The Robot Group in Austin Texas has been around for a very long time. Since 1989 according to some of the older members of the group. I was still in high school and in California at that time, so I have to take their word for it. There are videos of interviews and news footage from the late 80s and early 90s, so we know they’ve been around at least that long. As any group will, TRG has had it’s ups and downs, its periods of waxing and waning.
Several years ago the group lost its meeting space and some internal personal issues seemed to kill the spirit of the group. Ever since then it seems the group was more about socializing among the few remaining members than any actual building. As a result membership has suffered and moral is pretty low. I joined in 2013 and in December 2014 was given the position of VP of Marketing, essentially. Since the resignation of the regular VP I’ve dropped the “of Marketing” piece, though unofficially. My job, to implement changes to improve membership and public visibility.
One of the things I’ve found remarkable about the group is, despite being about advanced technologies (robotics), a lot of the processes, procedures, and communications channels are a touch dated. Starting with the web site. The group had been using a wiki for several years. Which is great for internal information, but does nothing to attract potential new members or share information with the rest of the world. So, the first order of business was to replace the wiki, which had been offline for a couple months as it was, with a more modern blog based website. The new website is more attractive and should be easier for people to use. The challenge now is getting or folks to write, but more on that challenge later.
This first change happened right smack dab in the middle of our preparations for our display at the Interactive portion of SXSW. This was a huge opportunity to show off some of what we do in a very public format. So I spent a lot of time working on displays and pushing others in the group to get their ‘bots ready for showing. Fortunately Richard and I were working on an animatronics project which yielded a few nice displays. I had also just wrapped up my review of the Nomad project for Servo City and was able to display that as well along with a couple of smaller bots we alternated running a simple line following program as a demo. We had our sand draw machine and Wolf brought the CNC table he was working on which rounded out the rest of the space. During SXSW I was able to make a few connections which will help us out later. All in all it was a good show and, I think, really positive exposure to the community.
Next we had to prepare for the Austin Mini Maker Fair which was coming up in a couple months. A lot of the displays we had at SXSW worked nicely including the line following ‘bots, Nomad, the base of another commissioned animatronic project, the tentacle prototype for the monster, and sand draw. To demonstrate the breadth of our offerings we also had an RC plane, and art piece, and an infinity mirror. A couple of our newer members were there working on their ‘bots and answeeing questions. Again, we had a really good turn our from our membership and we had some good exposure. Though it occurred to me something was missing. We need a solid center piece to draw in the crowd and show off some of our many talents.
The solution to the center piece problem is the InMoov Humanoid Robot (http://www.inmoov.fr/). I will post more about the build in later posts both here and http://therobotgroup.org/. In fact, since the build has already begun by the time I publish this post, you can read about the progress here: http://therobotgroup.org/inmoov-build-plan/. Keep an eye on both sites for updates as we go forward with the project. Truth is, I will be building one of my own as well, along with another TRG member, Bill, who has been printing the parts for the group’s build.
There are other plans in the works for the group. One thing I will be doing very shortly is to start to migrate our official meetings from Thursday to Sunday. We’ll be starting with two weeks a month to see how that works for the group. If we find we have better attendance on Sundays I may work on moving all of them. Many of our older members like Thursday nights, so we may keep a couple of them.
One of the keys to making TRG into the powerhouse it was in the past and to open more avenues for growth is to establish a strategic partnership with Austin Hackerspace. This is a pretty solid group of builders with a strong sense of community. There are plenty of things we have to offer each other should we be able to make this happen. Not the least of which being the mutual promotion. My primary goal is to secure some permanent storage and display space at the hackerspace by helping to promote the space through our own promotional efforts. As a strategic partner we can list them as such in all of our marketing and help drive traffic to their site.
This is going to be a pivotal year for The Robot Group. I have a lot of plans I hope to be able to execute with them and am very excited to be invited to lead this effort.