Stories from the Edge: The Universal Language of Collaboration

Why Zebra is Going Global with FIRST Robotics

Students use Zebra technologies during a FIRST Robotics competition
by Tom Boehm
July 17, 2019

At Zebra, our approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is to do a world of good, one community at a time. We encourage worldwide employee participation in globally-activated campaigns with strong calls to action, like Cancer Awareness Month and Earth Day. But we do so in a very localized way.

We Care About Inclusion and Diversity. They are Catalysts for Innovation, Especially When It Comes to CSR.

Not every non-profit initiative or organization is going to be a one-size-fits-all opportunity to rally company-wide support; we have a diverse workforce spanning more than 45 countries. Cultural customs play a major role in our philanthropy and volunteerism decisions. We want all of our colleagues, no matter where they’re from, to feel welcome and important in the Zebra community and the communities in which they live. We cherish the diversity of opinions that our employees share about which organizations best align with their personal and cultural values and could benefit from Zebra’s support.

That is why we seek global input on every CSR initiative. Instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, we want to know how best to scale our work with globally-present organizations in a meaningful way within each local community. We also want to know the different ways in which employees may want to get involved – and then provide those opportunities.

For example, Zebra has been working with FIRST® – a STEM initiative – in the United States for over 20 years now. (I spoke about our history with FIRST in a recent blog. Our sponsorship of these robotics competitions has worked so well for our U.S. employees for so long because FIRST’s volunteerism structure offers something for everyone. From yearlong mentorships to one-day event staffing, employees (both technical and non-technical) seeking varying levels of commitment can find their perfect fit. We’ve even had marketers judge robotics competitions and engineers help with team finances. It’s a lot of fun, as you will see in this video from our Stories from the Edge series:

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But this organization does not exclusively operate in the U.S., and employees around the globe have been asking how they can support high school robotics teams in their communities in an official Zebra capacity. Our first instinct was to expand our relationship with FIRST across more regions, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

First Stop: Taiwan

FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 7673, Formosan Sika from Heng Yee Catholic School, recently visited Zebra employees at our Taipei Design Center to demonstrate their robot and recruit volunteers.

Our relationship with Formosan Sika was sparked here on Long Island where our second-largest office resides. The team I have the opportunity to mentor thanks to my Zebra volunteer benefits, Team 329 from Patchogue-Medford High School, helped the Taiwanese team members cut costs by hosting them for the SBPLI FIRST®  Long Island Regional Championships sponsored by Zebra and mentoring them during their build season.

Now, the Formosan Sika team is benefiting from the wealth of knowledge of Zebras closer to home. Colleagues from our Taiwan office will support the team as mentors and provide technology resources to help build and control their robots.

What’s Further Down the Road

We hope in the coming years to have as many Zebra employees as possible involved in FIRST around the world. The concepts FIRST teaches – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) – are a universal language.

At Zebra, we believe that global collaboration is critical to success, and we work with FIRST because it’s a global organization that gets it right. While the game itself is different every year, the hardware and software approved for use during competitions is industry standard, universally used, widely taught and easily available. C++, for example, one of the three approved programming languages for the FIRST Robotics Competition, is also the main programming language used by many tech industry giants. So, even though the robots’ functionalities are game-centric, the skills and tools it takes to build them are used professionally. The experience they are gaining now, while still in school, will deliver significant benefits as they move along in life.

In some cases, FIRST team members have the opportunity to learn about and benefit from technology used by our customers today. For example, Zebra Dart™, one of our location solutions used to track people, assets and data, was used earlier this year during the SBPLI Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competitions. The Dart solution provided actionable, real-time data on robot movements to optimize competition gameplay and enhance the spectator experience by providing access to data from each team’s robots following each match.

To reiterate my message from the video above, “In the end, it’s all about allowing these kids to capture their performance edge – whether it’s selecting an alliance partner or making a positive contribution in their future. For some, we hope they make that contribution at Zebra driving innovation for us.”

A screen grab of what the FIRST Robotics team sees using Zebra technologies
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Tom Boehm
Tom Boehm has over 35 years of engineering experience. In his current software engineering role, he is focused on fulfilling customer requests for unique new features within Zebra’s Data Capture Solutions (DCS) Custom Products group.




































































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