Jared Schrieber on The Robot Brains Season 2 Episode 11

Transcript edited for clarity 

 

Pieter Abbeel: It doesn't matter what country you live in or what industry you build a career in, STEM skills are increasingly important, particularly for children and students who are yet to join the world of work. Introducing robotics to children at a young age in the same way that we enroll them in soccer or piano lessons should be a real consideration. However, the participation costs are often so prohibitive that it's out of the question for most schools and parents. Today's guest, Jared Schreiber, wants to change that. He envisions a world where there are as many elementary and high school robotics teams as there are basketball or football teams. That's the vision behind Revolution Robotics, a nonprofit dedicated to making robotics, hardware and software kits accessible to all communities. Welcome, Jared. So great to have you on the show with us. 

 

Jared Schrieber: Thanks so much, Peter. Really appreciate it. 

 

Pieter: Now, Jared, of course, I want to dive into Revolution Robotics with you and your work envisioned there. But before we do that, you actually have a whole trajectory. Before Revolution Robotics, you started your own company, InfoScout. Can you say a bit more about that? 

 

Jared: Sure. So prior to Revolution Robotics, I'm a serial software entrepreneur, last company being InfoScout, now known as Numerator, where we created mobile apps that incentivize people to take pictures of their everyday shopping receipts, no matter where they shopped or what they bought. We would then read out the item level contents and provide analytics to brands and retailers to understand them, response to advertising and promotions, response to new item introductions, and all kinds of other brand related insights. 

 

Pieter: And now InfoScout became Numerator, can't say a bit more about that. Why did it get renamed and why are you not there anymore? 

 

Jared: Well, I had that very good fortune that I think every entrepreneur dreams of, which is which is to have an exit and have the good fortune of of merging my company with with a larger company, we re renamed the two. Based on what the two two could do together, and that was Numerator. And so now it's now it's a company that's a part of the Kantar Group, which is the world's largest market research company globally. And it gave me an opportunity to step back out of being CEO and running the business day to day and do things that I'm perhaps a little more passionate about, such as this 

 

Pieter: now before InfoScout, I hear you were actually an algebra teacher in Arizona. Is that right? 

 

Jared: That's actually true. I put myself through college. I had to work through college, and the way I did that was actually teaching of all things. It's kind of crazy to think that an undergraduate college student could be a teacher as a profession, but it was actually possible back then at an unaccredited school that was kindergarten through ninth grade, where I was the algebra teacher and P.E. coach and the athletic director at the school. So I think it gave me this this basis for teaching at a math and science and also coaching kids that came together in revolutionary robotics. 

 

Pieter: Now that's amazing. I bet the kids must have loved it. And definitely I remember when I was in elementary school, high school, it was always really special. If there was a teacher, that actually was a lot closer to our edge and everybody else. 

 

Jared: Yeah, it's funny. I think it was special. And in fact, amazingly, these were eighth ninth graders. How many years ago, almost twenty five years ago? And I'm still in touch with several of them today, which which is just amazing experience ended up staying involved in their lives one way or another, and it's amazing to see what they've been able to do as they become adults. 

 

Pieter: That's amazing how you said. You said it's it's pretty much every entrepreneur's dream to build a company successfully and then have an exit, then get a chance to take a step back and think about what you're going to do next. Right? How was that process for you? 

 

