For some, crumpled plastic water bottles, milk cartons, or Popsicle sticks might seem like trash, but for brothers and entrepreneurs Rohit and Sidharth Srinivasan, these common everyday objects represent an opportunity for equitable STEM education. . These and other common elements form the backbone of Trashbots, the Srinivasan brothers’ affordable robotics platform for schools.
“The name came from the idea that we wanted our products to be as accessible as trash,” says Rohit. “There are negative connotations with it, but what we really mean are things like a bottle of water or a carton of milk or things you find around you in the world. That’s what real engineering is – real engineering is being able to find things and reuse them so you can build in the real world.
Trashbots: Inspiration for a Fair Trade Robotics Company
Rohit and Sidharth founded Garbage robots (opens in a new tab) while attending Westlake High School in Texas. They were inspired to create a more accessible robotics platform by their experiences volunteering to teach in India. “We had spent the whole winter vacation going and traveling to these Indian orphanages,” Sidharth said. “We were going to teach them robotics, teach them science activities, math activities.”
During these trips, they learned about some of the barriers to STEM education for many of these children, and it often came down to price. Many robotics kits cost several hundred dollars per kit or more.
Rohit and Sidharth decided to solve this problem. They eventually developed an affordable basic robotics kit that could be expanded by using everyday items as common as trash. They have also created related programming software and developed a program that teachers can use to guide their students.
“When we started working on it, we were just kids who wanted to learn more about robotics and computing,” Rohit explains.
As the product took shape, one of Trashbots’ first customers was the Eanes Independent School District where the two brothers attended school. Rohit graduated in 2019, but Sidharth was still in school when his class used Trashbots. “Sidharth was in the class having to use Trashbots, despite being the creator of Trashbots himself, which we always rethink and think is really funny,” Rohit says.
Affordable equipment and accessible program
Trashbot robot kits are small, book-sized devices equipped with multiple LEDs, six sensors, two motors, and a speaker. However, what makes Trashbot kits special isn’t what they come out of the box with, but how students can customize each one using everyday items.
The hardware is just the first part of the platform Rohit and Sidharth have designed for Trashbots. The second component is the software used by Trashbots. “We developed this block-based software [that] helps kids learn programming concepts at a young age,” says Sidharth. “The third part is the program. Our curriculum is completely web-based and displayed in the learning management system. We have over 100 hours of curriculum that spans K-12.
Students and teachers benefit from easy-to-use, age-appropriate lesson plans designed to help students learn STEM concepts while getting the most out of their Trashbot. The work of repurposing everyday objects to build their robots also more closely mirrors real-world engineering and supports practical problem-solving skills, the brothers say.
“In life, you’re not always given a kit of parts to build everything perfectly,” says Rohit. “Instead, you’re often handed incomplete parts that you need to adjust to work. This is where Trashbots come from.