Feb 212012

I have gotten a few emails over the last couple weeks which basically say.

I have been traveling like crazy.

As Sr. Product Engineer for Innovation First Labs, I am part of all aspects of Toy development. As part of that responsibility I need to be at our manufacturers in china many times each year. There are many reasons to be on the ground in asia, such as work closely with the factories to help us to cost engineer product down, when doing a full release of data for tooling, viewing and modifying first shots off of tooling, or to just oversee production lines are running smoothly.

As IFI’s toy business has grown so has the time required to interface with china operations, and in most cases being here face to face is a much more effective communication method than to skype or email.

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of announcing our new product line “Bobble Bots.” Bobble bots are a product which uses the characters from a fantastic online game called Moshi Monsters. They move around like Hexbug Nano’s but have a personality all their own. This line will be in stores in a couple weeks in the US and world wide over the next month or so, so the factories are buzzing getting ready. Additionally I was working on some new “Top Secret” products which will be on shelf for the fall of 2012.

After my 2 week trip in china, I spent 5 days at the New York Toy Show, where we were showing retailers both our new products which we were launching and some previews of the stuff coming up. It is a great opportunity for the toy industry to showcase what they have been working on and also to judge where toys are heading. If you want to check out some of the cool new toys coming for this holiday season, i recommend looking at http://www.thetoyspy.com/ as he does coverage from most companies at the event and is also a really nice guy.

For now I am back in the office, but my travel schedule hasn’t slowed down much. Hopefully I will be able to keep you posted along the way.

To all of those teams scrambling to finish their robots, don’t forget to breath. Take a step back, make a list of the things you still need to do and make sure you have what you need to continue the improvements on the way to your first event. Good Luck.

Jan 302012

A few of years ago before I was at IFI, this video was made to show how parts are made for our robots. We are fortunate to have such a resource and have adapted many different processes for robot design specifically around these abilities (such as stacked plate aluminum gears)

If you haven’t seen it enjoy, if you have seen it….well it is always a good show.

Jan 262012

Hey check out this part from team 148’s 2012 robot. Isn’t it pretty! I wonder what is does? Does it reveal that super secret feature which will give us an advantage?

In actuality this tells you nothing about our robot, except that it will be black and made from sheet metal.

Just like most teasers that make their way to the web during this time of the year, for the most part they are a waste of time. If you are urgently trying to show off your thinking then you should post your whole robot design. Or at a minimum the complete mechanism. Posting a close up picture of a sprocket or gearbox (especially one purchased from andymark) is not really a good representation of your robot or your team. In retrospect I might consider a team who is extremely proud of something like this, to have questionable design abilities.

I understand the desire for teams to gain recognition, but this is the wrong way to draw attention to yourself. Post videos to youtube, full photos of mechanisms, or your whole robot. All of these things are great ways to showcase your work! Even I have fallen into this trap years ago, but I have since learned better, so consider this a lesson to you “youngsters.”

On a side note, as much as I tried, Jeff removed those words from the bottom of the sheet metal.

Jan 252012

I had the opportunity a few days ago to spend some time with some long time friends team 340 in Rochester NY.  We got into a conversation about building to your team’s resources and how that can effect how you interpret what is important about the game. I have been fortunate in my 11 years with FIRST to be on many teams and see things from many different perspectives.  I have been on teams that had everything you could ask for (money, machining, space, supportive parents and teachers) and I have also been on teams with no more than $500 in their account where we built the robot in a garage with parts from dumpsters (yes, literally I have been dumpster diving for robot parts) . What all these different situations has taught me is a very important lesson, not only for FIRST robots but for life.


This concept can be difficult because I believe it is everyone’s deep desire to be the best at very scenario, and sometimes building within your resources means making choices which can limit your potential.  Yet even limited your robot actions can actually make you a better competitor since you will be more optimized.

I had a conversation with another 10+ year mentor a few days ago about drives, and how difficult it was going to be without 2 speeds this year.  He was struggling with the fact that on his new young team they really can’t afford the ~$640 for a set of shifters but without them the team would be at a huge disadvantage at the competition. While I agree that having 2 speeds would be a benefit this year I can condone spending almost half his robot budget just on transmissions.

This is exactly the type of thing I wish teams would realize that if you don’t have the money for fancy robot parts, or you don’t have access to heavy fabrication equipment, you should approach the game in a different manor.  For example I know that many teams think it would be totally awesome to build a turreted top basket shooter, with camera tracking that can shoot from anywhere on the field and have a mystery device that can guarantee a 3 balance every time, and a drivetrain that can drive through defense while having excellent acceleration and top speed.  While this robot is possible for all teams is it feasible for most teams? I am not trying to discourage teams from pushing themselves, yet I am encouraging teams to take a hard look at their resources to they can make the best decisions.  Is it worth spending all of your time and money on a single portion of the robot while hurting the other subsystems.


At this point in the season, I am sure many of you are far along the path for whatever you decide, but when you run into issues or feel overwhelmed, take a step back and see if what you want to build is what you are actually capable of or if you are over reaching.

And now for your moment of zen.