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  • Overleaf Helps Zebracorns Robotics Team Create High-Quality Scientific Papers

    Posted by Kate on July 13, 2020

    The Zebracorns High School Robotics team from Durham, North Carolina, USA, consists of approximately 40-50 students who design, build, program and test a 150-pound robot to compete in various robotics competitions throughout the year.

    Zebracorns Zebracorns team members at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season

    The robot undergoes many iterations before it’s ready to compete, and as part of the process the Zebracorns document their methods and results, which they then share with the larger FIRST robotics community to help teach and inspire! The Zebracorns have been publishing their robotics documentation for years, and had previously been using Google Drive to create their documentation but moved to LaTeX to better handle the required formatting.

    The move to writing their documentation using LaTeX helped them to create beautifully typeset, professional-quality papers. However, before using Overleaf, the added difficulty in installing and learning LaTeX excluded many Zebracorns team members from participating in the documentation writing process.

    Overleaf and the Zebracorns Partnership

    In September 2019, Overleaf became a sponsor of the Zebracorns, and provides the team with access to Overleaf Premium Accounts.

    Using Overleaf allows the Zebracorns team to more easily use LaTeX; they no longer have the high barrier to entry that comes with installing LaTeX, and writing using Overleaf greatly simplifies the learning process. Plus, because Overleaf is collaborative, it’s easy for everyone on the team to work on the same document together. The end result? The Zebracorns can create beautifully typeset, professional-quality papers, but without the hassle!

    Overleaf has made it so easy for us to publish papers related to the work we are doing in robotics and best of all each new Zebracorn can use Overleaf pretty much straight away as it’s easy to learn. Our team are all able to write, edit, and collaborate in real-time on our web browsers without the need to install anything. As a team, we find Overleaf to be an invaluable tool for what we do. Megan Massengill, Mentor, Zebracorns Robotics

    Real-Time Collaboration and Commenting

    The Zebracorns documentation process starts with brainstorming a whitepaper and finalizing the idea. The team then create a new document on Overleaf based on the Zebracorn Labs template (which was created by a team member) and share that document with all team members involved in the writing or editing process.

    By using an existing template on Overleaf, the team gets an immediate head start on writing up. They just open the template and are ready to write using a formatted, clean, and professionally styled document. The template is ready to go for each new paper with no wasted time reformatting.

    Zebracorns_Robot Creation Zebracorns put the final touches to their robot before it enters competition

    Once the outline and sections of the paper are decided, the team sets to work drafting their document on Overleaf. Overleaf allows different people to work in the same document simultaneously. All comments, changes, and suggestions are tracked in real-time in Overleaf, allowing the team to communicate instantly as they continually draft, edit, and revise the document. This also cuts down on the clutter within their internal communications channels.

    Overleaf’s integrated error messaging allows the team to know, as they write, if they introduce errors to their LaTeX code. This, along with the ability to see the compiled document side by side with the LaTeX source code, makes it an excellent tool for new members of the team to learn LaTeX.

    GitHub Integration and Version History

    The Zebracorns team makes use of the Overleaf integration with GitHub by linking the document to a GitHub repository, allowing those involved to edit the source code locally. If a team member doesn’t have access to the internet and needs to work on the document while offline, they are able to do so and then push their changes back to their Overleaf document through the Overleaf GitHub integration.

    The Zebracorns find the version control and full project history options useful as well. Previously, in order to share and make revisions between team members, they would share PDFs via Slack. With multiple people sharing various versions of the document, they would inevitably find it difficult to keep track of the most recent version and the most recent changes. Rather than emailing or sharing individual files with each other, Overleaf allows everyone to be working on the same document in the cloud - and with the ability to save versions as they write and to access the full project history, this cuts down on the confusion within the team.

    Zebracorns_Robot_loading Zebracorns prepare to load robot onto the field of play

    The Zebracorns are able to see exactly who changed what, and when. This makes it extremely easy to keep up to date with the progress of all collaborators and, if needed, they can easily revert back to previous versions without the risk of losing work or regretting a change.

    Once the document is complete and approved, the Zebracorns compile their finished document and download the finished PDF from Overleaf with a click of a button. They then add the document to the Zebracorns Google Team Drive and post it to the Zebracorns website.


    The Zebracorns team has published several papers using Overleaf, and their papers have been downloaded thousands of times by members of the robotics community and beyond.

    In 2018, the Zebracorns was the first in the high school FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to control their robot entirely using the Robot Operating System (ROS). The Zebracorns attended ROSCON 2018 in Madrid to present their ROS project and to encourage others towards automation in robotics.

    Zebracorns award presentation Zebracorns and mentors present at ROSCON 2018 in Madrid, Spain

    The partnership with Overleaf helps the Zebracorns create, write, and edit professional quality documentation for projects like ROS. These robotics documents are not only used during the competitions but are also distributed throughout the robotics community and act as internal documentation of the teams’ progress throughout the year.

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