Friday, December 9, 2011

The 2 Year Old vs. The Washing Machine

A short while ago David Bruemmer, VP of R&D at 5D Robotics, came and spoke with us about a major design challenge they faced with building their robots. A lot of time the customer wasn't even sure what they wanted, or worse: they thought they knew what they wanted but were incorrect. A number of the problems boiled down to one feature, whether the 5D robots should be autonomous or intelligent. Many of their clients thought one style would be what they wanted when really another would get the job done. It took David breaking down the definitions with clear examples in order for them to really become clear. An autonomous object would be a washing machine, you tell it what to do, say go, and the machine goes off and executes the same sequence of events every time. Intelligence is where things got more interesting, David's example was a 2 year old. He defined intelligence as the ability to soak up data from the surrounds and learn from those stimuli. With that in mind, the 2 year old is a perfect example. No where else is there something or someone that can learn to walk, speak, eat, develop coordination and truly be a blank slate mind eager to learn. The dichotomy between the washing machine and the 2 year old is certainly a unique one to keep in mind while designing our final application of our smartsurface. Do we want a 2 year old that can predict the next rainfall, tell you when dusk will be and learn from its surrounding, or will a washing machine suffice if it just sits outside and executes the code it is supposed to at the time it is supposed to?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Eat Small vs. Fast Eat Slow

"We are moving from a world where the big eat the small, to one where the fast eat the slow." I heard this interesting quote the other day and something about it really resonated with me. I thought about all the ideas my smartsurfaces group had over this past month. Some were on a grand scale (water collecting skyscraper) and some were small (bio-sand filter) but the most important thing seems to be rapidly churning out results regardless of size. This is something that as of late we have gotten much better at. We made great strides with our rapid prototyping sessions last week and really came on strong again this week.

Here is a picture of the (water)Lilly is all its glory:

And here it is with a chair next to it for a size reference:

It's too bad the world is shifting from one where the big eat the small because we certainly went all out and have a BFT to present this week. At least we are adjusting appropriately and are starting to pick up the pace with the fast vs. slow aspect.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We Made a Mess!!! - Part II

Friday 11/11/11:
It was a lucky day for most and Smart Surfaces prototyping was no exception. After carrying on the momentum we had from a great session Tuesday we again came ready to work. We cut, glued, coded, wired, and did just about everything we could in order to get our (water)Lilly functional. We again made a huge leap from where we were a few hours prior, and hopefully that comes through in our presentation tomorrow. You can see some of our progress for yourself:

This is accurate through our Friday work session but doesn't include the enhancements we made over the weekend. Be prepared for a video of the working model opening and closing and potentially even a live demo if we can get the opening/closing leads to stay wound correctly. The next step is fully waterproofing our lilly. While most of the components will be fine (the yupo and PVC), there are still a few components made of cardboard that need to be changed out. The electronics are safely embedded inside, away from water and theft. I hope everyone in class has a better idea of our vision and can provide some good feedback going forward :-).

We Made a Mess!!!

On this past Tuesday (11/8/11) my Smart Surfaces team made a huge mess. It was fantastic! We finally got our hands dirty and whipped out some rapid prototypes. The major concern that we were all having is that we had all these great and crazy ideas but no feasibility check and no physical mock up. Carl asked "thats cool, but what does it look like?" at the end of our presentation and we didn't have an answer for him. We were determined to change that. Here are some pictures from our first prototype development day of the week:


It was an ultra productive session. We split the time into 3 45 min sessions where everyone came up with a unique solution to solve the specific component and came back together for a vote of the best idea. The results were great: the catchment form, the base, and the pulley system were all hashed out in a relatively short time. Keep up the good work for the rest of the week!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge

This past Saturday was a crazy one, and I'm not just speaking in terms of Michigan Football. Though the Wolverines fell a touch short, Saturday was still a great and productive day. Waking up at 6:30 to make the drive out to Kalamazoo was not the best way to start the day, but a few cups of coffee and an hour and a half of driving later Jay, Zhewei and I arrived onto Western's campus and were ready to represent BooCycles. BooCycles is a bamboo bikes project aimed at promoting sustainability through materials selection and clean transportation while being socially driven with a goal of providing bike transportation in Uganda. The MiCEVC skill building day was extremely helpful and BooCycles was able to get some great feedback as well as identify action items we need to accomplish in order to progress our idea into a full fledged business. With 14 teams consisting of a total of 70 people there were certainly ideas aplenty. Teams with projects ranging from energy consumption savings with fuel injection and efficient lighting, to farming and fishing sustainability presented their ideas and businesses.

After a brief introduction of the teams we dove right into working. The first activity was a business blueprint. We covered the paper in sticky notes and really identified who our target customer was within a particular segment, what key resources we had and how we could separate ourselves from competitors with a unique value proposition. We then did some customer discovery with other teams to find out if we were really addressing the correct problem. Our initial price point came into question as we wanted to utilize the sustainable materials and foreign aid aspects of the project. If we are able to reach price parody with current bikes and still offer these great extras then we could truly have a game changing idea on our hands. As the day wound down we gained insight into what markets to reach out to, who to contact first in order to access those markets and what we could do to progress the idea as quickly as possible. The final skill building exercise was to make a pitch deck and then pitch it to one of the people running the event. Amy Klinke, U of M Center for Entrepreneurship's Asst. Director of Small Business Initiatives, gave us some great feedback on our pitch and how to polish it even more. All in all it was a great day and I'm glad to have learned some extremely important skills!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Collection Precedents

After getting feedback from the class on our filtration system it looks like the need is more in collection. That is quite understandable; we could build the best filter in the world but it is just going to sit there if there is no water coming to it. Besides, Bio-sand filters are a well known technology and the Power House could easily build one themselves rather cheaply. Looking into collection systems has been interesting and fun. There are a lot of really cool precedents out there from small scale dew collection on spider webs to man made structures like the inverse pyramid WatAir (personal / family sized dew collection) to the designboom rain collection skyscraper.


There are some really cool collection possibilities out there. I'm sure we'll come up with something great. This weekend will be hectic with a day long skill building event at the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge on the agenda. Updates with how that goes soon! :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Team, The Team, The Team

Former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler gave his famous "The Team, The Team, The Team" speech in order to emphasize the fact that no individual is more important than the team. It doesn't matter if you have a star QB if the o-line can't block for him or the D always gives up too many points. That is why our Smart Surfaces team, and our roles within the team, are so important. I got placed with a great team; everyone brings unique skills, is enthuasiastic, flexible, creative, and we can all bounce ideas off one another. The six of us have one common ground - we bring all innovative and exciting ideas to the project. Everyone works on all aspects of the project but we have a few recurring tasks and administrative issues that having a point person on will be extremely helpful. Here's how we divided those roles:

Scribe - Lindsey
Moneybags - Me
HAL - Dylan
Inventory - Yun
Visionary - Erika
Head Honcho - Branden

I'll be keeping an eye out for our overall budget and making sure we get everything ordered that we need to.
After our most recent meeting I really like the direction of the group, we are trying to tackle a major issue that hasn't been addressed at the power house yet and we have some really cool inspiration to go off of. More on this later. :-)