Jared: Oh, yeah, it's it's something that I think when an exit happens, it happens so fast. You just can't digest it all. It's it's in a way, to be frank, it's a little bit anticlimactic. You realize through the process that the journey had to be the reward because the actual events of the exit itself turned out to be a conference call at 6:00 a.m. that was as dry and boring as can be to dot the i's and cross the T's and that wraps everything up. And then you take a step back and you say, Wait, I'm done. Now what? What do I really want to do? And fortunately, while I was still building the company, my oldest son, who was a fifth grader at the time, joined his school's robotics team. And it was the first year that the school had offered robotics as an after school program, much like basketball or some other sport. And one of the parents was the team coach and he was a NASA engineer, and within a week he sent out an email to all the parents and said, Help to watch out. No. And I said, What kind of help are you looking for, exactly? Because I don't know much about robotics. I know software, but not robotics. They said, Oh, great. Really, what I just need is a parent's health care. So so I started helping out with my son's robotics team. And what I quickly saw and learned was, my gosh, is the system complex? What they were having to have the kids do in terms of installing configuring all the software, on the computers, on the firmware. So for the brain of the robots, to the motors of the robot, for the sensors, the robot and all of it had to sing together. This is really complex to get everything started up and going. But but once we figure that out and got through it, actually the experience for the kids was was fantastic. And my son's team ended up doing very well, going to the World Championships for the program they were doing. It was fantastic and my son had a great time and as a result of that success, it seemed like every kid in their parent wanted wanted to be a part of the robotics program next year. And there wasn't going to work with a team of, you know, a handful of kids. And so what my wife and I did is turn our garage into a robotics lab for kids, and we started coaching multiple teams at the school. We'd meet in our garage. My, my daughter. Some saw some of her friends doing it. She joined in. Year later, we had a girls team and a boys team and a mixed team, and within within two more years of the school, we had 16 robotics teams. It was it was incredible, just amazing. What came of that and what could be the right kind of structure is put in place around it. And so long story short, when when I exited from InfoScout, I say, What am I going to do now? And I thought back to the experience of how amazing it had been for my kids to go through this, this kind of competitive, organized robotics and everything that they learned and experienced from it. And I said, You know what? The current programs out there are too expensive. They're too complex. The competition's really aren't that thunder fair compared to what they could be. And the only way that this is going to get solved is somebody takes a different approach than what's been done before to really lower the cost complexity, make it much more accessible to kids out there. And so that's really what I set out to do with revolution robotics. 

 

Pieter: And that's amazing. Now, where were you based at the time? 

 

Jared: Yeah, so. Wasn't in fact transitioning, my wife is my wife to in and as part of having an exit gave us an opportunity to rethink where where do we want to be, where do we want to raise our kids? And so, you know, Silicon Valley is amazing when you're building a tech company in a career, but as a place to raise a family, quite frankly, can be challenging. And so we decided to get closer to her family in Budapest, Hungary. And so we've we've lived here for a few years now. And fortunate unfortunate thing about being in Budapest is for some amazing engineering talent here, particularly in the field of mechatronics and robotics, have an outstanding programmer at the top university. And so I was able to connect with some amazing talent here to help me bring the First Revolution Robotics Challenge Get to Life, which is an open source project where we leveraged a bunch of existing open source technologies to build the hardware that is the basis of our our first kit, the Revolution Robotics Challenge Jeff. Now, that's right, sorry, after afternoon clarifying that was still Silicon Valley at the same school and in Los Altos, kind of the heart of Silicon Valley there. And you know, quite frankly, the kind of thing that can only happen in an environment where you have a whole bunch of engineers and scientists and and techies as as parents and family members, right? So so it made it easier to train them to become mentors and coaches of teams, whereas you can imagine in in other parts of the country, it's just not going to scale that way, whereas maybe a parent's comfortable coaching their kids basketball team, even if they've never really played because they've watched enough. It's maybe a little bit more intimidating for a parent to sign up to to coach their kids robotics team. And so one of the things that we need to do is just lower, lower the barrier to entry to make it comfortable and easy to onboard as as a robotics coach or mentor. And in fact, make it so easy. Kids can figure out so much of this themselves that they're very self-guided in what they do. 

 

Pieter: And as you set up, you have 16 teams and then you decide to go to Hungary. I mean, do you have any thoughts? I mean, you leave the teams behind, presumably with some structure, but you kind of got a restart and a new place, right? 

 

Jared: For sure. I think what that's a part of growing and actually knowing you've done something successful is when you can be replaced. You know, you build something lasting. When when you can step out of it and others can take over and run it, whether that was the robotics teams at my son's school and seeing that grow and flourish or in fact infill scout, the company, I built on being able to step out the other step up and take it on and see it for it's it's actually a great doing. It knows how to. So you know, you've done something that's that's lasting and sustainable. And I think, you know, quite frankly, I hope the same thing happen someday with revolution. Robotics is built up to the point where where it's growing and thriving and other people can take it to new heights 

 

Pieter: now or evolution robotics specifically. As I was looking through videos and blog posts and tutorials last night, it seems Revolution Robotics is not just a teaching program or curriculum, it's also a new robotics kit that you design to make things affordable. Is that right? 

