More and more FLL teams are making the move to FTC as their students enter High School.
Here in northern California, at the recent FTC Nor Cal State Championship, I got the chance to see firsthand 3 of these former Nor Cal Champion’s Award 1st Place winners in action as FTC teams.
I asked their coaches why their teams decided to make the move to FTC.
“We chose FTC, as opposed to continuing in FLL, as a natural progression for kids who were being exposed to more complex mathematical and scientific concepts in school. FTC still had the feel of FLL, form a teamwork perspective, and allowed it to be a small focus group, and it provided the opportunity for incorporating ideas learnt in the FLL ‘era’ whilst simultaneously utilizing more complex algorithms for sensors, arm movements and adding intelligence to the robot design and functionality. Moreover, since the team size tends to be smaller than FRC teams, it does provide a better environment for self-education and exploration, and has more of a free-wheeling aspect that may not be so easily available within the FRC set-up. It may possibly be the basis for stepping up to FRC, although FTC team members may have simultaneous presence in both allowing for greater cross-fertilization of ideas, in both directions.”
Coach of the FLL Gatorobytes and current PHOENXTRIX (FTC 3509)
“FTC is a great and complete engineering program that enables even a small team with limited resources to accomplish extraordinary things. The program emphasizes the journey rather than the destination and provides both constraints and freedom to be extremely creative. From the excitement I see with my team as well as other teams, FTC will grow quickly because it is easy to adopt and provides all the critical elements for a successful program.”
Coach of the 2008 Lego Guards and current Techno Guards (FTC 2848)
“A graduating FLL team has exactly 4 options if they want to continue in FIRST in High school: 1) Join an FRC team, 2) Join an FTC team, 3) Start an FRC team, 4) Start an FTC team…
The 2008 Lego Guards – Power Puzzle team evaluated those options and for us two of them were eliminated right from the start: there were no FRC or FTC teams in our area. So we were left with the option of starting a new team. Then we evaluated the programs themselves, and this is where it got interesting.
Lets do a comparison of several aspects:
Robots: FRC robots are bigger than FTC robots, and have more types of manipulators. You can use pneumatics in FRC and FTC has a much more limited set of what is allowed on the robot than FRC. From an FLL standpoint, both are bigger than FLL robots. In FLL the build is limited to just one manufacturer for everything and there’s no customization allowed at all. So for either FTC or FRC, there’s no big advantage of one over the other.
Challenges: Although the robots are bigger that does not mean that FRC robots are more complex than FTC, in fact, from what we’ve seen, the FTC robots are often the more complex and sophisticated. This year’s FTC challenge, for example, requires manipulators that pick small objects off the ground, pull those objects out of very restrictive dispensers, detecting special objects, placing those objects in moving targets (in a different orientation), and robots that can traverse complex terrains, follow lines, track beacons. While this years FRC challenge involves putting big beach ball material inner tubes onto hooks, following lines or beacons, and releasing a tower climber. For our team, we’ll pick the harder challenge
Community: the FRC community is bigger than the FTC community. — This is true, and its a very good point! FRC is definitely about community and making connections with others. FTC is growing quickly, as is the community associated with it, but FRC has the edge here.
Build Season: FRC has 6 weeks, FTC is about the same season as FLL. — This is a huge plus for FTC in the minds of an FLL team! In FLL you get the chance to build your robot, and then revise it throughout the season. Engineering at it’s best is an iterative process… except in FRC. In 6 weeks you have to come up with the design, build and test it. Then you don’t (really) get to change it! In FTC, even more so than in FLL, you can go to a tournament, see what works and what doesn’t, take your robot home, and fix it (rebuild it from scratch if need be), then go to another tournament. The FLL Lego Guards Power Puzzle robot went through 9 versions before World, in their first FTC year, their robot went through 4 full rebuilds before the state competition.
Cost: FTC is less expensive than FRC. — We’ve been told time and again that FRC is more expensive, and, while true, there are grants and ways to get the FRC cost down… but not easily for a community team. The Lego Guards were not attached to a specific school, and had no non-profit organization connected with them. Most grants and major sponsors would require setting that up. Even then, major work would be required to get the funds together for an FRC team, but FTC can be started by a small team doing car washes and things like that.
Resources: A competitive FTC robot can be built with hand tools… a competitive FRC robot cannot. From our standpoint (a community team) we had no machine tools, we had no shop, we had power tools, but only hand tools – and we met at a location where there would never be a machine shop space. Human resources (mentors) would be about the same for either program. For us, FTC won that one, for others it might not.
Team: This is the most important one of all. Why? Because the very first FLL core value is “We are a team”, and the very last one is “We have fun”. Our FLL team of 5 people wanted to continue to be a team and have fun together. They wanted to keep doing what they had been doing, and they all wanted to be integral parts of the next step. In a matchup between FLL and FRC, and FLL and FTC there’s just no comparison. FLL transfers to FTC in a way that FRC never can. The small team sizes, the much closer involvement in all aspects of the team, the personal authority and responsibility required and given to each member, all that and the fun they all have working together makes this one, over any other, be the reason that, for our team, FTC could really be the only choice.”