Blog Archives

Trashbots: How Some Students Are Helping Educate the World in Robotics

Trashbot Co-founders Sidharth and Rohit Srinivasan with Paul Austin

I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!

I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.

For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:

Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US,  Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.

Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:

To tackle this problem, we founded Trashbots. The company’s platform we have created is distinctive – first, it maximizes creativity by allowing kids to use commonly found materials such as popsicle sticks and straws. Second, it’s less than $100 and one-tenth the total cost of ownership of alternatives because it also requires minimal infrastructure – no active electricity or Internet, just a Bluetooth-compatible device. Third it is scalable – the same platform can serve curriculum needs of kids from K through 12th grade by facilitating from basic building through mechatronics, 3D-printing exploration and programming with Python / Javascript.

A student in Peru program’s her first Trashbot.

Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots.  And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…

Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings.  We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world.  Their company is driven by three tenets:

 

  • Build differentiated products in terms of affordability and ability to enhance problem solving and creativity
  • Be community minded by embracing openness and enable makers to submit creative designs on our website and open CAD designs of key building blocks for self-serve and printing by our users.
  • Support all 1.3 billion kids, particularly in under-provided communities to have better access to our platform. We intend to donate kits and enable our more fortunate users to sponsor kits for students in such communities.

As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.

Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.

Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org.  And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)

From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!

#SXSWedu 2017 Manifesto

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-5-02-39-pmI’ve attended every SXSWedu since the beginning. As it’s located in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to learn and share with leaders from around the world right in my backyard. This year, we are sending quite a bit of staff to stretch their thinking and grow as professionals.  As usual, Ron Reed and the crew at SXSWedu put together a dynamite line-up that doesn’t disappoint. One thing I created to help guide staff is create a “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran SXSW-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a Slack channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #SXSWedu hashtag, but using a private group Slack can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Parking can be tricky…and Uber is gone

The days of free parking in downtown Austin are over (unless you are comfortable walking a long distance). That said, most of the parking around downtown is reasonably priced ($10-$15 bucks), but I’d encourage you to car pool if possible. Here’s a map of downtown parking for some ideas of where to find parking. Also, as Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin since the last SXSWedu, you’ll want to use an alternate ride-share company like Fare or Ride Austin to get around down town. If that doesn’t work, there are always a bunch of pedi-cabs!

Registration

Registration is located on the Northeast corner of the convention center (Exhibit hall 5). You should have been sent a badge via email from sxsw@sxsw.com that has your Quickcode to scan when you get there. You can also link your account with the social.sxswedu.com account to upload your picture ahead of time if you don’t want them to take it when you get there.

You can pick up your badge starting at 4 PM on Sunday (advisable if you want to avoid longer lines on Monday).

Food

Lunch places are always changing year to year so check Yelp for some good options. Prices do vary and “rush hour” is generally between 11:30-1:00. Some newer places downtown include Cafe Blue and one of the BEST pizza food trailers down Rainey street behind Craft Pride called Via313 (Detroit-style pizza). One of my favorite burger joints continues to be Casino El Camino on 6th street. Of course, if you are looking for BBQ and don’t want to wait too long in line at IronWorks, I’d highly recommend LaBarbecue (order the rib, it’s pricey, but worth EVERY penny!).

Events

SXSWedu has several events that happen in the evening. There are multiple movie screenings happening throughout the week. One of note is a screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” on Monday from 7-9pm at the Stateside Theater (with a Q&A panel with @RafranzDavis and others to follow).  Another event that I am personally involved in is the CatchOn Launch Party on Tuesday at 7:30pm-11pm at Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s a start-up company I’ve been advising on and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned for that evening including a little live band karaoke! Your SXSWedu badge will get you into all of these events.

Scheduling Quirks

SXSWedu doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 15-minute talks, to Think tanks, to meet-ups, to Future 20s, to longer workshops. Be sure to create a log-in before arriving and ‘star’ the sessions you are interested in but also note the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that with the exception of keynotes, most of the sessions Monday through Wednesday run from 11am-6pm and on Thursday they are from 9:30am-2pm with a closing party to follow. (you can sleep in!)

Sessions that intrigue me

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My interactive panel session at SXSWedu

I’m super pumped to see Tim Ferriss keynote on Wednesday at 9:30am. I’ve been a fan of his podcast and books for the last couple of years and I’m excited to hear what he has to say about learning and mastery. Sessions that focus on design thinking, student empowerment, and artificial intelligence tend to draw my interest this year. I’m also all-in on the Breakout EDU concept and I’m excited to see good friend and super-engaging speaker Adam Bellow at this year’s event. This year, not only am I attending, but I’m also moderating an interactive panel called “#AppOverkill: Going Beyond the Buzzwords”.  I’m excited to hear from the panel of experts we have assembled and we are also going to be doing some different activities to engage audience in the conversation. Come be a part of the conversation and fun at Tuesday at 11am!

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (Thanks to Lisa Johnson @TechChef4U for curating this!)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending SXSWedu allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.

Happy learning!