Have Robot Will Travel - Considerations When Traveling Internationally with a Robot - Author Stephanie Stoudt-Hansen
When my FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Robotics team was invited to compete at the World Adolescent Robotics competition in Beijing (WARC) we were challenged with the prospect of traveling with a robot internationally.
With today’s heightened security and differing regulations for each country, we were very concerned with getting our robot there on time for the competition. Robots come with a lot of wiring, batteries, and components that could make any TSA Inspector sit up and notice. We also had an FTC robot, which is smaller (35-65 lbs) than the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) (100–120 lbs), so we needed to decide whether we would ship our robot, check it in on the plane intact or take it apart, pack it in our suitcases and reassemble when we got to Beijing.
Shipping or keeping the robot intact was proving to be expensive, because it was weighed over 50lbs with the crate ($200 -$400 with each leg of the flight). Shipping was equally expensive. We were also worried about getting through customs and the robot making it to our hotel without anyone there to receive it.
Our final decision was to take the robot apart and divide the components in separate team member’s suitcases, so it was not a lot of extra weight or interesting parts in one suitcase. It also helped us keep the documentation we packed with each suitcase simple and easy to understand.
When shipping a robot, you need to consider the following:
Shipping a robot can be expensive depending on the weight and whether or not you want to keep the robot assembled. Finding a crate that ships well and does not add a lot of weight can also be a challenge.
There is also a risk at customs that they may hold your robot, so you will want to plan enough time ahead of the event to make sure it gets to your location and clears customs. You also will want alternate plans if the robot does not make it on time. One team from Mexico at the China competition lost their robot at customs and another team loaned them theirs.
1. What regulations pertain to the country where the robot is being shipped? Each country is different, but you can usually go to the government website and find the requirements under customs. Also, some shipping companies have very detailed information. UPS has a great site with international shipping information. https://global.ups.com/
2. What regulations pertain to the TSA or traveling outside of the country. (E.g. When flying back from China there were stricter regulations leaving the country in terms of carrying power sources and batteries. Part of our team carrying batteries was pulled aside exiting the country and did not have any issues the rest of the trip.
3. Are there any companies that sponsor the competition or ship professionally that would be willing to sponsor your team? This is more common with FRC teams and the large robotics competitions. Do you have someone whose parent works for an international company that might be willing to sponsor or help with the shipping?
4. Do you need to have someone take delivery of the robot in your destination country? This could mean coordinating with a hotel, a friend or relative, a sister business office or the competition organizers.
5. What shipping services are available in the country you are going to and how will you ship it back?
6. Do you need your robot for other competitions and will you get it back in time?
Carrying On or Checking a Robot
When carrying on or checking a robot on the plane here are some guidelines:
1. Call the airline and ask for their specific guidelines. Here’s what ours asked and you should be prepared to answer:
a. What is the weight?
b. What are the measurements?
c. Are there any liquids on it?
d. Can it handle being in a non-pressurized area?
e. Can it handle the temperatures of checked baggage?
f. Can it handle being x-rayed?
g. They recommended bringing documentation and a copy with you, separate from the documentation you place in the luggage.
h. Our airline stated it could be packaged in a box as long as it was sealed in a way that the workers can check it. This varies with each airline and country.
2. Determine what type of crate and packing materials you will need based on the size of your robot or other tools, equipment that you want on your trip. You may want to pack them separate from the robot or acquire them in the country you are traveling to if you have resources, because tools can add a lot of weight.
3. Provide documentation about your trip, what is your purpose for traveling. There is a great article by Grathio Labs, http://grathio.com/2012/04/flying-with-homemade-electronics/ where I received most of my inspiration and ideas for how to pack our robot. (See form below).
4. As mentioned earlier, we separated batteries, motors, wires and controllers into separate suitcases and provided documentation for each component, along with a note for the TSA inspector. Also, if we lost one suitcase, not everything would be lost and we might be able to borrow from other teams.
5. Batteries need to have the terminals covered so they cannot spark or provide power. We used duct tape to wrap them.
6. Here are some other great articles for traveling with a robot:
7. Here is a sample letter to place in your suitcase with the robot or robot parts for TSA inspections:
DEAR TSA INSPECTOR
We are a robotics team, The Green Girls 7190, that competes at FIRST Technical Challenge competitions, http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/ftc.
We are traveling to and from China to compete at the World Adolescent Robotic Competition in Beijing November 20th – 28th.
Enclosed you will find the tools and materials to do this. All power is disconnected.
Please contact me with any concerns:
Taped on my business card or further contact information:
Provided print outs or description or specs of each part found on the manufacturers' website or information about the event you are traveling to: