To make decisions about the form and structure of an item, usually using notes and drawings that include dimensions and other required criteria.

Robotics Application

Design is always the first phase of a robotics competition after the game challenge is announced. The design process has five steps.

Step 1: Define the task
The first task of the team is to break down the challenge into its parts then determine a game strategy. This basically means choosing which parts of the challenge we want to be able to do. Clearly list what attributes and abilities the robot should have. This usually involves going over the game rules to check for limits and requirements.

Step 2: Research
Researching what’s already out there can help generate ideas, look up what other people have created to do similar tasks. Often an existing idea can be modified, even if it isn’t originally intended to do exactly the same thing.

Step 3: Brainstorming
The next step is to generate many ideas on the robot and its parts. This is often called brainstorming. During brainstorming there are no bad ideas. Sometimes what seems like a wild and crazy impossibility will have the seed of an amazing idea. So encourage outside-the-box thinking, go for what hasn’t been done before. Ideas should be more a general outline than all the nitty-gritty details, that comes later.

Step 4: Selection phase
This is where you choose one or two concepts to focus efforts on developing more fully. The first step is to cross off any idea that does not meet limits or requirements. Some ideas may get eliminated because they don’t follow a game rule. Some ideas may not be doable with the resources of the team, whether that be knowledge, tools, money, time, etc. At this point, what’s left will be selected according to the team’s goals and opinions. Maybe the team is new and prefers something more simple while students are learning. Maybe the team wants to be more innovative, to try something different, even if it may mean performance drops. Whichever design(s) gets the interest and confidence of the majority of the team would go to the next phase.

Step 5: Analyze & Evaluate
The final phase of the design process is to test the concepts, analyze the results of those tests and evaluate performance. This allows the team to find problems before a lot of time or expense goes into the part. There are several methods that can be useful during this step: drafting, computer simulation & modeling, mathematical analysis, mock-ups and prototypes, etc.

Drafting is the process of creating drawings and sketches, usually with dimensions. Drafting can be done in a CAD program, creating virtual parts or models that act close to the real thing. Click here to see an example of a CAD drawing. Sometimes design can be aided through applied math. Using a formula can help you determine what the best length of a swing arm is or best height and angle to start dropping a ball from to reach a certain distance. This can save time and materials. Prototyping and mock-ups are where you create parts in a simplified and usually less expensive form that allows you to test the idea.

Example of a K’nex prototype:

proto1 proto2

proto3 proto4

Design is an iterative process. That means while building you will be constantly judging whether it is working or not. If it isn’t working, then you need to problem-solve. This essentially means redoing all or part of the design process: define the task (What exactly isn’t working?), brainstorming (How can we fix this?), etc. Also, if at any point a part hits a limit – breaks a rule, costs too much, etc. It may get scrapped and you start over with another idea. When parts work, then it goes into final production where it gets made and installed on the robot.


Definitions Vocabulary words Your answers Key
  1. An idea. A design that has not yet been developed beyond discussion, it is not yet simulated, modeled or prototyped.
  2. To examine carefully and in detail so as to identify causes, key factors, possible results, etc.
  3. To assess and determine the worth or quality of a part through testing and analysis.
  4. A model, often full-size, for study, testing, or teaching.
  5. Computer Aided Design. A computer program that allows drafting of 3D parts and simulating their interaction. More sophisticated programs can even do analysis.
  6. Repeating.
  7. A quality or characteristic of the thing, such as height, weight, leverage, friction, power, movement, etc.
  8. A drawing, sketch, or design of an object.
  9. The representation of the behavior or attributes of one thing through the use of a computer. Virtual modeling.
  10. A technique for solving specific problems, amassing information, stimulating creative thinking, developing new ideas, etc., by unrestrained and spontaneous participation in group discussion.
  11. A plan or series of steps for achieving a specific goal or result.
  12. The original or a model on which something is based or formed. “A first try”
  13. Redoing part or all of the design process when a concept does not meet performance requirements.
  1. Attribute
  2. Analyze
  3. Brainstorming
  4. CAD
  5. Computer Simulation
  6. Concept
  7. Drafting
  8. Evaluate
  9. Iterative
  10. Mock-up
  11. Problem-solving
  12. Prototype
  13. Strategy


Design challenges
Bridge challenge 1
Bridge challenge 2

Click here for link to design game:   Incredibots