The Robotics Manifesto: The Athletic Nature of Robotics and the Resulting Implications

A note from the author: Please notice that any mention of robotics in this dissertation is in regard to FIRST Tech Challenge.


In today’s increasingly divided society, people argue about many topics that are rather trivial. However, the question of whether robotics is a sport is of utmost importance. While the question may seem like a mere argument of semantics, the debate holds much more weight than that. The overwhelming evidence which demonstrates the athletic nature of robotics fosters a vast number of moral reasons to label robotics properly as not just an activity, but a sport. Robotics should be undoubtedly recognized as a sport due to its intrinsic nature and the societal benefit the recognition would provide.


The amount of evidence in support of robotics’ athletic nature is remarkably substantial and often overlooked by the general populace. Obviously, the first step in determining if robotics is a sport is to define what a sport is. Oxford Living Dictionaries defines the word sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

Contention I: Physicality

Firstly, activities that are done within robotics lead to physical strain on the body, the first criterion of a sport. Although robotics lifting has been done before, the main focus in the physical component of robotics is in the common activities of robotics and the prolonged exertion during competition weeks. Common robotics activities that wear down athletes over the course of a practice include drilling, sawing, hammering, pulling and pushing on stuck parts, and, most often, lifting the robots. The unenlightened scoff at the weight of the robots, but the robots prove rather challenging to lift because of their awkward weight distributions, unwieldy shapes, and up to forty-two-pound bulks. In the intense weeks preparing for competitions, robotics athletes have been known to work five hours or more per day (sometimes even into the deep hours of the night) for a week straight. At the competitions themselves, robotics athletes often make last minute changes which may involve performing aforementioned exertions, running to get parts and materials, and executing long robot carries, sometimes on flights of stairs. Endurance also plays an integral role in a robotics competition day as athletes stand and toil all day around the robots with little rest. By the end of a competition, robotics athletes are worn out and need to replenish key nutrients just like other athletes.

The physical pressure that is put on a robotics athlete’s body is immense; additionally, the risk of injury for a robotics athlete exceeds expectations and adds to the physicality of the sport. In robotics, many parts of the robots and shop machines are hazardous to everyone involved. On the robots, some unrefined pieces and prototypes feature rough or sharp edges which cause cuts and scrapes to cover the hands of diligent roboticists. The shop machines that are often used have the potential to crush fingers, cause burns, grind up hands, chop off limbs, and even kill people. Even with properly trained athletes, the risk of extreme danger adds to the physical nature of robotics.

Contention II: Skill

The second criterion of a sport is that the activity involves skill. Skill plays a titanic role in robotics, and robotics athletes develop a vast repertoire of techniques over the course of a season. Building skills are the most common form of skill cultivated and include solving complex problems and scenarios, machining, and incorporating parts onto the robot within the given stipulations. Additionally, two modes of each season’s designated game, autonomous operation and telemetric operation, need codes which are composed by team members. Programming for the autonomous period consists of creating a strategy that efficiently and consistently accomplishes the given task as well as adapting to the robot’s needs. Telemetric programming involves similar skills to autonomous programming but has a stronger focus on optimization and ease-of-use for robot drivers. Regarding robot drivers, drivers work on improving their level of control over the robot, their strategy while playing the year’s game, and their ability to communicate with each other effectively. The amount of skill required to compete in all facets of robotics goes far beyond the burden of proof in demonstrating the second criterion of a sport.

Contention III: Competition

Robotics also easily fulfills the third criterion of a sport: competition. In robotics, around seven competitions are held per season. At robotics competitions, teams are randomly paired together in five to six matches and set against other pairs throughout the day. Even though the alliances are changing constantly, the aspect of competition remains the same. Over the course of a competition day, teams gain points for themselves and the teams who win more matches overall and defeat higher scoring teams rise to the top of the leaderboards. Ignorantly, some proponents of the anti-athletic robotics school of thought discount the athletic nature of robotics while simultaneously insisting that games and activities such as bowling, cheerleading, dancing, marching band, and show choir are sports. All of these games and activities are categorically similar in the sense that participants in these activities are not directly competing; their participants have an insignificant effect on each other as they either play a game or perform a show for an audience. While some games and performing arts masquerade as sports, robotics is excluded for invalid reasons.

Contention IV: Entertainment

Lastly, the fourth and final criterion in the definition of a sport is that the activity is done for entertainment. Watching robotics is an interesting experience for newcomers and veterans alike; the spectacle is both intense and fascinating. Many people watch this display of skill and struggle and wonder how a part of a robot works or how roboticists arrived at their solution to the interesting and unique challenges set before them each season. With gracious professionalism, a concept similar to good sportsmanship, robotics athletes display their skills and strategies to a crowd of passionate and engaged fans. Despite having varying tasks to complete from season to season, robotics never fails to possess the four fundamental attributes of a sport: physical exertion, skill, competition, and entertainment.

Moral and Societal Implications

Due to copious amounts of proof, the fact that robotics is a sport is apparent. To say that robotics is not a sport would be a lie to oneself and others. Furthermore, denying the athletic nature of robotics is deeply hurtful to all involved in the culture of robotics since the abusive speech misinforms the public and consequently leads to attacks on identity. An attack on the identities of robotics athletes is inherently immoral and destructive to the victims. However, the recognition of robotics as a sport has more implications than to simply those directly involved; the ramifications reach the depths of society itself. In today’s era of increasingly unreliable information and radicalization of ideas, truth is of utmost importance. Truth is a fundamental building block of society, and without truth, societal disorder follows. Contrarily, if the people of this world stand for individual truths such as the athleticness of robotics, the world will prosper. If more truth exists in this world, trust in everyone, including corporations, will increase. Deregulation will occur due to a subsequent lessening of need for accountability in the business world. As regulation decreases, efficiency will increase, which will foster the economy along with technological advancements. In turn, everyone’s quality and quantity of life will go up. The only morally justifiable option is to name robotics a sport; acknowledging robotics as a sport is an acknowledgment of truth and consequently holds great benefit to society.

Call to Action and Conclusion

By taking a complete look at the evidence and arguments available, one will either reach the conclusion that robotics is a sport or lie to himself and others about the truth. Because robotics is an activity done for entertainment in which teams compete using their athleticism and skills, the activity is surely a sport. Henceforth, society needs to recognize robotics as a sport in order to progress at a faster rate. Spreading the information to everyone possible in any way possible is optimal for societal benefit. Athletic departments in educational institutions need to incorporate robotics into their programs and robotics athletes should receive the same prestige as other athletes, including the provision of varsity letters and scholarships for advancing to the college level. Although society is often divided, people must assemble to stand in solidarity about the athletic nature of robotics.


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