How Estonians are redefining the global robotics education market

Robotex, an 18-year-old Estonian project, has become a global robotics education network, opening franchises across the world.

Estonia, Cyprus, China, Greece, Colombia, India, Iran, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Mali, Armenia, Monaco, Japan, United States – these are the 15 countries in which Robotex, the largest robotics festivalin the world, already has a presence. There are over twenty other countries in the works.

How has a project that was started as an examination event in 2001 achieved this international expansion within the last eight months? Why would anyone need the franchise rights for a once small robotics competition? And most importantly, where is it all leading to?

Breaking the Guinness World Record

In the wake of 2017, a new team was assembled for organising the 17th annual robotics competition in Estonia. At that time, no one knew it could be the last new team that had to be put together from the scratch.

Up to this point, a new group of people had been compiled for each year’s Robotex event held in the premises of the Tallinn University of Technology since 2001. But the event had outgrown the building, while also becoming too large of a piece for any short-term crew to work on it.

Already in 2016, Estonians started dreaming about breaking the Guinness World Record by hosting the biggest individual robotics competition the world had ever seen. That year, they missed it by about fifty teams. However, it was still close to one thousand robots and around ten thousand people attending the event.

In 2017, a new attempt had to be made. This time around, the audience reached 27,000 people and 1,346 robots, also known as teams – enough to break the previous world record by more than two hundred teams. The achievement also gave Estonians the right to call the Robotex the largest festival of its kind.

But what to do after achieving the long-time goal? After all, it is not that motivating to break your own record and get the chance to call oneself bigger than the previous – already the most successful of its kind – event. As it happened, one new initiative led to another.

Attracting talent

Ahti Heinla, the founding engineer of Skype and lately, the founder and CEO of Starship Technologies – the company behind its namesake delivery robots – had previously attended the Robotex competition, thinking building robots would be easy and fun. While it was definitely fun, it didn’t turn out to be that easy. Yet it ignited the interest to keep on exploring the field.

When developing Starship, Heinla had a new challenge – how to find more hireable talent. The Estonian universities are constantly gearing up to meet the needs of the job market, but that’s not enough to support all the various startups. Hence the idea was to import talent from elsewhere by first attracting them to Estonia. But how?

This is where Robotex proved its usefulness, again. The festival had already set some activities in motion by starting to work on attracting more international talent to Estonia. With the extra funding from Heinla, Robotex wanted to make sure the 2017 event would attract more talent than ever before. And for that, Sander Gansen, the chairman of Robotex, started to travel towards all directions – Colombia, France, Japan, China, the United States, India and other countries – with the sole mission to promote the event.

And it worked. For the first time, Robotex 2017 had groups of participants from Mexico and China, as well as multiple journalists from Japan and Singapore.

International franchises

But from early on, the Robotex team realised it would not make sense to spend all this money on marketing alone. Hosting just one event a year was not a sufficient model for the survival. There needed to be a pool of activities to build a sustainable organisation.

Instead, the team started to play around with the idea of building a global robotics ecosystem. That meant competing with international organisations that had existed since the late 80s and early 90s – such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a US-based youth organisation that operates various robotics competitions – as well as BEST Robotics (BoostingEngineering,Science andTechnology), another American-based competition. The Robotex team believes their models to be outdated and unfair for their franchisees and wants to develop something better.

As it happened, Robotex already had one successful example of a franchise event held in Cyprus and three potential partners approaching the organisation from China. Thus, it was made easier to justify the investment into the search of other franchisees, as well as a model that would redefine it all.

First up, the Robotex’ team knew it would take more than just the competitions to make it all worthwhile. And therefore, the team started to test other concepts, such as a corporate-focused robotics conference, different education programmes and a way to help generate new startups – concepts that could be implemented in all the countries Robotex would enter. This has become the differentiating part between Robotex and every other robotics programmes.

