Archive for the ‘Matt’s Corner’ Category

Adventures in Design and Manufacturing

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

There is a long held joke among software programmers called the “ninety-ninety rule.” The joke goes that you spend ninety percent of your time writing ninety percent of your code and then another ninety percent of your time finishing the last ten percent. The joke of course is making light of just how much work there is in finalizing code and how often that gets underestimated. Creating physical products can be the same way, there’s a long walk from having a single prototype in the R&D lab to shipping a finished product. Creating a prototype can be like the first ninety percent of code and that last ten percent is turning the prototype into a product.

When you are building a prototype (in this case, a robot), it gets taken apart and put back together a dozen or more times and each part evolves as you go. Things like cables, brackets, and sensor mounts are cobbled together from spare parts around the workshop and the design continually changes as you hone in on a working prototype. After you have a proof of concept actually working and the team decides that it should become a product you now face manufacturing, which becomes a whole new challenge with very different obstacles to overcome. (more…)

What is up with this packing?

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Some of you may be wondering why sometimes there are 924 different types of packing material in your box when it arrives. The short answer is that we are recycling Nazis here. See those three boxes below? Whenever we receive any inventory all packing material goes into these. When we pack medium to large orders we first dig into these boxes and reuse as much stuff as we can. Every time we do this there is exactly that much less in a landfill somewhere.

We could give you a lot of this and that about it creating savings that we pass along to the customer. This would be somewhat true as it does save some cash and that all rolls downhill, but the main truth is we care more about recycling than the packing material being  “pretty” when you open up your box. We do understand that it may look at little ghetto from time to time. It is sometimes humorous because depending on what we grab out of those boxes you could end up with 3 types of bubble wrap with tape still hanging off it and 3 types of paper including the funnies from a daily paper in China. We also recycle boxes themselves when possible. So if you are one of our customers and were every curious now you know :) No we aren’t running our operation out of a basement somewhere. We just recycle, that’s all :)

And we thank our customers for also not worrying about the packaging being pretty in order to recycle some perfectly usable resources. What matters is that your order gets there in one piece and the stuff inside is full of roboty goodness.

High Tech Recycling !

High Tech Recycling !

Why are we such Nazis about it here you may ask? This is why. I used to work at a Domino’s back in college. This store would fill a medium sized dumpster to the brim with cardboard, plastic jugs, and metal cans every week. Then it would get taken to the dump. Why? Because recycling cost an extra $50 a month. The owner had 5 locations, none of which recycled. He lived in a multimillion dollar mansion and threw that much shit into our landfills every month because he couldn’t spend a measly$50 a location. Appalling right?

Here is my point. The waste from one of these stores for 2 weeks equals the effort of someone recycling at home for an entire year.  That is how much a business goes through, when businesses don’t recycle that is where the real waste is.


We Love it When…

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

We created “Matt’s Corner” as a place in the blog for us to entertain our fellow community members with a peak into the world of running a robot company. In this corner the posts mostly will wander off topic as I wax philosophical about small biz in America, colorful customers, and life in general. It is likely that this corner will have it’s fair share of rants along the path of my slow descent into madness. Like I said, entertainment. Our pain is your lunch break laugh. But we should also take a moment to tell people what we love. So here we go, a list of what makes all the madness worth it.


A customer calls up that has already done research on the products and is asking informed questions to help make a decision. When you do this we love you to death. When you don’t treat us like some kind of we-teach-people-electronics-for-free call center we have little floating hearts over our heads. The gentleman who called after hours one time asking about the Bioloid Premium kit and had already researched which controllers were compatible and what coding environments he might use. He got a discount on the spot just for being awesome.

We are at a conference or competition and we meet brilliant young kids who make us feel like the people who bitch about “kids these days…” just aren’t meeting the right kids. Some of these youngins will blow you away with their enthusiasm and self gained knowledge. These kids make us feel like everything will be just fine with the following generations.

When we talk with teachers that are going the extra mile to bring robotics into the classroom (or after school clubs) to get their kids excited and involved. This kind of stuff makes our day. It is why we are building this company. Sometimes we hear from teachers who can’t get the budget they need and buy stuff with their own money. We want to hug them through the phone.

