To continue to reach students during the pandemic crisis of 2020, iRobot STEM used virtual platforms to host discussions with students. We hosted web events with students from grade school through college. From robotics lessons, to online coding games, to college career panels, our volunteers continued to inspire and engage students of all ages.
In a focused effort to reach more students in underserved areas, we partnered with after school STEM programs in three cities near our headquarters. The groups are composed of marginalized students learning STEM with the aim, as one group uses for their tag line, to turn at risk students into at promise students. Those groups were each provided with a set of Root coding robots and training for their facilitators. We will continue to work with them closely providing STEM outreach, career discussion and activities in coding. A similar donation was provided to the National Society of Black Engineers STEM outreach for elementary students in Boston with planned workshops for households so they can hit the ground coding.
Despite being home, many with family and children at their feet, our employees kept volunteering and giving back. Over 20% of employees talked to students, mentored, or showed off our coding platform. We inspired a student to code LED lights around his Christmas tree, spoke with a class about Python coding and mentored a college student who will now be interning with us this summer.
Our signature Permission to Fail panel for college students often resonates equally with our employees as much as the student audience. This panel provides insight into our individual career paths, but also an open, honest discussion of the challenges a STEM path includes. We share stories of failure, of self-doubt, of losing our way- but also how we overcame those challenges, dealt with stress, and managed the emotional quotient of college as much as the academic. We visited over a dozen colleges and, with remote panels more accepted, have been able to expand our geographic range.
2020 shined a new light on topics that have not changed in decades- our need for equity, inclusion, and diversity. To that end, we developed a series of Social Emotional Learning activities and lessons. Our activities generally encourage peer interaction and collaboration, but this renewed commitment allowed students to use our coding platform to learn about fair and unfair choices, friendship, listening to teammates and more. Our goal in releasing these activities was to help facilitate conversations and empower teachers and families to include Social Emotional learning in the education experience. Please see this post for additional information.
In hopes of inspiring students that anyone can succeed in STEM, as well as providing a diverse set of role models, iRobot Education began the Generations of STEM series. Each week, we post a biography of an individual in STEM from a diverse background, or a unique individual in an equally unique role in STEM. From astronauts, to physicists, to inventors, our profiles are brief summaries of their lives with the hope that students will see themselves in STEM.
iRobot® Coding Platform
Learn to code using iRobot Coding, an accessible, free online coding platform for all skill-levels. Beginning with graphical coding before advancing to hybrid coding followed by full-text coding, the platform’s auto-level converter instantly translates code between all 3 learning levels to empower continuous learning and improvement. For those who own a Root Coding Robot, iRobot Coding brings the code to life by connecting to the robot and having it carry out your instructions. Alternatively, virtual arenas let you control robot SimBots on your device screen, allowing anyone who does not have access to robots to participate.
The iRobot Coding App continued to evolve in 2020, with the release of cross-platform functionality to support users across different types of devices. With students home and increasingly turning to remote learning, the simulator proved an invaluable tool for educators. The simulator has advanced from 2D, to 3D, to promote an increasingly realistic coding experience especially for those without access to physical robots. Teachers could have students coding without using the Root Coding Robot and reach more students simultaneously. Families at home also took advantage of the resource, with family game nights turning to coding. As such, iRobot Coding had over 67,000 unique users who spent over 40,000 hours on the App.
Much like our coding platform, teachers and families had a great need for virtual resources, lessons, and activities. Providing new content continually, our Social Emotional Learning lessons and a variety of “unplugged” activities based in STEM allowed us to reach our audience in new ways.
In 2020, iRobot Education rolled out two new Professional Development courses and hosted more than six free, public learning design webinars with over 350 registrants. Learning design webinars are designed to help all kinds of educators add more tools and teaching strategies to their repertoire. They provide insight into exciting ways to engage with coding and robotics, along with ready-to-go activities that help parents, teachers and learners get started.
A bright light in 2020 was the release of the Root rt0 Coding Robot. Like the original Root rt1, the robot offers many of the same features, but at a lower price making it more accessible to families. The appeal of coding crosses from the classroom to the living room and with the Root rt0 we can reach more students where they are in their journey.
In 2020, updates for the Create 2 firmware moved online. Customers can now request a downloadable update for the robot, and as we release further updates, we can easily allow access for our users.
iRobot receives thousands of requests for charitable support. In lieu of financial donations and complementing the time its teams spend in the community, our employees can request a robot to donate to a non-profit hosting a fundraiser. The company donates over 12 robots per month to a wide range of organizations and institutions – the equivalent of over $100,000.
iRobot employees continue to support organizations, and work in their community for the greater good. Over 75 robots were donated by employees to various causes and non-profits in the community. Robots were used for fundraisers at organizations including a grassroots group delivering meals to hospital workers in the Boston area at the height of the pandemic. In addition, we continued supporting NEADS, a service dog organization, allowing them to raffle one robot per month among various cohorts of those receiving service dogs. As such, the owner not only gets the dog they need, but a way to keep up after the shedding hair.
In a year with a shortened baseball season, we still found ways to leverage our partnership with the Boston Red Sox. Reaching out to the Red Sox Foundation, we provided a Careers in STEM panel for a group of the Red Sox Scholars, high school students in the Boston city schools.
BestBuy and iRobot have teamed together to prepare teens from underserved communities in Boston for the tech-reliant jobs of the future. Clubhouse members can get access to the latest technology, including a 3D printer, a professional music studio, digital cameras, robotics, Pro Tools, Logic X, Sculptris, Adobe, and much more!
iRobot has a long history of taking action when the world needs help. Our robots have helped first responders In New York City after the 9/11 attacks, in the Gulf of Mexico to assist with exploratory efforts in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and In Japan to help inspect the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a natural disaster. In 2020, as the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread globally, iRobot and its employees proactively donated time, resources and technology to support healthcare workers on the front lines. iRobot supported several COVID-19 relief initiatives, such as donating thousands of masks from its manufacturing facilities to healthcare workers, participating in a project to repurpose Roomba® filters for use in personal protective equipment, retrofitting Roomba in Italian hospitals with a tripod and phone to connect patients with their families and releasing numerous free online and offline learning materials for both teachers and students.