FTC Startup Guide

Introduction to this Guide

Who is FRC862 Lightning Robotics?

Our team is made up of students from Salem, Canton, and Plymouth High Schools, in Canton, Michigan and competes annually in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Our team started in 1999, and has become very well-established, both in our school and in our community. Originally numbered Team 465 with so few students you could count them on your fingers, Team 862 has grown to include over 100 students, 30 mentors, and several great sponsors including Jabil, Robert Bosch LLC, and Amazon. In addition to numerous robotics demonstrations throughout Plymouth and Canton, we raise funds for cancer research at Relay for Life and host our Robots in the Park event that includes STEM activities and a chance to drive our robots for all visitors.

Why did we build this guide?

Each season, we host several FTC teams in our meeting spaces and provide them with student and adult mentors from our team, access to our machine shop, and general guidance about whatever will help them.

The goal of this document is to provide a reference for new teams -- or new leaders of existing teams -- about FIRST Tech Challenge overall, and specific information about what it takes to start and manage an FTC team.

What do I do if I have questions that are not answered in this guide?

Ask us! We would like this document to expand and evolve over time. We want to hear from you about whatever else would be helpful to you. We have some ideas about what to add, but the best items will probably come from you as you establish and grow your team.

How do I get in touch with Lightning Robotics?

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LightningRobotics 

Website: www.lightningrobotics.com

Introduction to FIRST and FTC

What is FIRST?

FIRST is the organizing body that created and supports four programs (ages are based on FIRST in Michigan):

Link to FIRST home page

Link to Vision and Mission of FIRST

What is FTC?

It’s much more than building robots. Participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have!”

Guided by adult Coaches and Mentors, students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles (like keeping an engineering notebook) while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas. The robot kit is reusable from year to year and can be programmed using a variety of interfaces, including Java. Teams also must raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach for which they can win awards.

Participants have access to tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships. Each season concludes with exciting FIRST World Championship events previously held in Detroit, MI, USA and St. Louis, MO, USA. This year's FIRST World Championship will be held in Houston, Texas, USA.

Link to main FTC page Link to FTC Team Basics

Team Formation

How much does it cost to be an FTC team?

Expenses vary between teams based on how active they are, how complex their robot becomes, and other factors. In the 2023-24 season, registration is $295 USD per team. Other expenses (before grants and other income) can range from $2,250-$5,000.

Link to FTC costs general info page 

Registration Includes:

Expenses include:

How does a new group register as an FTC team?

New groups need to identify two adult leaders that will act as the primary contacts with FIRST and coordinate team activities. After these adults are identified, teams can register with FIRST. Team rosters of students do not need to be completed in order to register.

Link for Rookie Teams

Who can be on an FTC team?

Student Members

Adult Mentors

FTC Season Overview

When is the FTC season?

In Michigan, USA:

May-September --> Registration and Pre-Season 

Early September --> Kickoff (Game Challenge revealed) 

September-October --> Build and Practice Season 

November-December --> Qualifying Season

December --> State Championship

April --> World Championship Events

In the rest of the world:

May-September --> Registration and Pre-Season 

September --> Kickoff (Game Challenge revealed) 

September-January --> Build and Practice Season 

November-March --> Qualifying Season

December-March --> State/Regional Championships 

April --> World Championship Events

What happens during the FTC season?

Robot Challenge

Outreach to the Engineering Community

Outreach to the Robotics Community

Outreach to Your Community

Community Service

Competition Events

Where are the competition events?

What are the competition events like?

Arrival, Sign-In, and Inspections

Most events include time on the evening before robot competition for teams to arrive, sign-in with the event coordinators, set up their pit areas, and have their robot inspected by the event crew

Inspections involve two parts:

Judging Session

The team will meet with a panel of FTC judges to present their team and robot. This presentation will cover all aspects of:


Each match is a head-to-head game. There are two alliances -- red and blue -- each with two teams’ robots, for a total of four robots on the field together. The game changes each season, but the alliance concept is the same. The game challenge video (see link below in Game Challenge section) describes this well.

Qualification Matches


Elimination Rounds

The elimination portion of the event uses a standard bracket-style format:

At each elimination round, opposing alliances play up to 3 matches. The alliance that wins 2 of 3 matches wins that round.

