Robohub turns one!

01 October 2013

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Anniversaries have a way of inspiring even the most cynical of us to ask ourselves big existential questions: “Why are we here?”, “What do we stand for?” and “What’s the meaning of all this anyway?” So it was fitting this summer as we planned for the upcoming fall season and looked at Robohub’s longterm growth strategies that Andra floated the rest of the team an article by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras on building your organization’s vision – in Andra’s words: “1996 and still on high rotation.”

Robohub’s genetic code

  1. A belief that knowledge should be open and shared
  2. A belief that anyone can educate themselves and make informed decisions if they have straightforward access to clear, relevant information
  3. A deep sense of responsibility to the scientific community and to humankind in general

Summer is (relatively) slow for many of us, and the article couldn’t have come at a better time. I was away at a cabin in the woods, doing my own introspection of sorts, and the article — which boils down as an excellent little handbook figuring out the core ideology, values and vision for your organization — resonated with me profoundly.

Yes, on the surface, it was a standard business strategy document, the kind usually found in the part of the bookstore where the business section overlaps with the self-improvement section. But as I was reading, I could not help but to wonder if this was, in fact, the article’s strength … for does success not come when an organization’s core ideology is held at a personal level by the people who work there? It got me thinking: “Why am I here? What do I stand for? What draws me to Robohub anyway?” I knew in my gut that I was drawn to strength of the amazing and eclectic personalities that make up the team. But did we all share some kind of (in Collins’ and Porras’ words) ‘genetic code’? What are these core values? And why do we hold them?

Core ideology
According to Collins and Porras, this raison d’être should be more than a simple description of what we do or who makes up our readership. In their words, “it’s more important to know who you are than to know where you are going, for where you are going will change as the world around you changes.” To get at that deeper understanding of purpose, they suggested starting with a descriptive statement of what your organization does and then following that up with “Why?” five times. (I was sure I’d read some version of this in the self-help section before …)

What does Robohub do?
We connect the robotics community to the general public.

To help people from the robotics community communicate what they do.

So that people can be better informed about what’s really happening in robotics, without the hype.

So that people and policy-makers can make informed decisions about robotics.

So that robotics researchers and businesses can receive the support they need in order to flourish.

So that roboticists can make a difference to society (through research and innovation) and to the economy (through the creation of impactful technology and high-quality, knowledge-based jobs).

Hey! I thought to myself. Now this feels good! Robohub’s core purpose is to make people’s lives better through the sharing of robotics knowledge!

Robotics requires expertise in a number of areas, and if you think about it, ‘knowledge sharing’ is especially important in a field that depends so intimately on interdisciplinary collaboration. Good communication is as critical to robotics as system integration. A fitting core purpose, don’t you think?

Robotics researchers and innovators can tell us amazing stories if we give them the chance to do so in their own words. And, in this connected world, the interested public has an incredible ability to mobilize around ideas they believe in. Yet though the public is fascinated by robotics (think: Robocop and military drones), outside the robotics community many of the most important robotics technologies are either unknown or misunderstood. This is, in part, because the main stream media either do not report on robotics at all or, when they do, they miss important details because the technical aspects are hard to understand. The fact that robotics information is spread across many different websites only adds to the confusion.

There are two main consequences to this lack of quality, centralized robotics information. The first and most important consequence is that the young scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow are missing out on educational and inspirational robotics stories to draw them into the field. The second consequence is that there is a lack of informed public debate on policy issues related to robotics, such as the ethical use of robots in scenarios like elderly care and warfare. Both of these consequences have a critical effect on the ability of the robotics community to make important, timely contributions to society.

We set out to build an international team of communicators with broad robotics expertise, including research, start-ups, business and education; in our first year we have brought in 66 contributors from across North America, Europe, China and Japan. So we are not only thrilled to hear comments from our readers like “Robohub is one of my daily reads and is now the only thing I have to read to keep up to date on the international robotics world” (thanks, Daniel Casner!), but we are working hard to extend this network further (interested contributors should get in touch!). We also set out to demystify robotics for the general public by acting as a gateway for the latest robotics research, tutorials, news and expert opinion; our volunteer contributors have published more than 1,600 research articles, tutorials, and news items in the past year, many of which have gone viral or have been picked up by mainstream news providers; our Google+ membership has climbed to 422,853 (and counting!) and we’ve seen our unique visitor counts increase by a whopping 2,164.18%!

Going forward, our goal is to do it more, and do it better. Collins and Porras suggest creating a “big, hairy audacious goal”, and ours is nothing short of becoming THE go-to platform for robotics communication on the web. In doing so, we hope to inspire the next generation of robotics researchers and entrepreneurs to become articulate and influential leaders of tomorrow.

But we can’t do it without you!

Robohub is a community, and a community’s strength lies in its engagement. Here’s what you can do to get involved:

  • Become a contributor. Yes, you! You do not need to be an accomplished writer or published author to have your story published on Robobub – we can help you polish your writing if need be.
  • Send us your comments. Ever notice the comments section at the bottom of every post? We do our best to make sure that our contributors respond to the comments readers submit, so go ahead!! Tell us what you think!
  • Spread the word. Like us! Join our circle! Tweet our stories! Upvote!
  • Sign up for our weekly newsletter. All the news from Robohub, right in your inbox. Don’t ever miss an article again!
  • Go ahead and republish. Robohub believes in the free flow of information, so unless otherwise noted, you can republish our articles online or in print for free as long as you don’t edit or sell them separately.
  • Fill out our reader survey. Your feedback will help us as we apply for grants and philanthropic sponsors to support Robohub.
  • Join us at the IROS workshop on science communication. Meet the Robohub team in person, learn to communicate your research from the experts!

Thanks to all our readers and contributors for making it such a great year! Here’s to many more.

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Hallie Siegel robotics editor-at-large
Hallie Siegel robotics editor-at-large

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