2.1.2 Research the Problem
Now that you know what the problem is, you can work towards solving it. Before reinventing the wheel and 3D printing it…
The best way to solve a problem is to find someone who has already solved it. This is called research. While this is not always possible, it is a good idea to try and find an existing solution. If you can’t find an existing solution, you can use the research to help you brainstorm a new solution. There are many different sources of information that you can use to research the problem. Some of the most common sources are:
- The Internet - The internet is a great resource for finding information. Automation and engineering companies often have websites that include information about their products. You can also use search engines like Google to find information. It’s important to be careful when using the internet. Not all information on the internet is accurate. It’s best to use multiple sources to verify the information you find.
- Books - Books are a great resource for finding information. There are many books that are written specifically for engineering, electronics and programming. You can also use books to find information about specific topics. For example, if you are researching how to use a specific sensor, you can use a book about sensors to find the information you need.
- Videos - Videos are a great resource for finding information. There are many videos on Youtube and other video sharing websites that are made specifically for engineering, electronics and programming. FRC teams, vendors and others will make tutorials, guides and more. REV in 2023 worked on a “FRC Starer Bot” design with instructions. That video is available here.
- People - People are a great resource for finding information. There are many people that can give you ideas and inspiration. Your teammates, mentors, parents, teachers or even just friends. The more you talk about the problem, the more ideas you will have.
- AI - AI is a newer way of trying to research problems and it is controversial so I will discuss it briefly. You can ask conversational AIs like ChatGPT, GPT-3, or Cleverbot questions about the problem. The issue is YOU have to very thoroughly fact check the answers you get. The AIs are not perfect and they can be very misleading. They can also be very entertaining. I recommend using them if you are really stuck, if you know what you are doing, and if you have a lot of time to fact check the answers you get.
FRC Specific Research Methods
When the FRC game is announced, there are many resources that you can use to research the game. Some of the most common resources are:
- The Game Manual - The game manual is a great resource for identifying the problem. It includes robot construction rules, game rules and scoring. While FRC isn’t all about winning, the points are how teams are ranked. Therefore it’s best to try and solve the problems that will get you the most points. The game manual will tell you what those problems are.
- The Game Animation - The game animation is a great resource for identifying the problem. It shows how the game will be played. It also shows how the game pieces will move. This can help you identify the problems that you will need to solve.
- The Game Q&A - The game Q&A is a great resource for identifying the problem. It includes answers to questions about the game. It also includes answers to questions about the game rules and scoring. This can help you identify the problems that you will need to solve.
Some other sources teams have cited as useful are:
Tips for Researching the Problem
- Read the Game Manual - Notice how we keep saying you need to read the manual? That’s because it’s important. Like really important. Like you should read it multiple times important. All of the research in the world is useless if you spend time on an illegal solution. Know what the rules are first!
- Talk to People - Talk to your teammates, mentors, parents, teachers or even just friends. The more you talk about the problem, the more ideas you will have. Even things like “My uncle does construction and they have a machine that places cones on the ground” can be useful. You never know what you will find out…
- Watch ‘How It’s Made’ - Shows that show how manufacturing and production works in the real world can often give you ideas. For example, if you are trying to figure out how to pick up a ball, you can watch a show about how a ball is made. You might see a way it is moved around the factory that you can use in your robot.
- Watch ‘Battlebots’ - Okay, I can hear you now. “What does Battlebots have to do with FRC?” While FRC is NOT combat robotics, they are a similar size in some cases and are mobile robots with arms and other mechanisms. Just leave the flamethrowers at home.
- Get Creative with Digging - If you are having trouble finding information, think outside the box, try wild terms, and just keep looking around. Even looking at parts on vendor websites might help you think about how to solve the problem. For example, if you are trying to figure out how to pick up a ball, you can look at the compliant intake wheels on REV’s website. This could be a new way to pick up a ball that you haven’t thought of before.
- Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions - If you are having trouble finding information, ask your mentors, parents, teachers or even just friends. They might have some ideas or know where to find the information you need.
Now that you’ve researched the problem, it’s time to Brainstorm ideas!