 

Jared: That's exactly right. I think I think when I when I took a step back and said, What is it going to take to really have robotics, education and competition thrive? And maybe I could just take a step back further, which is you mentioned it in the intro to this, which is I'm envisioning a world where anywhere you have organized basketball for kids, you have five kids, a coach, electricity and clean space. If you have those four resources, a few kids, a coach, electricity and clean space, then you should have everything you need resource wise to offer an organized robotics team for kids. And quite frankly, if you're a school or an afterschool organization associated with education. I almost think it should be unconscionable 10 years from now that you could offer basketball to kids at a school and through school, but not offer robotics as a as a sport or an opportunity to kids. I mean, it's unconscionable that we would prioritize basketball as a program for these kids where so few of them are ever going to make a career living living out of it. And yet something that can develop life skills beyond the science and engineering skills. But there's tons of other life skills I love to talk about that come out of doing organized robotics. But these kids learn and develop from I mean, every attention should have that opportunity, and it just really is unconscionable to me that we're not able to offer that to kids today. But that's part of what I'm setting out to solve with revolution. Robotics is we have to make it cheaper. We have to make it no more expensive to offer robotics as a program after school program than basketball. We have to make it no more complex, offer it as an after school program than basketball. That's really what we're after. And so part of solving that is building our own kit to answer your question directly, which is the existing kits out there today. Just don't solve this question of cost and complexity, and to bring the cost and complexity down rebuilt our own kit. We designed our own kit from scratch. Know some of it's really simple, like let's move all the sizes of the pieces to be in standard centimeter increments because it makes all the mathematics and all the physics of mechanics quite simple and easy to perform and do before. For motors and motor controllers and drivers and everything, let's use open source technologies like ice water and sea and others to just make it so that anything can plug and play in. You know, instead of creating custom cables and ports, let's use standard network cables T1 cables as our ports for four microcomputer. Let's use a Raspberry Pi. You know, it's Open-Source. Like, let's leverage technologies that already exist that play well and play nicely together are much cheaper because they're produced in mass. They're not proprietary. And let's put all these things together and get them working in a way where you get them just a really beautiful, simple, extensible system that actually can produce be produced at a much lower cost and then out there today. 

 

Pieter: Now, when I think of the kids, I think of something a bit like a Lego kit where there's a manual that tells me what I can do. 

 

Jared: Or, yeah, I think the easiest parallel for anyone to wrap their head around is something like Lego Mindstorms or EB three, if they're familiar with it, right? You buy this kit, you've got a brain, you've got some motors, you've got some other sensors like an ultrasonic distance sensor or a button sensor, and you've got structural parts that snap together. Hours are people compared to LEGO. A lot of hours just happened to be a little bit bigger and allow for larger structures to be built and held together when a robot is doing mechanical type movements and actions. But it's very similar in that regard. And if you get the kit, you're given some some guided instructions to build your first robot and code and configure your first robot so you can remote control it. Or you can set it in autonomous mode and programed to do what you want. Very much like Lego in that regard, I think just maybe a little bit simpler and easy to get started. Believe it or not, what you do, it's kind of hard to believe when you think about it easier or simpler than the Lego. But actually, that's a lot of the feedback we get is the onboarding for the robotics, at least is is just a little bit simpler and more straightforward for four people. 

 

Pieter: Now you've talked about schools, and I want to get back to that. But if some kids are parents maybe thinking ahead to the holiday season or I want to get a kit, can you individually get a kit or does it need to go through a school program? 

 

Jared: No, absolutely. So on Revolution Robotics.org, we've got a we've got a little workshop and people can can go there and order a kit for the kids. Actually, we've sold quite a few that way. And in fact, randomly this last weekend, I met somebody who had told me, Oh yeah, we bought a kit for a 13 year old and its younger sibling wanted one. And now they're each building their own Robert robots, and sometimes they're building robots to do challenges against each other. And so it's just become a thing in their family. 

 

Pieter: That's awesome. Now what's the ballpark price? If somebody wants to get going on this? Yeah. 

 

Jared: So the price of tickets is two hundred and forty nine dollars. US includes shipping and in Europe it's two hundred and forty nine euro. 

Pieter: Nice. Now, when you set out to do this, it seems like you had multiple motivations, right? You were thinking about, OK, this robotics team was so much fun for the kids in Los Altos schools. At the same time it ties into career. You learn engineering skills, you learned team skills and so forth. Did you ever also take a step back and think is robotics naturally the right thing? Or could it be yet something else than robotics that's just as natural? 