Like an accelerator

Robotex, as an organisation, is not only about the competitions and fun – it’s rather like an accelerator that would sustain a long progress and learning. Say, for example, a four-year-old – or older – kid. The idea is to give them knowledge about robotics and entrepreneurship. Later, Robotex would help them start companies in their teens and twenties (or find one to work for). And finally, it would make sure other companies and investors would discover those startups. All the while, the public learns a bunch about robotics.

Robotex plans to have operations in at least 25 countries by the end of 2019.

The 2018 Robotex International festival, hosted in Tallinn, Estonia, is due to feature the largest robotics conference in the Nordics, 1,500+ robots, and is expected to attract over 35,000people.

Read more news of Tallinn on our site.
Estonianproject Robotex
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
No rates yet
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Chairman of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and one of the owners of construction group Nordecon, Toomas Luman, finds that a prime ministerial candidate should first and foremost be able to answer the question of what will become of the demographic crisis in Estonia. The businessman sees controlled introduction of foreign labor as the solution. A digital construction cluster was created in Estonia a few years back to bring innovation to the s...
Last year saw 27,125 registered offenses, up 0.5 percent from the year before. Violent crime was up by 12 percent to 8,249 offenses. PHOTO: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire / Press Association Images / Scanpix Growth was biggest for domestic violence – the police launched criminal proceedings in 3,607 cases that constitutes an increase of more than one-third – annual growth of 37 percent from 2,632 cases in 2017. At the same time, reports of domestic violence we...
TALLINN - Ahead of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, tens of thousands of British citizens have chosen the citizenship of some other country, but only one Brit has recently chosen an Estonian citizenship. Spokespeople for the Ministry of the Interior told BNS that only one British citizen submitted an application for Estonian citizenship last year and the applicant was also granted the citizenship. Before that, no Brits had soug...
TALLINN - Experts from Finland, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands highlighted the importance of decentralization and granting local governments greater decision-making powers at a conference titled "Strong local government -- strong state?" in Tallinn on Wednesday.  All Nordic countries have chosen a model granting local governments significant decision-making powers, thus the central government does not prescribe how local governments are to fulfill the...
The language learning application Drops by game developer Planb Labs, established in Estonia by Hungarian founders, was named Google Play's best app of 2018. With the number of downloads surpassing 10 million, Drops was named Google's app of the year as the revenue of Planb Labs, a company registered in Estonia, increased fivefold, CNBC said. The developer's revenue grew from €335,000 in 2017 to €1.7 million in 2018. The company's shareholders include Hung...
TALLINN - The Estonian Health Board has banned the distribution of chlorine dioxide, also marketed as the Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS), the A-component of an unused product, meaning the sodium chlorite solution, must be taken to a hazardous waste collection facility. Ester Opik, head of the Health Board's North regional department, said that the banning of the distribution of the product was caused by the fact that MMS, distributed as a cosmetics produ...
Nature cannot abide a vacancy, as the saying goes. If just one year ago, Estonia was battling the sale of MMS and the practice of giving it to children, a new “miracle cure” called Advanced TRS has appeared on the market now. Even though the make-up of the substance is different, the promise to cure autism and cleanse the body of heavy metals, which kind of extreme detox is accompanied by severe side-effects, sounds all too familiar. TRS is recommended to...
Allied NATO battalions will soon mark two years serving in the Baltics. They have worked better than expected but would need prepositioned heavy weaponry and a functional contingency plan in case of a crisis, a report by the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) finds. “We do not know how Russia would have acted had we not welcomed allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in 2017. I’m afraid they would have tested our resolve,” one of...
The time of filing income tax returns is nearly upon us. The new income tax system, in effect since last year, will obligate many women who went on maternity leave toward the end of the year to make additional income tax payments, while those who give birth in the middle or at the beginning of the year have no such obligation. What this means is that some women will owe the state simply for giving birth “at the wrong time”. Laura Roop, who went on maternit...