When people understand that $11 for ordering something in your underwear in your house and having it shipped to your doorstep anywhere in the USA in a few days is a PRETTY GOD DAMN AWESOME part of modern day times and not an overpriced service.

Anytime we see the products we sell being used in some kind of fascinating form of innovation.

When people share! When people take the time to take pictures and videos and post their projects with details. We LOVE YOU for this and so does everyone else. We wish more people did. This is how the community as a whole moves forward together. There are all kinds of places to share your projects. Don’t let them sit in darkness alone! TRC, Instructables, Make Mag, Let’s Make Robots, Thingiverse.

When a customer has all their contact info on their PO including an email, lol. (Seriously people, faxes without emails? Why don’t you send it by carrier pigeon while you are at it :P)

So these are just some of the things we love. A special shout out goes to our community members who make the TRC one of the best spots on the globe for sharing and learning about advanced hobby robotics. We are blown away constantly at the projects we see and the high level of discussions going on. The PC industry was started in exactly this way 30 years ago and look what it became. Robotics is taking the same course and it is pretty awesome.

So, those of you out there being awesome. We love you! Keep it up!

Crazy People Freaking Love Robots and RFID. PS – Mom, I’ve Arrived!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I always wanted to be famous when I grew up, just like any other well balanced kid. So when I started receiving emails addressed to me and the pope and Bill O’Reilly of Faux News, I knew I had finally arrived. The sad part was that this was merely in the head of a poor schizophrenic man. But hey, it is a start right?

When people ask me what I do for a living I sometimes respond that I deal with crazy people all day. They chuckle and ask, “No really?” When they see my humorless, dead, bloodshot eyes starring back at them the laughter dies down. I then begin to weep into my beer. I don’t get as many party invites as I used to.

Besides robots we also sell hobby RFID readers and tags. RFID is a harmless technology that we primarily sell to people who tinker at home and students doing school projects. Then one day Amal, a completely sane friend of ours, decided to implant some tags into his hands using our products. This created a flurry of media buzz and this of course stirred up the crazies. Suddenly my name started popping up on mark of the beast and end times religious fear mongering sites. I didn’t know whether to change my address or never feel more proud.

The RFID thing gets a decent amount of attention from the mentally unstable, but robots also pull their fair share of crazy. We have the emails, phone calls, order comments, and forum posts to prove it.

Welcome to my inbox…

Take this gem for instance. As a three page single paragraph stream of conscious rant about androids, cabbage worm brains, and mining mars it veritably breaks through the wall of crazy into artistic genius. I have seriously pondered reading parts of it as a spoken word piece. Good artists borrow and great artists steal. I could try for years and never come up with something this randomly generated. A snippet for your enjoyment:

It is possible to build an android automition that is controled by both computer and a cabbage worm. The worm knows how to look for food and eat. If a person designed the control part to reward the worm with a tiny piece of food each time it found the cabbage. The android would then pick the cabbage and put it in the wagon… the worm would then be allowed to search for food again. The cabbage worm would be the controller of choice for picking cabbage. God already put a cabbage monger here with the cabbage worm…. might as well enslave them! To think a cabbage worm could do it you realize the wasted human potencial. I think that these androids will give us the tools we need to not waste our God given talents!

Need more? has a slew of websites online.  There is even a school for pixies in the works apparently.

Some don’t give up very easily. This gentleman sent many emails informing us he has “the need for my wife and I to be in two places at the same time”. Hey buddy, don’t we all. He also has a website with 98,000 words and counting.

This one here wrote us his message in poem form. I think that was very thoughtful.

here’s a simple scientific test you can experiement

wear black clothes and go to a busy mall
you will notice your mind really hurts, this
is because black colors (or dark colors)
are pulling other humans imagination and bringing
them to close to you and you read it.

this causes stress especially when you are
surrounded by religious people or something.

but when you WEAR WHITE CLOTHES..
the opposite is true, you reject everyones idealogy
and you get to feel free with your own science.

This one here, which could also be in my post about not sending us your ideas, wanted to give us ten blockbuster robot product ideas.


“A female appearing android could have intercourse with a human male, synthesize his DNA in the sperm to form biosynthetic DNA that is part human and part mechanical”

Our community members have seen it first hand too. (6th post) Through popular demand we were asked to make this thread a sticky. We did.