 

Jared: It's it's a great question. I had to take a step back fundamentally. You know, I love the idea of stem or steam, if you call it including the arts as a way to to really engage kids in a creative form of learning and applying science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And so look, I'm a fan of a ton of different approaches. I've seen some amazing ones over the last few years as I've been researching the space that I'm a huge fan and supporter of. Robotics is not the only way. Is it the best way? Well, what I can say about robotics is that one. I've seen firsthand what it can do for kids in terms of really bringing their inspirational joy of learning and applying the math and sciences, plus a whole number of other life skills in the process and to what you can do with it, both in terms of creating challan Real-World challenges and competitions. I think it's hard to replicate and do via the other modes of of engagement for STEM learning. And so I guess that's what really appeals to me about focusing on the question of of robotics and using it as a tool to bring this kind of inspirational joy of of learning and pursuing degrees and careers in STEM. 

 

Pieter: Now you alluded a few times to the fact that the kids also learn other skills beyond the science part of robotics. Can you say a bit more about that?

 

Jared: Now, thanks for bringing that up. It's actually my favorite part about all of this is what I saw happen with the kids on these robotics teams is yes, they have to learn how to do some coding. Yes, they have to learn some of the mechanics and physics in order to to complete some of the challenges. But what happens in the process is the kids have to communicate ideas that are in their head, a vision that they have. They have to be able to articulate it in a way that their teammates can understand and interpret, and in the processes that their their teammates are going to give feedback. And if you've got an idea and you're passionate about, you're trying to articulate it in, the other kids aren't understanding, right? We as adults have challenges in terms of getting ideas out of your head and then hearing feedback and taking it away. That's constructive. And by the way, giving feedback in a way that's constructive. And still, the amount of that that happens in the course of doing this is incredible. You know, others are just to agree on the goal. What are the goals you're trying to solve for, right? We deal with that in business settings every day. Any kind of work, not just business setting, planning. Like, OK, if this is our goal, what are the steps we have to do to get there? Dividing work among the team members? OK, I'm going to work on this. You work on this and then how does that work? Come back together and interface to actually make the whole system work? You know, that's not just the robotics question or problem that's that's any kind of thought based work that takes place has these kinds of problems and challenges. And and the way that those skills develop through organized robotics is something that I haven't seen happen in the classroom and I rarely see happen in any kind of other organized after school program or activity. And these are the kind of life skills that I think we really need to be focused on with our kids to help them succeed in the 21st century. 

 

Pieter: I couldn't agree more. I think, and I think specifically the ability to give constructive feedback is really, really difficult to get that right. So now the kits are available online or and also some kids have access to to the robot kids through schools and so forth. Now, when you have such a, let's say, roughly 250 dollar kid. What are some examples of the types of robots that you can build with it? 

 

Jared: An example would be a robot that can play Jenga. And also so imagine yeah, you could have two robots competing against each other playing Jenga. And those can be an autonomous mode or in remote control mode. But you've got to design something that grabs blocks and pulls them out. You've got to grab something that blocks blocks. You've got to build some kind of elevator or scissor lift system that lifts, blocks up and places them back on top. We've got our robo jam coming up here in Budapest, which is a Same-Day challenge or competition where the kids show up in the morning with a kit and they're given a challenge. And then that very same day they go through the process of constructing and coding a robot to compete in the challenge that afternoon and then threw it around the competition. They can continue to work on and improve the robot to perform even better round by round as they go through the competition. And the one will do this coming weekend is like hungry, hungry hippo. If you know the old board game where you have these hippos reaching out for the balls in the center of the field. Well, what we've got is like a little soccer field, and the robots they build will have to drive through their own goal, which kind of creates the size constraints immediately after the drive in at the start of a buzzer, and they'll have to go out onto the field. They'll have to go grab ping pong balls, which have been dumped out in the field. So they're kind of randomly scattered over the field and they've got to bring them back through their own goal and collect as many as they can within 60 seconds while another robot is coming from the other side trying to do the exact same thing. And they get paired up with different robots each round. And and so that's an example. The types of challenges. There's so many different things that that you can set as challenges. And in fact, our app that we provide for free with the kit is filled with with challenges for kids to basically learn and apply new skills while doing something real with the robot. 

 

Pieter: Now that's so interesting that a couple of things you mentioned there. One thing is, I mean, when I had Legos as a kid that came with a paper manual, but what you're saying here. There's an app. You get the app and effectively you can get a new manual every day if there is one available and you can build new things or get new challenges, even if it's not a manual, but more like a goal, a challenge and a bit more about that. What's in the app? 

