KevinH
It would be interesting to see feedback from each of the Regionals like was done with Texas BEST.  I believe it is always good to evaluate what was good and bad in an effort to make things better next time.

I'm drawing my conclusions as a team mentor and parent of a driver with it being our team's 3rd consecutive year at South's BEST.  All of my observations were from the stands and from discussions with others.   As to technical issues I'm going on what was announced by the MC's.

First and foremost, I am completely sold on BEST Robotics as it is providing our students opportunities they would have never had to excel in ways that were not available at our school just 5 short years ago.  I can't imagine a better program, especially being an all volunteer organization, and I hope to see it grow in the future.

This year the venue moved from the newer Auburn Arena back to the older Beard Eaves Memorial Coliseum.  Other than older facilities (bathrooms) most feedback I heard was positive as to the logistics of the way things were physically arranged.  Some did not like the pit being behind a curtain hidden from the crowd.  The visual effects and audio was outstanding and much better than the previous 2 years.  That in itself set a wonderful stage for the competition.

There were 2 MC's co-hosting the event.  They were energetic and easily understood, but sometimes talked over each other.  I know they were trying to keep everyone energized but at times they overshadowed the teams and fans in the stands.  With spirit a part of the competition there were multiple times cheers from teams were drowned out by the MC's.  There was very little down time audibly between the two to hear the crowd.

My biggest complaint, echoed by our drivers and most everyone I asked, was what bordered on interference by the MC's with the drivers, spotters, and referees.  From the 1st round to the end their was too much repeated emphasis on wanting the drivers and spotters to dance during the matches.  More than a few times a MC was directly next to a driver, a spotter or a referee trying to encourage dancing during the matches.  There were also announcements being made during the actual matches.
By Sunday afternoon I had to ask myself is this a dance contest or a robotics competition?  The drivers and spotters worked way too hard for many hours to get to Auburn for so much focus to be whether they were dancing or not.  The referees have a tough enough job to do without having a MC stand next to them during the match chastising them for not dancing (happened at least twice.)
I know it was done all for fun but during the matches the drivers, spotters, and referees should only have one focus.  Leave the dancing to the dance offs and please let those involved in the matches concentrate on what they came to do.

Things were kept on schedule or ahead of schedule at times which was great.
Scores could have been shown a little more often in the auditorium, especially early on.  The two very large screens from the floor were nice.   Drivers said they liked the displays in the pits.  There were a few field repair delays but nothing too long and it appeared field management ran smoother than the last couple years.

I do suggest if in the same venue next year that the signs for each Hub be hung on the side of the gym fans are facing to give more room for teams to hang signs where they are sitting.  Helium balloons should not be allowed between spectators and the field. 

Our team was one of the first to have a VEX disconnection issue.  I'm told the VEX official changed out the keys and it still occurred in the pits.  Then it happened to more teams which resulted in announcements asking numerous times for everyone to turn off any wifi hotspots.  For the finals they went as far as asking everyone to stop using the Auburn public wifi.  
I don't know of any VEX disconnection issues that occurred at our hub but one thing they did early on was to request everyone turn off wifi on their phones as our hub streams video to where the booths are setup and needed the bandwidth which may have at the same time prevented wifi interference issues (if that is what the problem is.)
Whatever the issue is with the VEX wifi disconnects it must be corrected to provide a level playing field.  I never heard it mentioned that interference might be in placement of the VEX and key to the motors as suggested in the Texas post.  I think getting some feedback from the manufacturer is needed.

I hope others that were in Auburn will add some comments whether agree or disagree.  I know that we all have different experiences with an event of this size.  I think its important that discussion takes place to make sure the experience is what we want it to be for our kids.  Overall our experience was positive and we hope to get back to South's BEST again next year.

I also want to thank all those that volunteered their time and the host locations for the investment being made.  You are making a positive difference in the lives of many kids.

Quote 0 0
srknerr
You might find the posts starting on Nov 19 in this forum to be of interest:

http://www.vexforum.com/index.php/12105-vexnet-2-0-competition-connection-problems


It sounds like a field control system may be in our future.  

My understanding is that a field control system allows three things: An autonomous period, timed matches that start and stop robots accordingly, and a more robust comms system.

I've never met Mr. Graber (the person that made the post) but I understand he is deeply involved with Texas BEST.
Quote 0 0
dmgauntt
I came down with a stomach bug a couple of days before South's BEST so had to stay home, and so I watched the competition on Periscope.  Here is the perspective of a team mentor who watched from home.

At first I was miffed about having to download Periscope, find my Twitter account name and password, etc.  I assume that the decision to do this was based on technical considerations at the transmit end; it is probably a lot easier to transmit over a commercial outlet like Periscope from a cell phone than to set up a dedicated video server.  It is also probably gives Ms. Robin a lot more flexibility in terms of her being able to move around the venue.  I tried to install Periscope on my Nook ("This version can not be installed on your device"), then I downloaded an Android emulator onto my laptop and tried to install Periscope on that (same message), so I ended up watching on my enormous 4 inch iPhone screen.

However, as I watched I grew to enjoy the interactivity of Persicope, something that may have been some work to set up with a browser based solution.  The best part was when someone stumbled into the transmission, asked "What is this?", and we started a conversation for an outsider about BEST Robotics.  Viewers could ask questions about competition status and get answers from the announcer.  During the semifinals, a parent of one of my students asked me online about the status of our middle school team (they had failed to make the cut, I'm afraid, but our high school team made it to the semis).

In the end, my reaction was "more!".  So here is my wish list for next year.

1) Rather than one Periscope feed, it would be great to have three!  One for each field, plus a floater for tours of the pit and the booths.

2) A running online scoreboard.  I would prefer that there be a page on the BEST Robotics website (or perhaps the competition website) where the schedule, the scores, and the standings are posted and updated, but a mobile app will do.

I do see several obvious obstacles.

1) This could be a lot of work to satisfy the ~25 people who were watching online (make that ~24; next year I hope to actually be at Auburn with my team).

2) Making the online information more attractive might increase the WiFi usage in the venue, and it sounds like there was already too much.

The only technical solution that I see for that last problem would be have Vex develop a Bluetooth based communication system.  That still may not work for several reasons

1) Bluetooth has a reputation for more limited range, but that is just a matter of hardware development, not the specification.
2) Bluetooth uses one of the frequency bands that WiFi uses (2.4 GHz), but is more aggressive about frequency hopping to avoid interference
3) I am not sure how BlueTooth would deal with 8+ different BlueTooth connections in the same area.



 
Quote 0 0
jgraber
Some other radio solution than wifi may help, but Bluetooth is probably not the answer.

FTC with the Mindstorms Lego controller started with built-in Bluetooth some years ago, and it was a disaster;
 everyone has Bluetooth on their phone, it takes a long time to link and find the right controller to link to.

FTC came up with a "Samantha module" that provided wifi link to use instead, since at least 2012.


Quote 0 0
srknerr
Wow, here I was linking to a post on another forum by Mr. Graber and now I see that he's the moderator!

However, I guess I'm a little confused by your latest post.  It talks about a different radio system, and I can see where that might help.  However, the suggestion that I thought was being discussed was a Vex field control system.  Isn't that just a Vex system just a more reliable version of wi-fi that is designed to work with all of our existing equipment? Isn't it already being used in the Vex EDR competitions without major issues?

At any rate, I want to thank you for all of the hard work you do on our behalf with BEST and for pursuing the comms issues with Vex.  It's a thankless job, but you carry far more than your share of the load.

Thanks!
Quote 0 0
jgraber
> he's the moderator!
  a moderator, at any rate.  

Isn't that just a Vex system just a more reliable version of wi-fi that is designed to work with all of our existing equipment?
It is the same wifi,  other than forced to channel 1.  
Souths BEST tech guy provided "game mode dongles" to all teams on field, which is same as Vexfieldcontrol hardwired to "enable+driver".
He said it helped, but didn't fix everything (like bad molex connectors or loose USB connections).
Until there in Autonomous in BEST, there is little point in FieldControl, that Dongles cant already do.

> Isn't it (fieldcontrol) already being used in the Vex EDR competitions without major issues?

The vexforum thread you linked to is primarily complaining about Vexnet2.0 in Vex EDR competitions. (TSA uses EDR).
http://www.vexforum.com/index.php/12105-vexnet-2-0-competition-connection-problems
I've heard of wifi security problems with the big Robotics competition too.  The robots have their own hotspots,
and some have been shut down by DOS(Denial of Service) attacks from the stands, during the match.

Maybe the South's BEST guy can post his full report.
He noted that there were a large number of wifi hot spots in the arena,
people were live-streaming video to their booths, the arena guest wifi was active.
 dmgauntt mentioned above that the streaming periscope app was great for the 24 remote users.
The vexforum thread had a comment that one driver had a wifi hotspot phone active in his pocket while he was driving.
There is lots more wifi around than their used to be, and Vex has a huge number of competitions per year, 
to work out how to discourage people from using wifi near the field


Quote 0 0
jgraber
Reposting full email report from South's BEST tech guy, by permission, some with some edits for clarity.

Report from South's BEST this past weekend concerning Wi-Fi interference issues.
The 1st day of the event was on Saturday Dec 5 2015, and there were reports of many intermittent VEXnet Wi-Fi link drops during the competition. After an hour or so, we decided to break out the game mode dongles. Testing in the Pit showed that when using the dongle we were able to achieve ~2x distance improvements between the joystick and controller before losing the VEXnet link so we went ahead and provided the game mode dongles to all of the teams competing on the field. There was definite improvement, however it didn't resolve all of the Wi-Fi interference issues. We used the game mode dongles on Sunday as well with even better results, however there were still a few intermittent VEXnet link drops.

Most of the Wi-Fi interference issues seemed to be caused by strong signals from both Auburn University's Wi-Fi networks and local hotspots that were setup by participants and spectators. Saturday was probably worse because the event took place at the same time as the SEC Football Championship game. Using Wi-Fi network analyzer apps on cell phones showed a large number of nearby strong transmitters on 2.4GHz channels 1, 6 and 11 with channel 1 being perhaps the least crowded (which is probably the main reason why the game mode dongle helped, since they force to channel 1).

We also did make several announcements during the competition asking people to shut down their hotspots. This probably helped quite a bit as well.

I want to note that this was certainly not a controlled experiment. We believe many of the VEXnet link drops were due to Wi-Fi interference, however there were most likely other things contributing to the problem such as overloaded motor banks, marginally charged batteries, loose connection between VEXnet Key and the Cortex Microcontroller, loose battery connection (those crappy white molex connectors), etc..

So the bottom line is that that game mode dongles did help, however they didn't resolve all of the issues. We are still very concerned about continued Wi-Fi interference issues in the future as the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum seems to get significantly more crowded every year. We are grateful that you pointed out this game mode dongle to us as it definitely helped improve this year's competition!

Quote 0 0