Tag: Robotics

Robots in the Spotlight at Rackspace

Founder of Silicon Hills News

From right, Ronald Reagan High School  Morganne Blaylock, junior on the Reagan Robotics Rattlers team with Chilli Kellaway, junior.

From right, Ronald Reagan High School Morganne Blaylock, junior on the Reagan Robotics Rattlers team with Chilli Kellaway, junior.

Coaches in wizard’s hats, kids in bunny ears, others donning purple and yellow vests made out of duct tape.

A student riding a bike to recharge all of the electronics from his high school team to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Alamo Regional Championship.

A line of mascots and kids doing a conga line to hip hop songs around groups of students hunched over displays tinkering with robots. Roped off arenas for robots to compete. Spectators cheering wildly.
The scene at Rackspace’s headquarters on Saturday looked like a Lollapalooza for high tech high school students.

Rackspace transformed its headquarters’ event center into an arena where 60 teams of more than 750 students from the southern region of Texas battled their robots in the FTC competition. Fourteen winning teams earned spots at the Super Regional competition to be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center from Feb. 26 to March 1. Rackspace is the title sponsor of the competition.

“Rackspace is a strong supporter of STEM education in San Antonio,” said Daniel Sherrill, spokesman. “We just think this competition is a way for us to connect with the community. And we provide a venue for an awesome competition for students to show off their skills in science, technology and engineering. The collaboration among so many teams coming together makes this a really fun place.”

The students had to compete in two qualifying matches to make it to the competition on Saturday. Their robots, about the size of a laser printer, must perform tasks during rounds of competition with other teams in an arena. This year, the robots, which the students build and design on their own time, had to take yellow blocks and put them into baskets and then climb a bar at the end and hang from there.

Students also competed in business plan, marketing and social media competitions.

“We’ve got a lot of good competition here,” said Patrick Felty, Alamo Regional Director for FIRST. “We’re having a hard time judging.”

IMG_2660Inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST, which means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, 25 years ago to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students in the STEM fields. The program now serves more than 350,000 students nationwide, supported by more than 130,000 volunteers and 3,500 sponsors.
“As a business leader, these are the kids that are going to be our employees in the future,” Felty said. “They may be our bosses in the future. This program inspires them to become the technology leaders of the future.”

The kids build the robots, tackle the problems and find solutions. They compete, but they also have fun.

They also use the latest technology to help with their projects. For example, the 27-member team from Ronald Reagan High School has its own Maker Bot 3-D printer. They use it to custom make parts for their computer, said Morganne Blaylock, junior on the Reagan Robotics Rattlers team.

“It’s a lot easier for us to make our own parts,” said Chilli Kellaway, junior.

They brought the printer with them, set it up at their booth and printed different components at the competition on Saturday.

Shambots team members Alexandria Garza, junior, with Megan Isabella Rodriguez, senior, at Incarnate Word High School

Shambots team members Alexandria Garza, junior, with Megan Isabella Rodriguez, senior, at Incarnate Word High School

For three years, Megan Isabella Rodriguez, senior at Incarnate Word High School, has competed with the all-girls Shambots team. She was a founding member.

“The first year there was only three of us,” Rodriguez said. Now the team has grown to more than 20 members. Rodriguez plans to go on to study biomedical engineering in college. She loves competing in the robotics competition.

“The environment is fantastic,” she said. “Everyone here is so passionate and creative. It’s a chance to use your brain and stimulate it.”

First year Shambots competitor, Alexandria Garza, a junior at Incarnate Word, programs the robot and drives it.

“It’s so gratifying to be given a problem, create a solution, and run it and test it in actual situations,” Garza said. “It’s amazing to see other people’s brilliant ideas.”
Robotics is only the beginning of what Garza hopes will be a long career in engineering.

“I definitely want to become a programmer or a mechanical engineer,” Garza said. “I love it so much.”

For the all girls team, Toxic Green Hornets, from Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi just making it to the regional competition was quite an accomplishment, said
McKenzie Graham, sophomore.

“This is our first year,” she said.

IMG_2651The team of six met during their lunch hours, after school and on weekends to build their robot.

