Utilizing the Human Player (2008 – Present)

The human player in FRC is often overlooked (after all, it’s a robot competition, right?).  However, you’ll find that the human player can have a huge impact on the success of a team on a given year.  What were the best uses of the human player, and what can we learn from them?  Find out more after the break.

Ty Tremblay and I got together and discussed the past 8 years of FRC and how the human player was used.  In each year, we’ll discuss the various roles the human player had, then we’ll choose a team (or alliance) that used their human player most effectively.  We’ll also post a video example for each year.  Remember, these are our thoughts on the HP from 2008 through 2015.  If you disagree, or have a suggestion for a team that used their HP better, please let us know in the comments.

2008: 1114

FIRST Overdrive was a weird year in terms of the human player, mostly because the human player didn’t exist.  Instead, the human player was redubbed the ROBOCOACH and given the task of controlling the robot in Hybrid Mode.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, Hybrid Mode was introduced in 2008 and allowed teams to send commands to the robot during autonomous.  The catch?  You could only do so with infra red (like a TV remote).

The aim of Hybrid Mode in Overdrive was to knock your alliance’s giant red balls off the overpass while completing as many laps of the field as possible.  Nobody was better at this than 1114.  They programmed their robot with set driving profiles and used their robocoach to tell the robot where the balls were on the overpass (the balls were shuffled before every match).  Simbot SS would then drive the correct profile and knock both balls off the overpass, often completing more than a full lap while doing so in 15 seconds.

2009: 111

Ah, the golden year of the Human Player.  Let’s take the robots, attach giant targets behind them, put them on a slippery surface so they can’t move well, and then surround them with human players that are trying to toss balls into their targets.  You know what?   Let’s give the human players a ball that’s worth extra too.

A good human player was absolutely crucial in this game, but the true power of the human player was unlocked by the championship alliance of 111, 971, and 67.  Both 971 and 111 used their autonomous modes to drive to their human players and load up before teleop, maximizing their massive one-hit scoring potential with 111 delivering devastating payloads.

2010: 469

In a year where it seemed as though the GDC had decided to even things out after 2009 and give the human player very little to do, 469 found the holy grail.  The 2010 game only required the human player to retrieve scored balls and place them on a ramp to be returned to the field.  At first glance, this seemed like a fairly low impact role for the HP (especially compared to 2009), but 469 wasn’t fooled.  Their design has gone down in history (yeah, history is only about 5 years ago in FRC land) as one of the greatest strategic achievements of all time.

2011: 1503

“Keep it simple.”

That was 1503’s mantra going into the 2011 season and boy did they ever.  Through excellent game analysis, robust design, and epic amounts of practice, 1503 developed a robot that used the human player better than anyone else in 2011.  Teams typically trained their human players to be able to accurately throw triangle, circle, and square shaped inflated tubes across the FRC field with the goal of minimizing time driving the robot back and forth.  1503 instead decided to minimize the amount of time they spent acquiring the game piece, utilizing the fact that the human player could have the tube ready in the exact same spot every time if they went back to the loading zone to get it.  Focusing on simplicity in strategy and design allowed them to win two regionals and a CMP divison before getting knocked out by the eventual champions on Einstein.

Nick Lawrence, a 1503 alumni, wrote a great piece on their 2011 season.  Read more here.

2012: 16

2012 was a lackluster year for the human player. The main tasks for the human players were to either load balls directly into their robots, bounce them across the field, or throw them in an attempt to score during the last thirty seconds of the match. Only a limited number of teams designed their robots to be fed from their human player (125, 254, and 175 are a few examples), but a majority of teams were able to bounce balls across the field to their alliance’s side. Scoring balls at the end of the match wasn’t a common occurrence, and wasn’t that important in terms of the strategy behind Rebound Rumble.

Team 16 Bomb Squad used the human players to their advantage by playing a defensive role. They would go to their defensive side of the field and pick up the balls that their opponents had bounced across, and pick them up to pass back to their partners. This shows how you don’t need to use your human players to succeed, you can use your opponents human players against them. Their ability to get these balls back to their partners led them to a world championship in 2012.

2013: Championship Alliance (610, 1477, 1241)

2013 was an easy year to be a human player, but teams used it to their advantage. Humans could load frisbees through slots at three different heights, as well as throw the red or blue frisbees across the field at the end of the match. While the throwing was a very small part of the overall scoring, loading was the key to getting points quickly. Robots that could shoot full court were often limited by the speed of their human player’s loading, and cycler robots could have much faster cycle times if they had a fast human player.

The world champion alliance of 1241, 1477, and 610 is a great example of how human players could create an efficient alliance, as these three teams were all cycling robots who’s human players kept them in matches by decreasing their cycle times and letting their robots put more discs in the goals.

2014: 1918

2014 was a great year to be a human player. The humans and robots really had to work together in Aerial Assist, as humans would load the balls into their machines, and then also have to catch balls launched from across the field. Teams found some unique ways to play with the human players, such as passing the ball across the field to all three human players in the cycle, and passing the ball back to the human player directly after receiving it.

The most common strategy was using human players to catch truss shots and then load the ball into their scoring robot, which was used the best by Team 1918 NC Gears. They designed their robot to sit in front of the low goal and be fed from their human player after a truss catch, which allowed them to avoid the defense of Aerial Assist. They needed a human player who could consistently make the shot into their robot, but a strong design made it easy for him to do so. This helped them put up a high score (without penalties) of 390 on their division at championships.

2015: 148

2015 was a very simple year for human players, but could still be utilized well. Humans could load totes into the field through the tote chute, as well as feed noodles over the wall or through the hole. Some human players were capable of scoring a decent amount of points by throwing the noodles across the field, but by the end of the season this became more of a nuisance than a help.

Some teams used the fact that the human players could continuously load to their advantage, such as Team 148 Robowranglers creating a second tethered robot to continue stacking while their main robot scored the previous stack. This sped up their cycle time by allowing their human player to have the stack done by the time their main robot had the next can, allowing them to put up three or four stacks in a match. This creative idea carried them into a deep Einstein run in Recycle Rush.

So What Did We Learn?

Many teams put a student out as their human player just because of physical traits such as athleticism. What we’ve found is that athleticism is just a small part of the puzzle. Having a human player who can intelligently control their game pieces and help the alliance succeed is critical to your success. Whether it’s tossing balls into trailers or loading totes into a chute, anyone can become a successful human player with enough practice.  In fact, being able to develop a strategy that maximizes the effect of the human player is a trait shown by every elite team in the game.  Trust us.  Take an in-depth look at how your human player can help you in 2016 and you’ll be surprised how much it can elevate your game.

P.S. Do you disagree with any of our choices for best uses of the human player? Give us your thoughts in the comment section!

Bonus Video

Skip to 1:53 and watch 254’s human player.


  1. The most overlooked area in 2015 was the human noodler. Arguably a stupid element of the game, but while lacking in elegance, the effective noodler could create a significant impact. Our team (2067) noodler for instance averaged 31.6 points of litter per match at Championships. Which was more points than 50% of teams were able to contribute to their alliances (based on OPR calcs).
    I saw very few teams including the noodle points into their scouting decisions, yet equivalent to an additional 5 stack w/ barrel.
    148 had a great machine – along with several others that kept their human player busy – but I argue that the great human noodler was a bigger difference maker.
    Hopefully 2015 is the last we see of noodles outside of where they belong, in bumpers!

    Keep the great articles coming.

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