The Seshan Brothers are middle-school entrepreneurs, coding gurus, world-class tinkerers, LEGO Robotics champions, peer teachers, and pretty much everything Raising Nerd is all about. Together, Sanjay, 13, and Arvind, 11, are an unstoppable team of superNerds from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who founded EV3Lessons.com in 2014 to help other kids learn robotics and become creative, successful coders and engineers.
We are huge fans of The Seshan Brothers’ two-pronged credo of “Let’s Learn Together” and “Learn by Doing.” Our Nerd Profiles usually provide an adult’s perspective as a way to inspire kids to pursue STEM careers and what could become their life’s passion. So we thought it would be a great idea to have Sanjay and Arvind share their experience and philosophy as two budding engineers already well on their way to making that happen for themselves.
RN: What is EV3Lessons.com?
Seshan Brothers (SB): EV3Lessons.com provides programming lessons for anyone using LEGO MINDSTORMS. Our mission is to provide the best quality lessons, make all the information free, and make a difference. We continuously test and improve our lessons, incorporating feedback from others. We firmly believe that knowledge should be free. Therefore, we don’t charge any money.
Our hope is that our users will take the skills they learn and then create and program their own robots, whether they are for contests or for fun. We even have a “Beyond” section on the site to inspire others to “make” – to combine different platforms together and create just about anything they can think of.
RN: Where did you get the idea for EV3Lessons?
SB: It actually all started when we won our first state FIRST LEGO League Championship in February 2013. That spring, we decided to create a mailing list called “Coopertition in Pittsburgh,” and we started mailing out programming concept lessons to teams we compete against.
The lessons were a hit. In the summer of 2014, local FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team asked us to develop a curriculum for their summer camp. We not only created it, but also taught lessons for the whole week for free. At the end of that camp, we decided to share the materials on our team website as “10 Easy Lessons.” We started receiving emails asking if we had lessons on more topics and realized there was a clear need for EV3 programming lessons.
We purchased the EV3Lessons.com domain name in October 2014. The website was hosted on a Raspberry Pi in our bedroom. We started writing and posting weekly lessons based on our own experiences as a FIRST team as well as questions sent to us by users.
As the site grew, people around the world started collaborating, offering to translate the material into local languages. As a FIRST team ourselves, we realized it would be helpful to offer more than just lessons. Each week, we added resources we had created for our own team. We now have more than 90,000 unique users online in more than 150 countries, and have school districts around the U.S. using the material offline.
RN: How long have you been involved in LEGO Robotics?
SB: In December 2010, we went to visit a FIRST LEGO League event in Pittsburgh. We loved it. At the time, we didn’t own a MINDSTORMS set.
In summer 2011, our parents bought us an NXT, and we started learning on our own – the two of us in the den. In fall 2011, we started a FIRST LEGO League team – Not the Droids You Are Looking For – and invited friends from school to join us. We’ve won numerous awards as a FIRST team at both state and world levels.
Although we got started in FIRST LEGO League, EV3Lessons really showed us that we could do so much more and impact so many more people than ourselves. In 2014, we started designing robots for teaching programming.
In summer and fall 2015, we really started thinking out-of-the-box. A big part of our inspiration was visiting the MINDSTORMS booth at the 2015 FIRST LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis. Later that September, we were invited to be part of World Maker Faire in New York as part of the MINDSTORMS booth. To see all the makers come together and what others were making with the EV3 was so inspiring. Since then, we haven’t stopped “making.” We use EV3 and Raspberry Pi to create robots that play music, play games, print, and more.
RN: How much time do you put towards the EV3Lessons and FIRST programs?
SB: A lot! At least 10-15 hours per week all year round. We teach classes in many states, run local FIRST kickoff events, mentor teams, write lessons, create the resources, etc. This year, we’re even coaching another team on a weekly basis. As time-consuming as all this is, we think interacting with users and other teams is the best part. We get to hear, first-hand, about the impact we’re having. We get to help them succeed. And, in the process, we make friends around the world.
RN: This is a huge time commitment, so what drives you guys in doing all of this?
SB: It’s a lot of fun to create something yourself that nobody else has. Another big motivation for us is the impact we make. We get thank-you messages and emails from users all the time. Last year at FIRST World Festival, the best “prize” for us was the number of teams across all the FIRST programs that came up to thank us. When you realize the important role you play, it makes spending time on robotics even more worthwhile.
RN: What would be your dream job?
SB: [Sanjay] I’d like to be a robotics engineer. I love robotics and programming. [Arvind] I know I want to keep inventing. It might be robotics or just involve robotics in some way. I would love to work for LEGO MINDSTORMS.
RN: What hobbies outside of LEGO robotics do you have?
