RoboMaster is arguably the most complex and resource intensive college robotics competition out there. It’s a step above the rest in terms of technical complexity, timeline, and budget. That gives it a level of prestige and intrigue that makes it a truly one-of-a-kind experience, but also brings with it a barrier of entry that can make it hard for new teams to get off the ground. In this article, I hope to streamline that process as much as possible so that new teams can join this amazing competition and community!
The University of Washington’s team already has a great guide for currently existing team that you can find here. I highly recommend skimming the document linked in that article once you’ve officially started your team.
Here’s why I’m qualified to give this advice: I started the University of Colorado’s RoboMaster team in 2020, which has now grown into a large organization that has a permanent pretense in RMNA. I’ve also advised several new teams over the past two years that have gone on to have a successful first season.
Let’s get to it. There are three main steps to becoming a RoboMaster team:
- Create your organization
- Build a robot
- Attend your first competition
So you want to start a RoboMaster team. Good choice! This competition will give you a broad range of skills and ample experience as a leader. At this point, your team probably consists of just you, and maybe a few friends if you’re lucky. Your first goal should be to recruit others to join your team and commit themselves to it.
You’ll want to register your organization as a student club at your university as soon as possible. This will legitimize your team and enable you to start advertising. Set up a booth at club fairs if your school has them, and be as creative as possible when recruiting. In our experience, the “traditional” styles of recruitment such as posters and mass-emails don’t work very well. One of the best ways to grow your team is through word-of-mouth, so encourage your current team members (including yourself) to tell their friends!
After you have a good member base (I recommend having at least 10-20 people pledged to your team), it’s time to create an internal team structure. Since your group is still small, try not to split up too much. One common strategy is to create two “subteams” within your team: Engineering and Administration. The Engineering team’s job is to design, build, and program your robots – and Administration is tasked with raising funds, communicating with your university, and managing logistics. Larger teams will split into more specific subteams, but for a new small team, that will only unnecessarily separate your members and make communication difficult.
Once your subteams are set up, promote some members to leadership positions. You’ll need the following core members:
- Design Lead (someone who has experience with CAD, and ideally also with robotics competitions)
- Software Lead
You can also other roles as you wish, just be sure that the people you’re promoting deserve it and take their role seriously.
The last step in your team creation journey is to register for the RoboMaster North America (RMNA) competition, and join the community. RMNA has a Discord server for teams – please message me if you would like an invite. Registration for the competition is only open for a specific window, so be ready to register once its released.
This next part may seem obvious, but building a RoboMaster robot takes a lot more work than you might realize. You also might be thinking: “Build a robot? I thought RoboMaster involved building multiple robots?” While yes, you do have the option of building up to 3 robots for RMNA, and up to 7 robots for tournaments overseas, it’s highly inadvisable for a new team to overreach and build multiple robots. Every year, there’s always at least one ambitious new team who tries to build a fleet and ends up having no working robots because of it. Don’t be one of those teams. In my three years of RoboMaster, i’ve seen this situation way too many times. The new teams who build only robot always end up having a much better season and competition experience than the ambitious teams, because building three robots is something even the most advanced teams struggle with.
Why is that? Aren’t these robots just glorified toys? Yes and no.
RoboMaster robots are unique for a few reasons:
- They’re generally much more custom than you may be used to in other robotics competitions. Its likely you’ll need to build custom electronics, code custom hardware drivers, and design mechanisms in a style you’re not used to.
- Funding is hard to get. Most universities don’t give you enough funding on their own to build your robot(s), so you’ll need to spend some effort convincing companies to sponsor you.
- You have to properly install and work with a standardized robot monitoring system called the RoboMaster Referee System. The internal workings of your robot are of course custom built by your team – but the part that monitors your robot in real-time to make sure it’s not breaking any rules is provided by the competition organizers. Refer to the post linked earlier for more information about the Referee System.
So how hard is it to build a RoboMaster robot exactly? Here’s some stats:
- One robot will cost between $2,000 - $5,000 to build
- A typical RoboMaster robot takes an experienced team of 2-3 designers about a semester (~3 months) just to design (this is NOT including manufacturing, assembly, and software). I’m talking about a fully functional robot – you can easily put something together in CAD that works in theory, but will almost certainly have issues that can only be found with physical prototypes. RoboMaster robot design requires ample iteration and failure before you’ll find success.
- Even with existing tools such as Taproot, software development is notoriously difficult in RoboMaster.
This isn’t to say that building a robot is impossible! In fact, even a new team with mostly inexperienced members can comfortably build a working robot in as little as 6 months! As long as you plan your season and don’t overextend yourself, you’ll almost certainly have a working robot by the time competition rolls around. For more specific advice about the technical details of building a robot, please either create a post on this forum or ask a question in the RMNA Discord server.
Congratulations! You’ve gotten through the season, and hopefully have a working robot. It’s time to see the fruits of your labor and compete against other universities from around the world!
The RMNA competition historically takes place during the Summer, and is hosted by one of the teams. Hopefully, you’ve registered for the competition during the window and have at least a semi-functional robot ready to go.
Traveling to the competition is fairly simple. You can either raise funds specifically for travel, require traveling members to pay for their own travel, or (recommended) do a hybrid of both. Most universities have some from of travel grant that you can utilize for your trip, but you also have the option of using some of your corporate sponsor money as well.
How I personally suggest planning your trip is as follows:
- Determine how many members will be traveling to the competition ~2 months in advance.
- Reserve an Airbnb near the competition site 1-2 months in advance.
- Determine how you’ll get your members and your robot to the competition. If you’re within driving distance, I recommend having at least one car make the trip with some members and your robot as cargo. Any remaining members (or all of them if your team can’t make the drive) should book their own flights to the hosting city/town. In my experience, trying to book flights on behalf of your members is more trouble than its worth.
- Communicate with your traveling members. There’s bound to be a list of minor talking points to figure out (For example: How will your members get food? Will you provide transportation between the airport and the Airbnb? What about between the Airbnb and the competition site?). Answer these questions as soon as you can, asking your members for their input every step of the way.
After your trip is planned, enjoy it! Ultimately, this is something you’re doing for fun, so attend the tournament with a clear goal that’s not too ambitious and focus on having a good time! If you’ve followed these directions and taken the advice of other teams, you’ll have a memorable experience competing with your own functional RoboMaster robot!
This post is intentionally vague and non-technical so that it wouldn’t get too long. It should give you enough of an idea of what your first season will be like to get get you started, and provide some action items you can implement, but I know you may have more questions. Please join the RMNA Discord – our friendly community is happy to answer them there!