Sunday, October 10, 2010

FIRST's vision of keeping it real world

FIRST has probably made a statement about this, but I've recently thought about how they are trying to guide the experience in the competition to the way things work in the real world. Specifically this can be applied to the control system.

The 2008 season was the last season FIRST used the old IFI control system. It was custom designed for FIRST and they used it for multiple years. For the 2009 season, however, they switched to a system based off National Instrument's CompactRIO industry controller. NI is one of the leaders in hardware control systems and provides products for the whole process, including their graphical programming language, LabVIEW. Some people complained about the switch, but many saw it as an opportunity to advance and learn more applicable things.

Then, in the 2010 season they switched a major part of the control system again: the driver station. In the 2009 season we got a new operator console, but this was a custom made blue box with inputs and outputs. For 2010, FIRST switched us to use a netbook computer, the ClassmatePC, to run a virtual software that would control operator control. The driver station input/output system was also changed, as this year if you wanted to include a custom switch or light, you would wire it up to a microcontroller that was programmed to convert the signal to USB for the netbook to understand. These driver station changes reflect that often programs are run on computers in the real world and that companies, hobbyists, and engineers don't always make a custom product for everything.

I appreciate this initiative of FIRST and I can definitely see how it enables teams to develop and advance more and see much more clearly how things work outside of the competition. Which is ultimately a major goal of FIRST.

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