Start a Robot Help Desk
What is a Tucker Team?
Mountaineer Area RoboticS has a long standing practice of running an organized effort to assist younger or less experienced teams at competitions in the form of a Robot Help Desk as well as a force of our own students who individually help teams in their pits. MARS calls these groups of students Tucker Teams. Tucker Teams generally involve members of our mechanical, electrical and programming sub-teams. They are available for assistance at the Robot Help Desk throughout competitions and help other teams to get their robots on the field for play.
Why Tucker Teams?
Our late mentor Phil Tucker began this practice, calling it Tiger Teams, because he saw how much it changed the competition experience for struggling teams when they received the help they needed to get on the field. After his passing, we changed the name to Tucker Teams in his honor. In his last few years on the team, Phil grew the program to include a Robot Help Desk at regionals, and made the Tiger Team efforts much more organized. By doing this we were able to reach and help even more teams at regionals.
Benefits of Tucker Teams benefit both the teams that receive help and the teams who offer it. When the robots teams have been working so hard to build are able to play on the field, teams’ experience at competition is more fun and individuals are more likely to want to return to FRC. If a young team is more successful at a competition it is easier for them to get more funding from sponsors and support from their schools, as well. This all leads to more teams that are well funded, have an inspired student base and are more likely to return, leading to growth of the overall FRC program. The main focus of our mission at MARS is to inspire students to pursue their passions. Our program has received support at every stage to keep our vision and mission and inspiration going. This is one way that we can give this support to others and inspire them to continue with FRC and to pursue their dreams.
The benefits of Tucker Teams don’t stop there. For the teams running Robot Help Desks there is a real chance to put skills gained over the season to good use. Working with other groups helps younger team members learn about FIRST competition, gain insight about how other teams operate, and gain new knowledge in a community of peers. Gracious professionalism is the foundation of what it means to be a FIRST team; helping other teams compete at their highest level, even if it means helping them to beat your alliance, shows GP at its best. However, those teams you help out are also just as likely to be your alliance partners when it really counts, so benefits abound.
How to Run a Tucker Team Help Desk
How to reach out to your regional competition for permission and assistance.
E-mail your regional director well before the competition and explain what Tucker Teams/Robot Help Desks are as well as what you will need from the regional to run the Help Desk. Typically we ask for a table and a few chairs near Pit Admin., access to wi-fi is very helpful, and a place to plug in a power strip or two.
How to work with other teams in their pit
It is always important to remember that teams may not immediately accept help even when you offer it. At the end of the day you are not just trying to make their robot work, you are trying to improve their competition experience, so it is important to be careful that your team does not just swoop in and take over their pit. Work with their team members, teach them as you go, and try to have their students be the ones with their hands on the robot as much a possible.
How to supply your Tucker Teams
Our team has found that it is a good idea to have an entirely separate set of basic tools specifically for the Robot Help Desk. This is not completely necessary as we ran Tucker Teams for a few years before getting a separate set of tools However having a separate tool box makes it so that people working in your own pit don’t have to hunt down a tool that they need.
Tools that are good to have:
- Wrench sets
- Allen wrenches
- Wire strippers
- Nuts and bolts of varying sizes
- Wire of varying gauges
- Electrical connectors of various kinds
- Zip ties
- Stock metal
- Bumper supplies
- Staple gun
- Hot glue gun
- Various kinds of tape
- Heat gun
- Wood saws
- Hex hubs
- Pneumatic supplies
How to run your Robot Help Desk
While the Help Desk is actually a physical space in the Pit Area where teams can come to ask questions and request assistance, we have also developed a system which allows teams to reach out to us in multiple ways. We typically make posters or handouts with our location, a QR code, and a Google phone number that people can text. All of these electronic contact methods lead to a spreadsheet we use to keep track of which teams have asked for help, what kind of help they need, if they have been helped, which of our team members is helping them, and what tools have been sent to the pit. We also use the Google number to contact Tucker Team students, from our own team, and from other teams working with us, to tell them where their help is needed. This allows for quick responses, and organization of appropriate personnel and resources.
How to advertise your desk
Contact first and second year teams a few weeks before going to your regional so teams have a chance to contact you before the competition. This also gives teams information beforehand, so that they are aware of what resources are available to them at the competition in case of trouble. It is also a good idea to have posters and handouts at competitions. Please see the poster image on our web-site for an example.
How to improve competition experience by getting all teams through inspection
Often there are teams who need assistance but either aren’t aware that the Help Desk is available or haven’t had time to contact the Tucker Teams. To troubleshoot this possibility, one of the Robot Help Desk personnel keeps tabs on the Robot Inspection table. Typically, Help Desk personnel start to check in at the inspection table at around lunchtime on Thursday. Use a pit map to mark all of the teams that have not yet passed inspection. Tucker Team personnel can then go to each team’s pit and check on them, ask them if they are having any issues, and remind them that the Help Desk and Spare Parts Desk are available. After that begin making those rounds every hour or hour and a half. One of our goals is to have every team pass inspection by the end of Thursday, or very first thing Friday morning. The inspectors also want teams to be able to pass inspection and get on the field, so they appreciate the help.