 

Jared: Yeah, so. So look, the app has multiple parts to it. The most basics are build instructions for some initial robots, just so they get a sense for constructing how things fit together, how different parts can be used together. You know, there's nothing better than actually doing as a way to it. So to learn in some of these cases versus just talking about it and so so we give that opportunity. And then there's an ability to to obviously create and configure their own robot. So I've got motors on the drive train like this and got motors being used as an arm or a claw, and basically so that they can configure a robot of their own creation and then they can write code. We use Lockley at this point for kind of drag and drop blocks of code that turn into Python. And what we're using that is an on ramps for kids to go from, from block based coding like scratch walkways, almost identical as a transition point for them to begin to learn Python so they can see the python generated by their blocks. And as they modify the path they can, they can see. The changes is what we're working on to offer so they can write little programs and then they can. They can assign those programs to buttons on the remote control that you alluded to earlier and all that's in the app. It's not. It's not something separate. It's all on the app. So once they don't control their own robots, then they can start taking on different challenges. And we offer kind of weekly challenges in the app or we've uploaded new challenges every week. And so a challenge might be as basic as as a build a robot that can race as fast as possible around the challenge field that we offer with the. But the app, another one can be one that's going and picking up things and putting them into into baskets or little cups of different heights. And so each one of these challenges is kind of a fun way to put the skills to the test. And I think fundamentally, at the end of the day, what we're after is is, you know, kids are learning skills that they then creatively apply to solve problems. And there's a there's a learning taxonomy called Bloom's Taxonomy that says the highest form of learning or understanding is when you can creatively apply the knowledge that you've learned. And I think that's another amazing thing that robotics offers. That's hard to hard to deliver it through other kinds of educational vehicles. 

 

Pieter: Now, Jared, I can tell your passion is, if anything, primarily around the kids experience and the kids learning and building teamwork skills and so forth. But I'm still curious, is there any favorite robot that one of the kids or one of the teams built that you can highlight? 

 

Jared: Oh boy, let me let me think about this. There's one I've seen that the kids took our motors and they did all kinds of compound years where we're basically, you know, you basically use it to help, you know, something spin faster and faster than the motor actually spins at the end of the day. They attach to tires to it, and they use it as like a shooter in the way that maybe you've seen in baseball a pitching machine or a tennis like a tennis ball. And so they built one of these and they pop ping pong balls through it and and the velocity and ping pong balls came shooting out. I mean, you literally want to duck because they might give you a well, so if you got hit. So we had a lot of fun build a building, this kind of like almost like a tank shooter. That's just that's just starting to ping pong balls at any target. 

 

Pieter: They so yeah, that's very creative. And maybe one of them wanted to play more ping pong and then have a partner. 

 

Jared: Maybe they need a partner for ping pong so that they don't that. Mm hmm. 

 

Pieter: Now, when people think robots, the first thing people tend to think is the physical, of course, because it makes them tangible, you can touch them, play with them. But as you already alluded to, a little bit, a big part is the software. Right. And and in some sense, if I think about jobs, there will be many jobs related to robots in the future, but even more so most likely related to software than robots. And so I'm curious about your thinking on that and you know how big a component is software in everything that the kids are doing? 

 

