Friday, December 4

Texas Alpha Robot - Report #1

So - the last couple of weeks have been an insane whirlwind - Winter Holidays coming and with them, the crush of customers to my eCommerce site With programming issues from a long-departed former development team, my guys spent a tremendous amount of time and effort resolving issues and building the tools that have quashed most, if not all of the bugs we found with our code launch in the past few months.

But, in the past four weeks, I have been traveling back to my old haunts in Palo Alto, on a completely different, yet eerily familiar space. And, after a stopover with the family on Thanksgiving, I find myself knee-deep into robotics once again. But before this takes a strange turn, let me start from the beginning of this chapter.

"Sanford, check this out!"
About a month ago, I got a call from a friend of mine who was looking for some help in developing a new robotic product. He had showed it to me weeks earlier, and I was having way too much fun with it (see me instantiated in it on the first version).

Texas, as it is known in the office, is not a new idea - a teleoperated, telepresence robot that allows a person who is equipped with nothing but a webcam, a computer and a decent connection to the Internet (sippy straw ISPs need not play).

The two engineers behind Texas are Dallas Goecker and Curt Meyers, both engineers from Purdue University (my alma mater!) and both are insane enthusiasts of BattleBots. They happen to work at Willow Garage in Menlo Park, a research group working on "open-source robotics". Their mission, which might sound a little idealistic
to some, is to create the platform for Personal Robotics (PRs - like PCs. Get it?)

A better way of understanding the concept is to think of the analogies between the two spaces (computing and robotics). Here is the dictionary of the breakdown:
  • PR2 (the robotic platform that is being built by WG) is analogous to the Macintosh
  • ROS (the robotic operating system) is analogous to the PC-DOS or DOS (disk operating system)
  • Texas (the simplified platform) is analogous to the Apple I demonstrated at the Homebrew Club by Woz and Jobs (but with less risk in the parts)
Make sense?

Better yet, watch the video below for a better understanding.

So, what does this mean? Well, I am back to my old haunt of being a product manager, focusing on delivery of a working system for customers and evolving the system for the near future. We are a small team, but working incredibly hard on this system for the next number of months - and I will have further notes as the system evolves over time.

"How can I help?"
So, you might be thinking - "Wow! That's cool! How can I get one?" Well, not sure yet - but I would love to hear if you have any great ideas on how to use the Texas in situations that it would be beneficial. The company is always willing to learn (it is a research lab) and I am always here to make it into something.

Catch up with me and tell me whatcha think.

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