Team JVN: Turning a Setback into an Iteration

In a typical 6 week FRC build season, every team navigates ups and downs with a nearly unparalleled intensity. Saturday night (well, Sunday morning), Team JVN experienced one such roller coaster. Around 2 am, BJC and Jay finished what was thought to be the final intake roller assembly. Spirits were high – it had been a productive evening, and the prototype for this subsystem had worked flawlessly. Giddy with excitement (and sleep loss), the team mounted the intake to the prototype base, connected to a battery, and….

…the ball got stuck. Badly. “Pull it out, let’s try again.” Same result. For the past few hours, the team had been finishing up their individual portions, and were preparing to wind down for the night. Now they gathered around. “Pull it out. Try it again.” No dice. “Pull it out. Try rolling it in.” The same. A floor intake had been determined early on to be a crucial competitive feature – and an intake that doesn’t take in game objects is of little help.

The team gathered around the robot for a late night design review. After some tense back-and-forth, the decision was made to scrap it and start from scratch. It was around 3 AM, and that’s when something happened that defines and bonds competitive robotics teams. The team immediately split up and went to work, silently at first.

Randy and Charles started assembling the modular electronics panels. Aren was on a mission to finish the launcher arm and base. Jay and Carlos started disassembling the intake roller, and BJC went straight to CAD to figure out what went wrong and set up new geometry. All hands had come in for the “what do we do now” meeting, but after a direction was set, it was back to business as usual.

Getting disheartened and throwing your hands in the air amplifies the problem. Facing it head on helps productivity – if everyone tries to fix the roller, the electrical panel won’t get done. It helps morale – seeing Aren’s completed launcher assembly (that everyone had a hand in designing) was positively beautiful. But most of all, it helps retain forward momentum. When the team came back in Sunday morning, we had a completed launcher and a new design for an intake roller (that ended up being successful).

Every FRC team will experience moments such as this in their 6 week build season, many times even worse. But the teams that have the resolve to press forward, to learn from the mistake and use it as an iteration rather than a roadblock… those are the teams that will excel.