Jared: Yeah, it's it's a huge component. And in fact, I love what you mentioned there about about jobs. I mean, so many jobs are being automated and mostly by software. I mean, there's the famous saying of software is eating the world, you know, and it's clearly just taking over more and more jobs. In fact, I was flying this last weekend and it was just amazing to me as I experience the whole check-in process for thousands of people at the airline, and there are only three people at the Check-In counter because they'd automate it all through the kiosks and you're checking in yourself, you're providing your I.D. and confirmation, and you print out the bag tags and you put them on yourself. And, you know, it's basically just automated the role of of the Check-In counters. And we see that in so many areas. And one of the things that I've thought about is is you, this is going to continue to happen the levels of automation. And we probably want our kids to be in a position where where they understand what's what's in a vision, what's possible with robotics and automation, and don't put themselves in a situation where they're of fearful of what robots can, can do or will do in terms of automation. But they feel empowered and they know how to make a robot do what they want towards towards automation, right? And so put the kids in the driver's seat where they understand more what's possible and where this could go, and they can envision it, but also that they can see their role in it, which is which is almost defining what the robots of the future world will do. And I think that's really empowering for our kids in a time that's, you know, quite frankly uncertain for for where jobs are headed in the future here. And as for the software component, I think you're right, which is more and more automation is is really through the software side as opposed to the hardware side of things. I think there's a big role for the integration of the two. You know, how software works with hardware and the interface and the levers between the two is often where the magic happens. But are more and more opportunities on the software side? And having built a couple of software companies, I guess I'm particularly partial to that side. And so so what I view in this is robotics is an amazing way to teach kids how to code and what code can be used for. I think the online programs like Scratch and what Khan Academy has done, those are excellent, excellent teaching programs. I also think there's no substitute for for actually controlling something physical in your presence. Mechanical with code that you've created, it's different than when you're controlling a character on a screen. There's a ton of value that comes comes from that. There's also some unique value that comes from from building something yourself, your own creation, configuring it and then coding it so that it becomes smart and intelligent and aware of the environment around it and capable of interacting and responding with the everyday world that you also occupy and interact with us. Whether it's, you know, opening your door to your room, picking up the socks, throwing them in the laundry. Have, however, you know there's a mechanical component for getting that to work requires a fair amount of coding, and we're trying to provide that on boarding pass to kids just to start learning to code, but have a reason to code as well. Right now, they have this thing that they built and they want it to work. Now they have a reason to Kona. You give the kids a reason to do something in an objective and a challenge. They'll figure it out and they'll be more passionate about doing it than if it's just some kind of random thought experiment 

 

Pieter: for fully agreed. Now what? I was going through the blog, one of the things I saw was that there was a whole section in the blog actually convolutional neural networks and computer vision, and I was like, Wow, that's that's pretty advanced for our kids to get started on robotics, to dove into all of that. How how do you see the kids ramp up to that? That's kind of like the state of the art in artificial intelligence today. 

 

Jared: That's like, Yeah, well, look, sometimes you have to throw some, some some big, audacious vision out there to give people a sense of what's possible. And I think hats off to my head of engineering. I got a shout out of a dude who led the design of this, and you wrote that blog post. He actually took our ARKit and added a camera system. He's also added lidar to it before it, by the way, to make self-driving vehicle to our, which is really incredible. But one of the things we did is is with the Raspberry Pi. We left the ports open so you can plug in a camera and you can do things like like, create your own line following code, using convolutional neural networks, where it's actually interpreting what it's saying to the camera and and guiding the robot to respond in something like a line following scenario. And so one of our ideas was we have all these ports and capabilities with the Raspberry Pi. We can close them in because we don't actually build the parts to support them, or we can leave it open and say, Look, the sky's the limit. If a kid graduates beyond what they can do with our kids, wouldn't it be nice if they could attach their own motors, if they could attach cameras that they could attach something else and just continue to develop their own skills and interests well beyond what we're able to provide ourselves? And that's really in line with our vision for the skills. We want this to be an onboarding, not an end goal. This is a start toward towards a career and interest in in STEM, not not an end destination. 

 

Pieter: Now I'm curious if if somebody buys the kit and they're just alone, let's say maybe their school doesn't have a team yet can still be part of a community. Is there any way to help them get a team started at their school? What do you offer in terms of community building? 

 

Jared: Yeah. So this is really the next phase of what we're working on right now. It's it's a great question. I wish we were further along. Quite frankly, COVID probably set us back a year and a half from where we would have liked to be in terms of building out programs in local communities and supporting the onboarding or ramping. We're actually building up some programs now, like in Queens, New Queens, New York. There'll be an after school program and all of the middle schools. We're working with stock from California and other locations to build this up. If individuals want to do that, do this today. They can certainly ping us through our website and we'll we'll provide that with the support. We have program managers in the US who work with interested parents in particular or teachers to help them get started at their at their local school or boys and girls club or other organizations to set them up to be successful and get a program going. 

 

Pieter: Mm-Hmm. Now what's the age range for kids to engage in this? 

 

Jared: Yeah. So the primary age range that we're supporting is ages eight to 13. So this is basically your fourth graders through your eighth graders is really the sweet spot with the kids that we've created. We think much younger than that. There's some things we'd want to do to further simplify the design of the brain and the interactions. Certainly with parents, we see kids ages five and six having a great time with the kids. So, you know, and the parents, that's actually quite often it's enthusiast parents who want to get their kids started and they're ready to be hands on with their kid. They have a great time at ages five, six seven. But for a kid to be able to work on this mostly independently, you're looking at around the age eight and then they can keep going up to about 13 by the time they're ready for high school. What we found is typically they're ready for four almost direct Python programing like line by line, which which we're still working on. And then parts wise, they're usually ready to graduate from injection molded plastic parts all the way up to two metal type parts and much stronger motors and other other mechanics. 

