Prototyping is one of the most critical things your team needs to do in the first two weeks of build season.  Prototyping is the act of quickly turning an idea into reality to test the validity of your idea, your assumptions and identify flaws with your idea.  We recommend that you start off by turning your idea into concept, then taking that concept and turning it into a prototype, turning that prototype into a conceptual design, checking the design with a detailed prototype and lastly, creating a detailed design based on everything you have learned.  To start break all of the people available for prototyping up into groups of 3-4 people and start the concept phase of prototyping.


If you have an idea, sketch it out, make notes about it, do a quick 5 minutes of research about it.  The think of another idea and repeat.  Do this for 20 minutes or until you have a list of 5 ideas.  Do not spend any more that 5 minutes on any one concept. Once you hit either threshold, pick the concept that has the most promise bring it to your prototype team.  The team should quickly identify which concept they will prototype first will be.  Check out this video to see some examples of concepts.




Make the prototype quick, make it work, learn as much as you can and then try another of your team’s concepts.  Aim to make 3 working prototypes in an hour with your team.  Making prototypes this quick means that they won’t be perfect, and that’s ok.  Remember you are trying to test and idea, check assumptions and identify issues.  The more prototypes you do the smarter you and your team will get and the better your robot will be. After you have made 3 prototypes do another concept phase.  If you can fit 2 or 3 of these cycles in by day 3 you will really be humming along. Team’s should continue doing prototypes up till day 6 when they switch over to detail prototypes which are discussed below.

Check out these videos on prototyping;


Per the team’s design process, day 3 is when you start creating concept cad models.  Creating Concept CAD will allow you to do some virtual prototyping.  You can move robot elements in 2D, you can robot elements in 3D and you can move game piece elements all without making any physical prototypes. These types of virtual prototypes are great for teams with limited resources available for prototyping.

By day 7, the team will have locked in the general shape of the robot and can start creating prototype CAD.  This is the CAD that can be taken by your team and turned into detailed prototypes for the various mechanisms that the robot will need.  The prototype CAD can be done in isolation from all of the other parts on the robot since the detailed prototypes will be worked by independent teams.

Findings from prototypes, virtual prototypes and detailed prototypes should be fed back into the CAD team so they can make the Final CAD as close to 100% functional as possible.  The team will need to capture and communicate knowledge as quickly and efficiently as possible so that all of the knowledge gathered by prototyping can be leveraged for the good of the team.


Detailed Prototype

Once  the team has selected its configuration and identified all of its primary and secondary goals it can start detailed prototyping.  These prototypes focus working out the unknowns and optimizing the various mechanisms the team has decided to use for the season.  Detailed prototypes should happen in two phases. Phase one should focus on ironing out details necessary for the final CAD that the CAD team identifies – eliminating the unknowns.  The second phase should be focus on increasing the speed, accuracy and versatility of the mechanisms so that when the team goes to assemble the flight robot that it is as capable as possible – optimizing mechanisms.

Detailed prototypes may take up to 4 hours to fabricate or modify. The word modify is of particular importance because detailed prototypes may build on each other so that the system get more efficient and effective in each iteration.  One example of a detailed prototype focused on eliminating an unknown could be trying to find the right height to put wheels used on an intake. The overall intake design is locked in, and now the team is trying to make sure the intake will function as expected.  An example of a detailed prototype focused on optimizing performance could be testing out various wheels types and treads to see if the intake’s ingestion speed could be increased.  Both types of prototypes are based on the configuration and type of intake being locked in.

Here are some examples of detailed prototypes

The last note on detailed prototypes.  Detailed prototypes can include prototyping nearly all of the robots functionality.  Here is a great example if a full robot prorotype that allowed the three day build team to learn a lot of things that found their way into their final robot deign.

Field Elements and Game Pieces

Prototyping must include working with and all of the field elements and game pieces.  Understanding the functionality so that the team can properly judge interaction is critical to reducing the unknowns. Here is a great example of prototyping with field element mock ups that allowed this team to gain a lot of knowledge about how game pieces interact with a the field.


Prototyping Electronics

The electrical team also needs to prototype.  The electrical team may need to create a prototype board where they can locate all of electrical components they are going to need on the robot and start to get them working and optimized.  This is especially important if the team is using a lot of sensors and automation.  Wiring up all of the sensors to make sure you know wire requirements, fuse requirements and the number of connections that are going to be used by the complete system will eliminate some unknowns and allow the team to move from the prototype phase to the detail design phase with fewer risks.


Prototyping Code

Creating the pseudo code, identifying libraries that are going to be used, creating the architecture documents are all ways the code team can prototype. In addition to these the code team should work hand in hand with the electrical team on their prototyping efforts so that they learn how to use all of the components that the electrical team has selected.  Lastly the code team should start to document all of the robot’s states, the devices that will be needed for each state, and the control laws that need to exist for the robot to function.  Again this is the prototype phase so make these documents and code quickly, format is not as important at this phase.  Comment the code enough to understand what was accomplished and how well it works. To move things along faster, copying code and modifying it quickly is great tactic at this stage of the game.


Additional Resources