What does the robot have to do?

Basic FTC Game Structure

The basic game structure (field size and shape, order and length of game segments, etc.) remains essentially the same from year-to-year.

Rules for FTC and Game Challenge

Each year, the official rules are published in the Game Manual

Common Tasks/Concepts

All game challenges include some combination of moving the robot, controlling or manipulating game elements, moving game elements from one location to another, and sensing some aspect of the game field (light beacons; infrared beacons; lines, colors, or patterns on game field surfaces, etc.).

Game Challenge

The specific Game Challenge for FTC changes every year: There is a new theme, set of game elements on the playing field, set of scoring possibilities, and set of game rules.

Link to 2023-24 game challenge video

Robot Materials

Building Materials

Kit of Parts (KoP)

Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS)

In addition to the KoP, teams may use any raw materials or manufactured/processed items that do not violate any FTC rules. The main restrictions are:

Electronics Materials

Custom Parts

Teams can design and build custom parts for their robot. These are limited only by the rules related to legal materials, safety, game play, and the team’s imagination.

Robot Programming

Programming Language and Environments

FTC robots are programmed using the Java language. There are several methods for programming FTC robots:

Link to FTC Programming Resources


In order to develop a successful game strategy, teams need to look at the overall challenge, then break it down into manageable pieces.


"What?" before "How?"


Every team’s building experience will be different.


Engineering Notebook

What is an Engineering Notebook?

One of the goals of FIRST and FIRST Tech Challenge is to recognize the engineering design process and the journey that a team makes during the phases of problem definition, concept design, system-level design, detailed design, test and verification, and production of the robot. Throughout the process of designing and building a robot, teams will come across obstacles, lessons learned, and the need to draw things out on paper. This is where teams will use an Engineering Notebook. These notebooks track the team from the beginning of the season in May throughout the competition season.

This documentation should include:

Why is the Engineering Notebook important?

Judges review a team’s Engineering Notebook to better understand the journey, design, and team as a whole. The Engineering Notebook is a complete documentation of the Team’s Robot design as well as chronicles the time spent doing research, outreach, Team meetings, and plans for growth.

Links and Examples

Tips for Running a Successful FTC Team

Parent Involvement 

Involved parents are always beneficial to a team. They can help guide the build process, handle administrative aspects of running a team, and fabricate parts that may be too complicated and/or dangerous for students to make themselves. While parents can be a great help, it is a good idea to let the students try to accomplish the work on their own, and wait for them to ask for help. FTC is a great experience for both students and parents, but students gain the most by being hands-on and working through problems themselves. Parents are especially important in keeping FTC teams running smoothly. In Michigan, FTC is for grades 6-8. Students will cycle through every three years and so will their parents. To keep an FTC team running for more than three years, parents of every student should try to help out and mentor. The lead mentor of a team can also work alongside and show future lead mentors some of the responsibilities in order to prepare them to take over the team in future seasons. 

Engineering Notebook

The Engineering Notebook is one of the most important parts of an FTC team. Not only is it a great way to recap your season and build process, but you can also win awards at competitions. The best way to make sure you have a complete Engineering Notebook by the end of the season is to add to it every day or meeting. Have each student write a couple sentences about what they did at the meeting and what they learned. Take lots of photos and videos to add to your notebook to visually show your progress throughout the season. The engineering notebook can be individualized based on each team, but many share common aspects including the build process, outreach in the community, and lots of pictures.


A great way to expand your team and recruit new students is by participating in outreach events in your community. Community service, demonstrating your robot, and participating in STEM events are all ways to get your team involved and known. It can also get more students interested in robotics and FIRST. One way to spread STEM and robotics in your community is by showing your robot to other students. You can set up demonstrations of your robot at schools in your district, then give students the opportunity to see your robot up close, or even drive it. You can also create a short video or flyer about your team to spread to schools or other locations to spark interest in FIRST.  


Another way to win awards at competitions other than having a successful robot, is the judging sessions. Students will go over their season, team, and outreach in front of a panel of judges. Have your students prepare a script or speech and identify who will be saying what. Practice before they go in front of the judges, and be creative! Come up with an interesting way to keep the judges engaged and ensure they will remember your team. 

PDF Version

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