 

Pieter: Now, do you have any favorite stories from teens or kids and parents working with the kid? 

 

Jared: Well, I can just think of one recent one that just came up, which is I was I was at a wedding over the weekend and I met a parent who bought some of the kids and the kids have been using them. And the kid pretty advanced 13 year old is is building his own like 3D printed model car, and he was trying to understand how differential gear worked and operated and to get a sense of how it worked and came together and how we might be able to do it in this in this model car that is that is building. He actually used our kids to actually figure out how to construct a differential gear and understand the mechanics. Solve it. And to be able to even conceptualize how it was all going to come together so that then he could try and and 3D print it for his model car. And I went 13 years old doing this. It's incredible, but also how awesome to know that like, hey, there's you know, there's LEGO, there's there's other tools out there, there's YouTube, there's other ways you could have learned and tried to understand this. He chose ARKit as the means by which he could construct and understand how how this works together and how the mechanics actually work. 

 

Pieter: Now that's an amazing story. I can't imagine the the best feelings for you must be situations where people you didn't know got a kid and don't even know that you're part of the team. Tell you about this kid. 


 

Jared: It's it's an amazing feeling. It's when you know you're starting to have some semblance of of an impact towards what you set out to do. And certainly, we have a long ways to go. We're just getting started. We're only scratching the surface, but it's nice to see just these early bits of feedback of the impact we're starting to have on kids now. 

 

Pieter: Talk about just getting started early, early stages and so forth. It's my understanding you ran a Kickstarter to get this going. Can you say a bit more about that process? 

 

Jared: Oh yeah. So, so like Kickstarter, Kickstarter is fantastic and IndieGogo and all of these platforms as a way to say I've got an idea for something. I think the world needs this or wants this. And if I can get enough people who share that passion or interest who are willing to contribute here, then I'll have both the confidence and maybe the financial capital required to to to get this going and kicked off the ground. In our case, you could imagine what we've got hundreds of parts in this in this kit. This is a pretty significant kit. And so the tooling cost was was immense in terms of creating all the injection molds for for for these for these parts. And so you really want to know that there's some interest and demand out there. Before you go, you go spend the money to do all of that in the upfront manufacturing cost is significant. I mean, these kits are hundreds of dollars, so you're going to produce thousands in production run that takes some capital. And so that's an advantage of something like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to get a get a concept off the ground. And fortunately, actually, there's a lot of great robotics and stem educational type type initiatives out there. So. So it's not a foreign concept to do that on on Kickstarter, Indiegogo. And so we did that and we with this opportunity to to basically find people who are willing to take a chance on an unproven idea yet and allow us to bring it to market on a on a timeline that we set out to deliver by Christmas, which was only six seven months away, which was potentially too aggressive. But my amazing team actually pulled it off and we delivered our kids just in time for Christmas gifts for four kids out there. So, so that was that was outstanding that we could make and we made that commitment. But the other thing is it set the right expectation with everybody of, look, this is a minimum viable product. This this is basically this is our first draft. We've put a lot of thought and energy into it, but you know, there might be some bugs or other things, and that's part of what you're buying by being a Kickstarter backer. And I just think that that's amazing as a way to launch a new product in a way that just didn't exist before where you almost had to get it right the first time because there wasn't going to be a second chance or Kickstarter allows that opportunity to get a minimum viable product out in the market to begin with from from early adopters and then use that feedback to refine and build, you know, maybe a future version of product, which is exactly what we're doing. 

 

Pieter: Yeah. And just to be clear, you said the Kickstarter version might have some bugs, but that is a, you know, past generation, today's kits are much refined beyond that. 

 

Jared: Sure. Absolutely. And we we just learned a ton through the experience you. We kept iterating as the first users would get on board and they'd experience something and we we go through cycles and cycles of engineering to just improve the experience. And so now we're two years into that and in fact, working on what we call version two of the product coming up here next summer that that we think is going to just be an amazing product that we have full confidence in and really going global right now. 