SB: [Sanjay] I like to create Apps and webpages. In fact, I like all types of coding. I also like to read and teach others. [Arvind] I like to teach also. In addition, I like soccer and the clarinet. I had to take a break from soccer to run EV3Lessons.com. But it is a choice I’m glad I made.
RN: What hands-on learning resources would you recommend parents use to inspire and challenge their kids at the preschool, elementary, middle, and high school levels? Are there any you would recommend specifically for parents whose kids aren’t quite there yet as full-fledged Nerds?
SB: Take your kids to places that might inspire them – historical sites, museums, other countries, national parks, robotics tournaments, and Maker Faires.
It might seem that we only like technology, but our parents have taken us to some amazing places that have inspired us. We are both Junior Park Rangers at probably 100 National Parks. We have been to Pompeii, Rome, Paris, Beijing, Singapore, and London. We also both love history and have spent a lot of time inside the British Museum.
You might be surprised to learn that we also like art. We have been to famous museums like the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay in Paris and MOMA in New York. Neither of us likes modern art much, but we think Impressionism is great. When we first came up with PIX3L PLOTT3R, we were reminded of pointillism. One of the first images we printed on it was the Mona Lisa. So, it all comes together. We may not want to be artists when we grow up, but making robots that can make art combines both interests.
Probably the most important part of becoming a Nerd is to have time to experiment. Early on, our parents let us take things apart – fax machines, laptops, keyboards, and other gadgets. That really sparked our interest in understanding how things worked. It also taught us not to be afraid of trying something, taking things apart, and redoing.
We haven’t been in a summer camp for years. Our mom likes to tell people that we make our own camps. That’s true. We come up with ideas and our parents let us explore them.
RN: Do you have any heroes or mentors that you look to for inspiration?
SB: There have been a lot of people in the last two years who have encouraged and inspired us, such as Filippa Malmegård, Lee Magpili, Ralph Hempel, and Marc-André Bazergui. These people have taught us how important it is to encourage others in the community, to share our work openly, give credit for ideas, and, most importantly, to make work FUN.
RN: What’s the best thing you’ve built together and/or independently? Most difficult?
SB: “Best” is an odd word to use because as long as you’re having fun and learning, that’s the best thing you can do, even if other people don’t care much about it. For example, sometimes we create a project completely by accident, like our Etch-A-Sketch robot. While the build is not that impressive, the fact it was invented by accident (Sanjay was trying to make an EV3 computer mouse), makes it one of our best projects.
Our most challenging projects have been the PIX3L PLOTT3R printing robot and our FLL robot called the TARDIS (Technically Advanced Robot Designed in Style). Both projects have taken months of work and required complex building and programming.
RN: What advice would you offer parents with kids who haven’t yet found their passion? Would you recommend kids getting as early a start on their career path as you two seem to have done?
SB: Let your kids try different things and meet different people. If they find what they like, there is no reason not to stick with it. We find that a lot of our classmates do 10 different things – play piano, sports, robotics, etc. – but often don’t like all those activities.
Our parents don’t over-book us or force us into activities. They let us decide…and they give us the time and the tools to get good at it. Doing robotics is like anything else. If you want to get good at it, you have to spend the time working on it. But you also have to like it and want to do well at it. It’s a decision we made.
RN: What are you working on now that might tip the scale and get a “nerd-to-be” or “fence-sitter” excited about robotics, engineering or other technical field?
SB: We are working on several projects: making Apps for Android and iOS, improving previous projects (M3MORY GAM3, PIX3L PLOTT3R), and starting a new robot (JAVI3R). JAVI3R was inspired by a robot at Carnegie Mellon University called Co-Bot. For this new project, we are building a symbiotic robot out of an EV3.
We’ve also been inspired by seeing what others build with EV3s, and by real-life robots we’ve seen in-person (Snakebot, HERB, Co-Bot, CHIMP).
RN: We’re all about encouraging Nerds to explore and learn by failing – trial and error. Did you ever destroy something or get into some other kind of trouble while tinkering around and experimenting with robots or other kinds of science projects?
We try and fail all the time! That’s part of the process. We have a box full of mistakes made during the making of PIX3L PLOTT3R. We learn from them. We show them to others so they realize that it’s okay to make a lot of mistakes along the way.
There are many projects we have started that never made it. We work on it for a week, put it aside, and eventually it gets taken apart for the parts. Sometimes we put them away and revisit them many weeks or even months later.
Finally, there are two lessons we want to share. The first is to try. If you don’t try, then you have nothing to work towards. The second is to persevere. You have to keep at it and keep finding ways to make improvements. You might discover 1,000 ways not to do something in the process, or you might even discover something completely new.
Ready to have your mind blown? Check out the Seshan Brothers’ PIX3L PLOTT3R in action: