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Blogs > Some competitors are professional

por Raul Lapeira

The statement I want to support with this document is the following:

Robotics competitions are already a professional matter, but some organizers don?t want to face it.

First let me present you the current situation. Robotics competitions are celebrated regularly all over the so-called first-world, mainly in Japan, USA and Europe. In these competitions different teams, usually coming from universities, present their robots and battle each other under a certain set of rules.

Now let me introduce the problem. It?s the existing inflexibility in the competitions (and I mean most of them). The basic principle of these competitions is that for you to be able to present a robot you must come from a non-lucrative association or a university. Corporative teams are forbidden.

This limitation exists as a mean to promote research and participation of the youngsters and preventing the money from becoming a main character in the competition.

Why this limitation is a problem:

First problem: In reality teams participating in competitions are extremely different from each other, you find students presenting robots built with less than 150 euros, while other teams present robots budgeted over 3.000 euros. That is a problem because usually it is frustrating for those small budgeted teams to achieve anything in the competition.

Second problem: If you take a look at photos from winners of different competitions sometimes you see 40 years old men who proudly show their winning robots accompanied by their teams partners who sometimes are younger. That reminds me of the father who builds a robot and inscribes his son in the school competition only to be allowed to participate? unfair and sad.

Third problem: In some competitions it is allowed for teams to be sponsored by companies and they can receive technical support from them, but teams can not come from companies? what?. There is a clear distinction between "coming from a company" and "being sponsored by one"?.

If we were talking about sponsoring a Dodge Ball team I would understand losing or winning is not that important, but I am sure that if BMW, AUDI or Microchip sponsor a robotics team they will put a little of their human resources to benefit the image of the brand. It is no good losing when it comes to engineering competitions.

Fourth problem: Looking for sponsorship is by definition frustrating, you can call 100 potential sponsors and get only one serious interview. If when at last you get to meet a decision maker in a company you have to say, "well, it is an student competition" they start thinking you need money for batteries, glue, and some wood.

An analogy, the Olympic Games?:

Do you know something?, the robotics competitions resembles somehow the beginning of the modern Olympic Games, a long time ago the Olympic Games were amateur, and the founding members tried to keep the competition that way. As time went by the capitalist world we are leaving in displaced that original ideal. It took the Olimpic Games more than 40 years to face reality and it was only 80 years later (Barcelona, 1992) that finally the NBA basketball team was accepted at the Olympic Games (professional teams from many other countries were accepted by the time).

We are going to repeat the same mistakes with robotic competitions?, please ladies and gentlemen, it is the XXI century!, lets evolve!.

Conclusion:

Service robotics is a future mayor business and even though in a competition may not exist an economical prize, it is yet a platform where an autonomous robotics team can reach fame and make millions trough later commercial contracts.

Many times winner teams are not managed by students, but by titled engineers that continue at the university while they keep a commercial parallel activity. Sometimes even professors provide their know-how to boost the performance of a robot. Some teams get important sponsorship from companies while other teams build their robots with spoons and yogurt boxes. All this is pretty unfair.

Internet is a democratic community, I would like to request a serious reply to this article, coming from a known member of the robotics community in Europe against my argumentation. I would love to link it from this open letter.

If I write this article is because I have several photos and articles that I believe prove that many winning teams from different competitions are managed or heavily supported by professionals that at the same time are some how linked to a university, but I only want to improve robotics competitions, not hurt them.

If non-professionals competitions keep their non-professionalisms it will be a matter of years (or months) before a professional competitions appears and surely takes the lead (and the huge money to be) in this area.

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