 

Pieter: I think anybody considering Kickstarter. One part of the process is division. All right, you need to have a vision that's that's compelling, but not apartheid, you somehow need to get people's attention. All right. There's a marketing aspect to it. I got imagine. And I'm curious, what did you do to make sure that people saw it and came to listen to your story? 

 

Jared: I'll be frank. I think we could have done more and more and better around that. One of the things that we tried to look at was segment the market, which in terms of who are the types of people who are going to express an interest in this kind of product at the early stage. And one of them is really Raspberry Pi type enthusiasts, people trying to maximize what they can do out of ramsbury pies. And so we can find these audiences online in all kinds of different forums, and we can provide little links or mention to our Kickstarter campaign. We can provide feedback on their posts of what they had done and say, Oh, that's awesome. Check out what we're doing over here and include a link. And so not only with that enthusiasts who posted something see that, but potentially other people who are viewing their content of what they had done with their Raspberry Pi would see ours as well. And click on the link back to back to the campaign. So whether you call it grassroots or guerrilla marketing, you know, we were doing everything we could on on a budget. Considering we're a nonprofit organization to keep the costs down and just be really effective with our outreach and so STEM educator for others, existing robotics program coordinators or teachers of robotics, we were finding, where are these people online? Where are they interacting with others who share their passion and interest? And how do we get ourselves inserted into that conversation with a link back to the Kickstarter campaign? 

 

Pieter: And did you have any kind of early demos that were part of the campaign? 

 

Jared: Well, we did. What's funny is we we hadn't done the injection molding yet, so the only thing we had was 3D printed parts. And I don't know if you've worked with 3D printers, but there's a huge range of a spectrum in capability and the ones that only cost a couple of thousand dollars. You know, if you're talking about printing Lego technique, quality parts or more, which I'd like to describe our parts as well, you're just not going to get the pins to fit very well into the holes. With 3-D printing, it's just not going to work that way. And maybe the colors aren't going to be as vibrant of the 3D printed parts. So. So literally we printed we printed parts that we found ways to force together to act like they were snapping together nicely. And and my, you know, my daughter helped me paint them the different colors. So they look like the real parts and other things. And we just built robots that worked that maybe didn't look fantastic. And if you see our video today, that's exactly what you'll see on the side from that Kickstarter video, as opposed to the actual final produce kit, which is a much higher quality product. 

 

Pieter: That's a great experience, too, though. I mean, it's a lot more expensive to 3D print per part once you're at scale than injection model, but it sure it's also it's fun ride to to see it just materialize in front of you. 

 

Jared: So much fun and the ability to iterate takes something that's not going to work for this reason, you know, sometimes you don't realize that until you have the physical parts and you put them together and you start using them for how they're intended. Or maybe in the process you realize, Oh, there's other ways to use this. And if we modify X or Y, it'll work for both use cases, but you just can't think through otherwise. You know, sometimes it just takes having having the parts and using and putting them together to to realize things that maybe you hadn't taken into account. So 3D printing for us was an invaluable part of the prototyping process. 

 

Pieter: Now, Jared, the journey you're on is absolutely amazing and really still in the early stages. Clearly, you you see it as something that could be in every school, right? Many, many robotics teams and so forth. Every household, every kid could be playing with robots and learning along the way. Now, if any of our listeners wanted to help support revolution robotics, get there faster. You know, in a more comprehensive way, how can they help? 

 

Jared: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, we'd love to have parents, teachers, teachers, mentors who would love to lead a group of kids through the experience of of of learning all of these skills related to robotics and of course, all the life skills that come along with it. And so so they can contact us through our website. Beyond that look, a number of individuals and companies have sponsored programs at their local community center, at their local school, at their local boys and girls club. We're always looking forward to working with more people to get programs in place at schools and organizations, and so that can be done through our donate page. Or if there are any questions, just reach out to us on our website. But we've got some great partners out there. Dupont's, I'd love to name is a recent one that's that's really done. Some great work with us reaching kids who otherwise wouldn't have these. Kinds of opportunities to make sure that they get exposed to what can be the inspirational joy of of organized robotics. 

 

Pieter: So many, many ways to to help make this dream happen. Well, Jared, thanks for sharing and thanks for being on. This is an absolutely wonderful conversation, and I really hope it inspires and gives opportunities by learning about this to many kids out there to get involved in robotics and all the skills that learn along with it. 

 

Jared: Thanks so much. Really appreciate being on your show, Peter. Thanks. Thanks for doing this.