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.

estonianworld.com
Estonianproject Robotex
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
3 views in january
I recommend
No recommendations yet

Comments

Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Society
TALLINN – Russia is seeking integration in Estonia only in words, Kalev Stoicescu, researcher at the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) who is running on the ticket of the Estonia 200 party in the March 3 general elections, said on Wednesday commenting on the words said on the subject by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  "Russia is the only neighboring state which does not wish -- due to its own interests -- progress in integration...
Politics
Former top centrist Evelyn Sepp admitted that she donated money the origin of which was unknown to her to the Center Party in 2006. The former politician claimed other members also engaged in the practice but refused to name names. Sepp’s confession on ETV investigative journalism program «Pealtnägija» does not come as a total bombshell. She first said that such covert funding of parties is a widespread practice in the aftermath of the Silvergate scandal i...
Society
"In addition to our ongoing programme of passenger vessel renovations, we are also continuing to upgrade and modernise our cargo vessels to ensure that we continue to develop this important part of our business," he noted, adding that the relocation of the company's Estonia-Finland cargo route to Muuga on the Estonian side in October 2017 and the launch of the Smart Port solution in Tallinn's Old City Harbour in spring 2018 both contributed to improved ser...
Society
During the final week of 2018, a total of 2,524 patients with viral upper respiratory infections sought medical attention, 47.5% of whom were children. A total of 210 cases of influenza were laboratory confirmed, nearly twice as many as during the week before, according to Health Board data. Over the past two weeks, the number of flu cases has quadrupled. The majority of these cases were laboratory confirmed at emergency medical departments, from which pat...
Society
I actually think that B1 is too low of a bar for attaining citizenship. You still can't participate in Estonian society on anything other than a superficial level as noted above, so I'm not sure how you can constitute a "citizen" on that basis. Naturally there has to be a high degree of arbitrariness, and that's precisely the point — whilst B1 level might be sufficient in German or French (I understand that it is the benchmark level when applying for citiz...
Society
Following a white Christmas throughout most of Estonia, Wednesday will see sleet and even rain in parts of the country, and temperatures hovering around the freezing point will means slippery road conditions. Early Wednesday morning, many major highways were salted or wet, but some patches were still icy, the Estonian Road Administration said. Eastern parts of the country will see scattered rain or sleet. Temperatures throughout the day will remain around...
Society
Last weekend, Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day and Boxing Day still ahead means that most chemist's shops are closed for five days in a row. Tallinners can still get hold of prescription as well as over-the-counter drugs in the 5 Tõnismägi St and 19 Vikerlase St shops. As doctors' practices are closed for the holidays as well, people will have to turn to the emergency room of a nearby hospital in case of any more serious health problems. In Tallinn,...
Society
Irene Ilves, the mother of former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, died on Tuesday aged 91. Irene Ilves was born on 6 January 1927. An Estonian refugee, she raised her family in New Jersey, on the US East Coast. She is survived by two sons, Andres Eerik and Toomas Hendrik, and four grandchildren, Juulia Kristiine, Luukas Kristjan, Kadri Keiu and Hans Hendrik, Mr Ilves wrote on social media on Wednesday, adding that she will be very missed by family and frie...
Society
Emergency services were called out on Wednesday morning after a man fell through ice at Lake Pühajärv, in South Estonia. The call was received by the Rescue Board at a little after 9.30, though by the time emergency personnel reached the scene, the man, who had walked on to the lake ice to go fishing, had extricated himself and reached dry land. The man stated that he had broken through the ice several times during his ordeal, after venturing about 50 m fr...