should not be debating this issue any more -- we should spend our energies working towards solutions.

Anant Narayanan

Anant S Narayanan
Founder & Executive Director

McLean Robotics Institute
McLean VA 22102
202-421-3826 (cell)
[log in to unmask]


On Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 11:03 AM, Curt Tran <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Thanks Jerry,


“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” Job 1:21.


So TJ has finally fixed their entrance exam to really accommodate FLL.  This teaches our kids another lesson in that the “perfect” world never stays the same!  Okay, so let’s talk a little about FLL before someone complaint!  During the Falls Church tournament, some coaches have brought up the subject of the blue ball not bouncing as well on the tournament tables.  This is due to the material makeup of the table surface.  The FLL spec calls for plywood, and if anyone out there is using OSB board, your team will have a lot of discovery during the tournament.  Even, if everyone is using plywood, the thickness will make a lot of different.  The spec only specifies 96” X 48” plywood, but mute on the thickness so if a team mission was relying on the ball bouncing a certain way are the kids out of luck or can they adjust!


An interesting lesson for the kids to learn about bouncing ball and the unexpected is the recent landing of the ESA’s Philae probe (robot).  The unexpected bounces of Philae on the Comet 67P put it into a place where no one could ever expect.  Read more on BBC at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30083969.


To all our coaches, thank you for guiding and teaching the children this FLL season.  They are an outstanding bunch of kids and are all winners in our book.  To those teams that advancing to State, good lucks and have FUN in Harrisonburg.  Make those hotel reservations quickly or they will run out. 


For all other teams, the season does not end here.  There are more to learn and teach other about your FLL experiences, so you can come back and tell our judges all about it next year.  For those moving on to high schools, there are FTC and FRC that they should look into. 


Let’s go and build another Philae, and never give up! 



Best wishes,

T. (Curt) Tran

Judge Advisor, MEH Falls Church Regional ’13, ’14

Judge Advisor, GMU Regional ’11, ’12 & ’13

Judge Advisor, TJHSST Regional ’09

Mentor Team #5390, Kilmer-I ’09

Mentor Team #8941, Kilmer-II ’09

Coach Team #324, Scitobor ’08

Coach Team #3563, Rabid Llama Lords ’07


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