“Hopefully next year we’ll have an actual class,” she said.

Toxic Green Hornets team member Kasey Majek, a sophomore, wants to go onto study electrical and mechanical engineering.

“We’re all into science and math and this is a fun thing to do with your friends,” she said.

It’s also the first year to compete for Alamo Heights High School. Fifteen students make up the robotics team, said John Munoz, the school’s computer science teacher who started the program at the school.

“We did really, really well,” Munoz said.

The Alamo Heights Mules team qualified for the finals through two previous competitions and right after the second one, the students re-designed the robot and added on to it, Munoz said.

They had a few ups and downs at the competition on Saturday. The robot’s motor burned out during a battle.

“Immediately they came over here and fixed it up,” Munoz said. “They’ve taken apart the robot so many times. We’ve got a great programmer, Zane Witherspoon.”

IMG_2641The competition means more to the students than just robotics, Munoz said.

“They are able to open up and see themselves in a different way,” he said. “In the classroom, we only get a little sense of that.”

The competition also allows classroom work, like text-based programming, to have real-life applications, Munoz said.

“They can see a really cool design come to life,” Munoz said. “They also get to meet new people and be exposed to new ideas.”

A video made by one of the competitors.

Lessons of a First Time CEO at SA New Tech

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Jay Miltor presents XYN Technologies, photo by Andrew Moore

Jay Miltor presents XYN Management, photo by Andrew Moore

At SA New Tech Tuesday, Pressable’s Founder Vid Luther shared tough lessons learned as a CEO.
Originally named ZippyKid, Pressable, a WordPress hosting startup, got a new name following an eight hour meeting, scheduled to last 30 minutes, in June with Rackspace Hosting founder Dirk Elmendorf and a few others. After much consideration, Luther decided that the “Kid” in ZippyKid targeted the wrong demographic and didn’t leave a professional and reliable impression.
Now named Pressable, the startup has changed its web layout and pricing to target a more professional demographic – namely other web developers. The rate is now $25 to manage up to five sites, instead of only one, so web developers can use Pressable on the backend for website stability, speed, and security on their client’s websites.
“Rather than us managing a client one by one, they manage clients and we make them look good,” Luther said.
Five days after the changes, Pressable began to see more customers sign up and has enjoyed a brisk signup rate ever since. To date, Pressable boasts more than $1 million in yearly revenue and has around 1,200 customers.
Luther also gave advice on what a CEO should, and should not, do to have a successful business.

  • Raise more money than you think you need.
  • Hire smart people and then get out of their way.
  • Have a mission, a vision, and a value proposition, and make sure your employees share them.
  • Learn to speak to investors, marketers, and non-technical employees in language that they will understand.
  • Be personable and smile! Your face is the face of the company.
  • Spend more money on things that generate revenue, like marketing.
  • Have confident body language.
  • How you think about your customers is how your employees will think about your customers.
  • Don’t make self deprecating jokes as a CEO, important listeners might not know you are joking.
  • Don’t use sarcastic humor as a CEO; new employees may take you seriously.
  • Don’t assume that you are 100 percent responsible for your employee’s livelihood; they should know what they are getting into with a startup.

In addition to Luther’s presentation, Michael Girdley touted his Codeup boot camp, XYN Management employee explained its statistics solution for hospitals organ transplants and a Southwest Research Institute engineer shared an open source robotics code.


Codeup is a nine week in-person web development boot camp that guarantees to either get their graduates a job or refunds half of their tuition. The boot camp was created by Entrepreneur Michael Girdley because, well, he “got mad”.
“I’m mad that our educational system is so broken,” Gridley said. “I’m mad that people like Vid and all my friends who run companies can’t hire good people. And then I was mad that I had all these friends that wanted to be programmers but kept failing. I also like teaching.”
Teaching oneself to be a programmer is difficult, and Girdley found that most people either did not know where to start or were unsure what to teach them.
The boot camp, which begins on Feb. 3, costs $7,985 and will cover Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and JavaScript. The classes will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students will spend only 45 minutes to an hour in lecture each day and will devote the rest of the time to applying what they learned. Girdley has already received 50 applications and has accepted 17. His first class still has a few more spots left. To get more women involved in web development, Codeup is offering three half-off women’s scholarships.
There will be a Codeup info session at Geekdom on Thursday, Dec. 12.

