000 Introduction: Robotics in School—A Primer


“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” –John F. Kennedy

001 Twenty-First Century Challenges Require Twenty-First Century Pioneers 

President John F. Kennedy said those words on September 12, 1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas. It was no mistake he chose one of America’s leading STEM universities to give that speech. And it was no fluke that it ignited a nation and drove tens of thousands of students into the world of science, technology, engineering and math. 

The speech single-handedly paved the way for an American moon landing. It took the collective will of a nation to make it happen. It took billions of dollars, millions of hours of labor and the greatest minds of America to pull off. 

But Kennedy’s speech was more than just about the moon. It tapped into the spirit of human exploration. According to Roger Launius, space history curator for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Kennedy’s speech was “the most significant decision made by our national political leaders in relation to space activities.” As a matter of fact, “it transformed NASA into a big space-spectacular agency, which it wasn’t before.

This pioneering journey continues today although we must now face an ever-growing list of challenges. Will ours be the generation that ends all disease, harnesses the power of the sun, colonizes Mars and travels to distant stars? All of these goals are possible. And all of these challenges call for new pioneers.  

It will take great leadership to accomplish these feats. It will take years of study and devotion to  achieving greatness for humankind and country. It will take management skills, people skills, and fundraising skills. It will take passion, drive, and dedication. Just as importantly, it will take strong educational partnerships, powerful new cloud-based software tools, and innovative and easy-to-understand robotics toolkits. 

002 If These Challenges Sound Familiar, It’s Because They’re the Same Challenges Faced by Modern Robotics Teams 

You may not know it yet, but robotics as a mind sport is about to change the world. 
First of all, it’s changing the world of sports. Did you know that FIRST, the largest organization for robotics mind sports in the world, held its first-ever competition in 1992, hosting twenty eight teams in a small New Hampshire gym? Would you care to guess the percentage increase in teams after its twenty-five-year history? Five hundred percent? One thousand percent? Ten thousand percent? 

Not even close. In 2016, more than thirty thousand teams competed in all four of FIRST’s competitions. That’s a 119,900 percent increase over a twenty-five year period!

And that’s just FIRST. VEX, another popular robotics competition host, had a record year in 2016. More than sixteen thousand teams participated in over thirteen hundred competitive events. That makes VEX the current Guinness World Record holder for the largest robotics competition ever held.

Name another sport that comes close to achieving that kind of growth. Can’t think of one? That’s because it doesn’t exist. Robotics is the fastest growing sport in the world. 
Secondly, robotics teams are breaking down barriers and making the world a more awesome place to live. Everyone can speak the language of STEM—and it’s a very useful language to know! 

In May of 2016, the New York Times ran a piece about a West African movement to generate interest in robotics. The Pan-African Robotics Competition started only last year—but it already has twenty-five participating schools. And as we just learned, it takes no time for twenty-five teams to become thirty thousand teams!

And that’s just the beginning. China has shown a growing interest in robotics education as well. As the Chinese robotics market takes off, schools are looking for ways to nurture STEM skills early on. Our company, ROBOTERRA, is making inroads with Chinese schools, providing our Origin Kits and CastleRock cloud-based software programs throughout private schools in Beijing and Shanghai.

Team 6227 from Xi'an. ROBOTERRA offered technology mentorship to the team.

Team 6227 from Xi'an. ROBOTERRA offered technology mentorship to the team.

Even the United Nations is showing interest in robotics programs. ROBOTERRA’s CEO, Yao Zhang, recently attended the 10th Anniversary of the World Summit on Innovation held at the UN in May of 2016. The goal: explore what the future of business, market spaces, digital products, minds, machines, experiences and trans-disciplinary innovations will be like in 2020. And that exploration, without a doubt, begins with the exploration of robotics in middle and high schools. 

ROBOTERRA Team with Mr. Dean Kamen. From left to right: Derek Capo (Sales VP at ROBOTERRA), Yao Zhang (co-founder & CEO at ROBOTERRA), Dean Kamen (Founder of FIRST Robotics), Beibei Sun (former education director at ROBOTERRA).

ROBOTERRA Team with Mr. Dean Kamen. From left to right: Derek Capo (Sales VP at ROBOTERRA), Yao Zhang (co-founder & CEO at ROBOTERRA), Dean Kamen (Founder of FIRST Robotics), Beibei Sun (former education director at ROBOTERRA).

After everything we’ve mentioned, it’s easy to see why we believe robotics is the most important sport in the world today. Will basketball or football save humanity from diseases, take us to Mars or discover new means of protecting the environment? We’re not entirely sure, but we expect the answer is “very doubtful.”

And yet robotics is still a pioneering venture. Teams work with limited financial resources and have to make do with less. The future is sometimes very difficult to read. “Will we have enough money to even get our team to the regionals?” some team leaders may ask. On top of that, most schools ignore their robotics teams entirely or pay lip service to them while spending tens of thousands or more on their traditional sports teams. 

The challenges faced by robotics teams are immense. But with the right know-how and a little elbow grease, you can build a great one. For that, we’re here to help. 

003 We’re ROBOTERRA, and We Believe Technology Empowers Creativity

Technology helps humans achieve goals they never could have achieved otherwise. But without creativity, there is no innovation. And without innovation, there can be no technology. 

We believe that creativity and technology should be inseparable, which is why we’re so passionate about robotics. Robotics is an art as much as it is a science. Every year, teams set out to confront challenges hosted by the likes of FIRST and VEX. These organizations provide you with the tools you need but the rest is up to you.

It’s up to the teams to find creative ways to handle those objectives. Without creativity, you’re going to have a tough time finishing that objective and winning the competition!

We’ve heard from enthusiasts from hundreds of schools over the years, and most wish they could focus all their efforts on technology and creativity. They wish they didn’t have to spend so much time on tasks like fundraising, marketing, and finding mentors. We couldn’t agree more. 

They also wish robotics was easier to teach. They want kits that are open-ended enough to engage students’ creativity but that are not ridiculously hard to understand. We get that too. ROBOTERRA’s Origin Kit and CastleRock cloud software are built around these principles. 

And yet, even with these educational materials, robotics programs struggle with the “business” side of their organizations. And that’s why we wrote this book. To help robotics teams take charge of their organization and start making inroads at FIRST, VEX, or wherever they choose to compete.

We believe every team that wants to compete at FIRST or VEX deserves a shot at doing so, regardless of their financial situation. But until schools get their act together and start supporting their robotics teams, it’s up to us as pioneers to get our teams to those competitions. 

So we designed this how-to guide with both beginner and advanced robotics teams in mind, with the singular goal of helping them manage their teams in such a way that they can stay afloat financially and get the help they need, all without costing them time during their building season. 

We just want those with an interest in robotics to know that with the right knowledge and mindset, you can create a team that can compete at the highest level. If you have the drive and dedication, you can raise funds and find mentors—just like the super-competitive teams do. 

This guide shows you how to run your robotics team like you would a business. We’ll show you what it takes to build a team from scratch. And if you already have a team, we’ll address the major hurdles of organization and finding resources—the two largest reasons that robotics teams fail. 

RoboTerra, Inc.