Thoughts on 2016’s New COTS Products

FIRST’s main suppliers all came out with some new products this offseason. This article is going to look into some of those new products and discuss their impacts on FRC Teams. I didn’t discuss every single small product, but this should give you a general idea of all of the major products out there.


Versaplanetary Integrated Encoder ($49.99):

VEXPro has taken their versaplanetary gearboxes and improved them tremendously. These encoders are easily usable with the Talon SRX motor controller, and can give either a PWM value or a quadrature value.With a magnetic enconder now easily attachable to these gearboxes, teams with low resources can now have an easier time incorporating sensors into their robots. This also creates even more of a reason to use versaplanetaries, which are very durable and versatile gearboxes. The encoder now creates a whole new way for teams to very easily become more complex with their  programming and control.

775pro ($17.99):

VEXPro and West Coast Products have come out with a brand new motor that is very similar to the old banebots 775 motors. With banebots 775’s and 550’s no longer being produced, this new motor will allow teams to continue to use any gearboxes or other products for their old 775 motors, while also being able to put an even more powerful motor into use. The 775pro has more power available to it (347 watts) than any other motor currently in FRC, however since it is an air-cooled motor you won’t want to abuse it with high loads for a long stretch of time. The best uses for this motor are probably to make simple intake or shooting mechanisms where you want lots of power.

VersaDrop ($129.99):

The VersaDrop is the first COTS option for an easily assembled drop down wheel. This allows teams with lower machining resources to easily make more complex drivetrains, such as butterfly, octocanum, drop down high traction wheels, or even your own creative ideas. This system is designed to use 4 inch diameter wheels, which can be limiting based on field obsticles in certain games, but with a relatively flat field and the right game, this drivetrain addition can be a major factor for your team.

1″ x 2″ x 0.10″ Pre-Drilled Plastic Tube Stock (59″ length) ($19.99):

This thin plastic box tube is new for FRC purposes, and its uses remain to be seen. While I personally wouldn’t trust it for a high stress arm or for drivetrains that may take a hit, there are definitely places on your robot where having light plastic instead of aluminum can be beneficial, as long as you are smart about using this tubing where it can handle the forces on it.

3.25″ Omni-Directional Wheel ($17.99):

This small omni wheel with a hex bore built into it can have some great uses for creative drivetrain solutions. If you are designing your own omni-directional drive, this small wheel can be very helpful for needing less gearing before the wheel. This can save weight in many ways, and also simplify your design. Be careful with this small wheel though, as you may need to get over some obstacles on the field.


Blue Nitrile and Pebbletop Tread ($35/$32 for 10 ft.):

These treads are meant to be added to AndyMark’s Plaction or Performance wheels, and they have better traction than most tread available to FRC teams. Teams should try testing this tread out before using it in a competition, but they are both quality products that will help give you an edge at your events.

Also, Blue Nitrile tread has been reported to smell very good when cut. Results may vary.

Toughbox Micro ($75):

This one CIM gearbox is very compact and easily fits inside of channel sold by AndyMark. With 5 different gear ratios available, this gearbox is great for any drivetrain where you want to separate your motors (such as Mecanum), as well as any other subsystems that use a single CIM or Mini-CIM motor. Since it is made out of plastic, you can also keep your weight down with this gearbox.

More Hi-Grip and Stealth Wheels ($5-$10):

A new range of durometers is now available for the Hi-Grip and Stealth wheels. These new durometers can allow teams to be more flexible with choosing wheels for their drivetrains, intakes, and shooters. These wheels are also made of plastic, which keep them light and cheap. Being able to have many durometers of wheels to use in your prototyping can also help maximize your potential.

Rocketbox PTO ($320):

The Rocketbox is a dual CIM motor gearbox with a shifting mechanism for a Power Takeoff (PTO). This isn’t the first COTS PTO that’s been made available to FRC teams, but I’m excited to see more options coming to the table. It also comes with many different options for gear ratios, making it very versatile for even the lowest resource teams. It is a fairly expensive gearbox, but if you can design your two major systems (Drivetrain and some other mechanism) around this PTO, it can definitely be worth it.

Slick Bumper Material ($18):

Slick bumpers are a newer concept used by some FRC teams to help get out of friction induced pins. This bumper material is definitely worth experimenting with, because you’ll be able to have your robot do more in a match when you are spending less times getting pushed sideways around the field.

6 inch DuraOmni Wheel ($35):

This wheel gives teams another option for 6″  omni wheels in your drivetrain. AndyMark is also selling the rollers for these wheels spearately.

Rhino Track Drive Module ($369):

This tank tread style drivetrain track. is a beast at climbing obstacles. However, the weight and price are probably a little out of the range of what FRC teams want. I would suggest staying away from this track as your FRC drivetrain, but it is definitely a cool piece of engineering to learn from.

REV Robotics

Analog Pressure Sensor ($30):

This sensor can plug into the RoboRio and send you information during a match regarding the air pressure in your pneumatic systems. This is a huge boost in control for teams. You can now know if you have enough air pressure to perform certain tasks during a match, as well as easily know if you have a leak in your system.

SPARK Motor Controller ($45):

This new motor controller is cheap, small, passively cooled, and seems like a great new product. Teams looking to get some cheap motor controllers to try out on their robot should definitely look into the SPARK motor controllers. It also has a limit switch input which can easily simplify your sensor setup.

These new products ultimately add a new layer of creativity for teams when it comes to design. Having more wheels and gearboxes available to teams who can’t make their own. There are also some new sensors for students to learn about, which is always good since electronics and control can sometimes be limiting on FRC teams. Hopefully you use these new products to your advantage and build an even better robot because of them.

Good Luck, and we’ll see you at the competition.

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