Anatomy of a robot


The following assumes you have some familiarity with python, and is meant as a primer to creating robot code using the python version of wpilib. See our python primer for a brief introduction to the python programming language.

This tutorial will go over the things necessary for very basic robot code that can run on an FRC robot using the python version of WPILib. Code that is written for RobotPy can be ran on your PC using various simulation tools that are available.

Create your Robot code

Your robot code must start within a file called Your code can do anything a normal python program can, such as importing other python modules & packages. Here are the basic things you need to know to get your robot code working!

Importing necessary modules

All of the code that actually interacts with your robot’s hardware is contained in a library called WPILib. This library was originally implemented in C++ and Java. Your robot code must import this library module, and create various objects that can be used to interface with the robot hardware.

To import wpilib, it’s just as simple as this:

import wpilib


Because RobotPy implements the same WPILib as C++/Java, you can learn a lot about how to write robot code from the many C++/Java focused WPILib resources that already exist, including FIRST’s official documentation. Just translate the code into python.

Robot object

Every valid robot program must define a robot object that inherits from wpilib.IterativeRobot or wpilib.TimedRobot. These classes define a number of functions that you need to override, which get called at various times.


It is recommended that inexperienced programmers use the TimedRobot class, which is what this guide will discuss.

An incomplete version of your robot object might look like this:

class MyRobot(wpilib.TimedRobot):

    def robotInit(self):
        self.motor = wpilib.Jaguar(1)

The robotInit function is where you initialize data that needs to be initialized when your robot first starts. Examples of this data includes:

  • Variables that are used in multiple functions

  • Creating various wpilib objects for devices and sensors

  • Creating instances of other objects for your robot

In python, the constructor for an object is the __init__ function. Instead of defining a constructor for your main robot object, you can override robotInit instead. If you do decide that you want to override __init__, then you must call super().__init__() in your __init__ method, or an exception will be thrown.

Adding motors and sensors

Everything that interacts with the robot hardware directly must use the wpilib library to do so. Starting in 2015, full documentation for the python version of WPILib is published online. Check out the API documentation (wpilib Package) for details on all the objects available in WPILib.


You should only create instances of your motors and other WPILib hardware devices (Gyros, Joysticks, Sensors, etc) either during or after robotInit is called on your main robot object. If you don’t, there are a lot of things that will fail.

Creating individual devices

Let’s say you wanted to create an object that interacted with a Jaguar motor controller via PWM. First, you would read through the table (wpilib Package) and see that there is a Jaguar object. Looking further, you can see that the constructor takes a single argument that indicates which PWM port to connect to. You could create the Jaguar object that is using port 4 using the following python code in your robotInit method:

self.motor = wpilib.Jaguar(4)

Looking through the documentation some more, you would notice that to set the PWM value of the motor, you need to call the Jaguar.set() function. The docs say that the value needs to be between -1.0 and 1.0, so to set the motor full speed forward you could do this:


Other motors and sensors have similar conventions.

Robot drivetrain control

For standard types of drivetrains (2 or 4 wheel, mecanum, kiwi), you’ll want to use the various included class to control the motors instead of writing your own code to do it. For most standard drivetrains, you’ll want to use one of three classes:

  • for differential drive/skid-steer drive platforms such as 2 or 4 wheel platforms, the Kit of Parts drive base, “tank drive”, or West Coast Drive.

  • for Killough (Kiwi) triangular drive platforms.

  • for mecanum drive platforms.

For example, when you create a object, you can pass in motor controller instances:

l_motor = wpilib.Talon(0)
r_motor = wpilib.Talon(1)
self.robot_drive =, r_motor)

Or you can pass in motor controller groups to use more than one controller per side:

self.frontLeft = wpilib.Spark(1)
self.rearLeft = wpilib.Spark(2)
self.left = wpilib.SpeedControllerGroup(self.frontLeft, self.rearLeft)

self.frontRight = wpilib.Spark(3)
self.rearRight = wpilib.Spark(4)
self.right = wpilib.SpeedControllerGroup(self.frontRight, self.rearRight) =, self.right)

Once you have one of these objects, it has various methods that you can use to control the robot via joystick, or you can specify the control inputs manually.

See also

Documentation for the Package, and the FIRST WPILib Programming Guide.

Robot Operating Modes (TimedRobot)

During a competition, the robot transitions into various modes depending on the state of the game. During each mode, functions on your robot class are called. The name of the function varies based on which mode the robot is in:

  • disabledXXX - Called when robot is disabled

  • autonomousXXX - Called when robot is in autonomous mode

  • teleopXXX - Called when the robot is in teleoperated mode

  • testXXX - Called when the robot is in test mode

Each mode has two functions associated with it. xxxInit is called when the robot first switches over to the mode, and xxxPeriodic is called 50 times a second (approximately – it’s actually called as packets are received from the driver station).

For example, a simple robot that just drives the robot using a single joystick might have a teleopPeriodic function that looks like this:

def teleopPeriodic(self):

This function gets called over and over again (about 50 times per second) while the robot remains in teleoperated mode.


When using the TimedRobot as your Robot class, you should avoid doing the following operations in the xxxPeriodic functions or functions that have xxxPeriodic in the call stack:

  • Never use time.sleep() as you will momentarily lose control of your robot during the delay, and it will not be as responsive.

  • Avoid using loops, as unexpected conditions may cause you to lose control of your robot.

Main block

Languages such as Java require you to define a ‘static main’ function. In python, because every .py file is usable from other python programs, you need to define a code block which checks for __main__. Inside your main block, you tell WPILib to launch your robot’s code using the following invocation:

if __name__ == '__main__':

This simple invocation is sufficient for launching your robot code on the robot, and also provides access to various RobotPy-enabled extensions that may be available for testing your robot code, such as pyfrc and robotpy-frcsim.

Putting it all together

If you combine all the pieces above, you end up with something like this below, taken from one of the samples in our github repository:

#!/usr/bin/env python3
    This is a good foundation to build your robot code on

import wpilib

class MyRobot(wpilib.TimedRobot):

    def robotInit(self):
        This function is called upon program startup and
        should be used for any initialization code.
        self.left_motor = wpilib.Spark(0)
        self.right_motor = wpilib.Spark(1) =, self.right_motor)
        self.stick = wpilib.Joystick(1)
        self.timer = wpilib.Timer()

    def autonomousInit(self):
        """This function is run once each time the robot enters autonomous mode."""

    def autonomousPeriodic(self):
        """This function is called periodically during autonomous."""

        # Drive for two seconds
        if self.timer.get() < 2.0:
  , 0)  # Drive forwards at half speed
  , 0)  # Stop robot

    def teleopPeriodic(self):
        """This function is called periodically during operator control.""", self.stick.getX())

if __name__ == "__main__":

There are a few different python-based robot samples available, and you can find them in our github examples repository.

See also

RobotPy comes with various frameworks that make it easier to create your robot code. See the page on Robot Code Frameworks.

Next Steps

This is a good foundation for building your robot, next you will probably want to know about Running robot code.