XYN Management

Pronounced “Zen Management” and presented by COO Jay Miltor, XYN Management has created a cloud based application which helps hospital solid organ transplant programs keep up with their patient outcomes and predict what the outcome will be for future transplant procedures.
According to Miltor, all transplant centers in the United States get a report card twice a year which grades them on their transplant outcomes. This includes how many patients survived and how many kept a functional donated organ. If the hospital falls below standard, they must undergo a rigorous and expensive corrective action plan.
XYN Management has created a system that allows hospitals to keep up with their report cards in real time and predicts what future report cards will look like with statistical analysis. The system will also calculate the risk for a transplant based on a patient’s medical record.
The startup has been in business for a year and a half and has 15 current clients. Miltor says the company is profitable but is also looking for additional investments.
XYN Management is currently looking to hire a high level statistician (has a college degree in statistics) who can also code. Additionally, they need an interface designer, an Apex programmer, and a programmer.

Southwest Research Institute’s ROS industrial software

Southwest Research Institute Sr. Research Engineer Shaun Edwards presented the ROS industrial software – open source software for industrial robotics programming.
Edwards is working to create a community for the software and hopes someone will be able to create a breakthrough in the industrial robotics industry. A robotics programmer, Edwards is frustrated with the current state of industry technology which has been largely resistant to change and has been lagging behind other robotic applications with 10-year-old technology. Edwards hopes more users will build up the software base and ultimately be a resource for SWRI, opening the door for greater robotics possibilities in the industrial area.
“They build up the code base. People actually give software back to the ROS industrial program. Then we can leverage that,” Edwards said.
In a demonstration of the software, Edwards showed how it can identify visible objects such as a bag on the floor. He hopes that one day industrial robots will be able to look at and interact with objects intelligently.

SwRI Leads Open Source Consortium for Robot Makers

Editor’s Note: Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio is a nonprofit research and engineering organization with more than 3,000 employees and revenue of $581 million last year. It’s one of the gems of San Antonio’s technology community. You can read more about the organization here. They do work for companies and government agencies and they have more than 4,000 projects open at any time.

By Michael Girdley
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News

Southwest Research Institute’s Robotic Operating System – Industrial, known as ROS-I by Michael Girdley

The software systems that control big industrial robots on manufacturing lines have long been closed, proprietary and often written from scratch.
A new initiative from Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) Robotics and Automation engineering group called “Robot Operating System – Industrial or ROS-I” aims to change that: SwRI recently announced the formation of a consortium of robot manufacturers, integrators and others interested in cooperating on ROS-I.

ROS-I is based on the Robot Operating System led by Willow Garage in Menlo Park, CA. ROS was introduced about 5 years ago and has since spread like wildfire through the research community.
In cooperation with Motoman of Japan, a manufacturer of industrial robots, SwRI Senior Research Engineer Shaun Edwards spent a year at Willow Garage learning ROS and developing the basis for ROS-I for industrial application.
While the controllers running the proprietary software that come with the industrial robots from vendors like Motoman or Panasonic do a great job with basic tasks like moving to fixed points or applying a weld, they are lacking in the more complex problem solving that ROS does well. ROS-I leverages those strengths to excel at the hard problems involved in operating a robot like path planning or image recognition. For example, most efficient path planning is a difficult problem when you’re dealing with three dimensional spaces, confined operating spaces and a robot with six or seven degrees of movement.
The hope from SwRI is for a win for all the parties involved in the consortium. For robot manufacturers and consulting companies, they can see new applications of their product. For example, the first initiative from SwRI is around bin-picking, where a robot has a mixed set of objects to choose from and visually picks the one needed.
The open source robotics consortium effort is currently taking applications and hopes to have its first meeting early next year. For more information, please visit the SWRI site.

About Michael Girdley: He’s an entrepreneur, budding technology investor, reformed programmer and author, part-time Crossfit instructor and writer living in Southtown San Antonio. He can be reached at Michael@girdley.com and his personal website is Girdley.com.

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