Keep in mind, these are just the ones we have kept over the years. Most get deleted. So what about you people? Does anyone else have jobs that attract the crazy?

PS – I do want to be clear about something. I am making fun of OUR jobs here since we have to deal with this stuff. Schizophrenia is a horrible affliction I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But those end of the world and mark of the beast nut jobs. Well, screw them.

How not to get a discount…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Things not to say to businesses when looking for a discount:

“…this is just a prototype order.  I was hoping to get a discount or get a sample for free. When this takes off I will come back and order hundreds or thousands from you.”

Yes, we make money from giving stuff away for free. It is part of any good retail store business plan.

“…I need a quote for 50,000 units of your XYZ sensor. I’m sourcing parts for my product I’m going to invent and sell.”

Really? You are going to be a big business mogul, but you want to source your parts from a retail shop? Not the actual manufacture? Hmmmm.

We hear these lines fairly often here. People have this great idea and call up thinking everyone else will also be convinced of their genius. They want us to sit around crunching numbers for absurd quotes on orders that will never happen. These comments are often followed up with things like, “I’ll need someone to help distribute and sell. We should discuss partnering up.” Um, no, we shouldn’t. I already own a business that has turned all my hair gray. I don’t want yours.

Our floor mat switches are probably one of our greatest draws for the kooky garage inventors of the world. For whatever reason, people love these things. Which is great, because we like selling them and we see lots of cool projects with them. However, it also seems every project of a questionable or odd nature needs a floor mat switch as well and that brings in some interesting questions. We have had every question under the sun about the floor mats. One would think that you could find these distributed in applications from deep sea mining to NASA simulation rooms from what people ask. “Can it support a car?” “Can it be under water?” “Will it detect a cat or raccoon?” “Can I cut it into pieces?” Everyone else in the office knows we are on one of these calls because the response has a very clear thumbprint to any seasoned TR employee. It goes like this, facepalm plus muffled sigh, “No sir, it is not an industrial level sensor. Our products are hobby level products. We don’t know how it would handle detecting agitated cattle in a barn. I doubt it can.”

A classic often retold inquiry was the gentleman who wanted to know if the mats could handle a 120V power supply going through it. Why? We asked. Because he wanted to set up something to scare the kids on his front porch at Halloween. Seriously. He wanted to electrify a mat outside on a day infamous for rain so that every child in the neighborhood could stand on it. THIS IS WHY THERE ARE WARNING STICKERS ON EVERYTHING people. Because companies like us get calls like that.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the big idea people. My favorite was the very elderly gentleman who called up asking about the floor mats. He wanted to know what kind of discount he would get if he orders ten bazzilion of them etc etc.

“Why are you asking sir?”

“I’m going to make a product.”

“Oh, what kind of product.” My morbid curiosity kicks in, I sense a live one.

“Well, I’ll tell you but I don’t want you stealing it!”

“I can assure you I won’t sir. I have too many products behind schedule of my own.” (But I can’t promise it won’t get mocked in a blog a few years later.)

“Well, I have an idea for visitors that miss me when I’m not home.”

“Go on…”

“Well, I’m going to create a doormat that can sense when there is a visitor and then it will play a little recording telling them to leave a message and record it from them. This way when people come home they can see who visited them and listen to the messages.”

“So, like a telephone answering machine doormat?”


“And you plan to sell a few dozen of these?”

“NO!” He barked back, “I plan to sell thousands!”

At this point in these types of calls we just go for the entertainment value, because well, this is how we make it through some days.

“Oh, wow, do you really think you can sell that many?”

“Hell yes. This is a great idea.”

“I see. So do you know electronics or programming or anything?”


“So how do you…”

“Well, obviously I need to partner with someone. You guys deal with this stuff. Maybe you would be interested in working on this with me?”

Aaaaand there it is. The money shot. We have a winner.

So, the moral of the story is, if you have a crazy idea and you need a floor mat switch to pull it off. We have them. They are sturdy, but not buffalo-stampede-detecting sturdy. You are welcome to buy them, and we wish you luck on your inventing adventure, but chances are we won’t be investing. We are too busy chasing out of control robots…