Poco-Intro: George Nelson

This is the kind of plane I usually fly, a Cessna 172

Hello everyone, I’m George. I am a big fan of both mechatronics and aviation. I’ll be posting about both of those here.

The 172 has been around since 1956, and while there have been many improvements, the basic airframe has changed very little. The engine has gotten bigger, more powerful, and more reliable, but its wing design and four-seat cockpit configuration are very similar to the original design. A pilot that could fly the 1956 version would not be lost in a more recent model; it is still a very popular airplane. The reason I’m bringing this up is that until a few years ago, cockpits used to be filled with round dials and elaborate instruments. Now, the cockpit has two LCD screens that give more information to the pilot in a much more efficient way.

Modern Instrument Panel (left) and Steam Gauge Instrument Panel (right)

These screens have to take data from extremely accurate instruments scattered around the plane, check them for accuracy, and display the data to the pilot in a meaningful way.

Not your father’s compass

This is what mechatronics is all about: using cutting edge electronics and engineering to transform an otherwise stagnant technology. Integrating super precise instruments with the physical airframe, creating a clean circuit, and writing intuitive software that a pilot can use, even in emergencies. Mechatronics really brings a bunch of technologies that used to be separate and integrates them all into one awesome package. I’m really excited about mechatronics, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

Poco-Intro: Alex Forman

As one of the newest additions to the team, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself. This being a blog, it may devolve into a game of “Things I Think are Cool” but rarely is there a better way to get a quick handle on someone’s passions and the way they think.

I come from a slightly different background from the other members of our group. I’ve spent my time with the oscilloscope and soldering iron, but my real expertise lies in the physical prototyping process. I work best with my hands on the mill (or wrench, or torch, or mouse…), helping flesh out early concepts and build up a functioning system.

I grew up in Colorado, and like most of my generation got my design start early on through Legos. My spaceships and castles were never complete, though, without a mechanism of some form. A secret door operated by lever halfway across the building, or an escape vehicle that disengaged at a moments notice. I wasn’t really aware of engineering, or how this might relate to what I had been building, until I started to prep for college. A career path where I could continue to design real-life versions of models? Perfect.

The story gets a little murkier here. Too much spent with theory and modeling led to grad school and a lifetime spent in front of a computer, running MATLAB code. A career as an academic researcher was derailed by a chance encounter with the machine shop. There, I rediscovered both my love of building, and teaching. The desire to get my hands dirty, and make something that works in the world, had been what brought me to engineering in the first place. And it only took me ten years to figure it out.

Mechatronics and smart product design offers a greatly expanded toolkit to the engineer. The increasing number of ways interact digitally with the world opens new avenues for problem solving, without the space or energy requirements of older systems. Sometimes, this can be merely a way to spice up a faltering design. But when applied in creative ways, the fix can have astonishing results.

So, where does this leave me as a designer? I like items that are functional, often in unexpected ways. Modularity, although there’s a point where open-ended solutions becomes its own problem. Clever, simple DIY creations. And two wheeled vehicles of all forms, although I’ll always prefer a heavy duty all-mountain bike over a hand-brazed heirloom. I’m looking forward to sharing examples of all of these, and all the projects the new year will bring!

Poco-Intro: Akbar Dhanaliwala

If my name were a symbol. Eat your heart out Prince.

Hi I’m Akbar. Pronounced uck(like duck)-brr(like, “i’m freezing”).

Growing up in New Jersey, going to school in upstate New York, working in Connecticut after that, I dreamt my whole life of moving out to California. Partly I wanted to move to California to finally escape the Northeast winters, but the bigger reason was because I wanted to go to Silicon Valley, to be in the heart of what I thought was the best of American innovation.

Northeast Winters. At least how I remember them now.

About five years ago I decided to go for it. I packed up my car, said bye to my friends and family, and drove out to California.

Me in the badlands driving out to California. I was so inspired by the landscape that I fashioned my haircut after it. Not really.
Me in the badlands driving out to California. I was so inspired by the landscape that I fashioned my haircut after it. Not really.

Ok, I had made it to California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. And it was everything I had always imagined it would be like. The people here were smart, dedicated, innovative. But most importantly, I was surrounded by people, who, when you told them an idea, tried to think of ways to make the idea better, instead of immediately assuming it could never work and shooting it down. However, after a year in engineering graduate school I was stuck. I knew I wanted to be entrepreneurial, to be a part of something new and exciting. But I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had taken a lot of engineering classes, some more interesting, some less. I was in the design program, and I really enjoyed it, unfortunately I still hadn’t found the thing that I was truly passionate about…yet. Some people (me) say luck is just opportunity presenting itself to people who are prepared. I suppose it was luck then that helped me to find what it was that would eventually lead to Pocobor.

The beginning of my second year of grad school found me trying to figure out what classes I wanted to take for the year. There was a series of classes called Smart Product Design* (basically a series in mechatronics), that a few of my friends had taken the year before, and they all said how amazing a program it was. So I decided to take them. The class opened my eyes to the world of mechatronics. It showed me how creative a field it is, and that in the not too distant future all products will be smart products, and that mechatronics will be one of the bases for all design. In any case, after finishing a very intense year of classes, I knew, with no uncertainty, that mechatronics is what I was passionate about and that in some form or another, this is what I wanted to do. With the help of Brian who I had met during the series (as well as the Jo(h)n’s) and was just as passionate as me about what mechatronics meant to the future of design, we decided to form Pocobor.

What does mechatronics mean to me? It means bringing crazy wacky ideas like robots that clean your floor while you’re at work, or solar panels that follow the sun like some kind of cyborg flower to life. It means blending the best of mechanical engineering with electronics and computer software. It means thinking that anything is possible. And that makes me really excited.

Floor cleaning robot? Check.

*Smart Product Design is listed as ME218A,B,C,D at Stanford and is taught by Professor Ed Carryer, an amazing teacher.

Poco-Intro: Jon Thomas

I am Jon. I was born without an ‘h’—the doctors all said it wasn’t a big deal and that it happens sometimes. So far so good. We’ve got a John in our midst as well, so keep your wits about you.

I find that all great things in our world are a combination of other remarkable things. We see this in condiments: thousand island dressing and tartar sauce, for example. Who would have imagined that three of the primary condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, and relish) could join forces so strongly to create such magnificent secondary condiments. Mechatronics is also a confluence of primary ingredients: Mechanical Engineering (ME), Electrical Engineering (EE), and Computer Science (CS). People say that mixed parents have the most attractive
children. I tend to agree; I believe Mechatronics is beautiful.

I grew up disassembling machines—lawnmower engines, bicycles, and VCRs—and trying to combine the pieces to build new machines (off-road motorized skateboards and pedal- powered wheelchairs–man, do i love wheelchairs!). More than anything else, I loved seeing how these devices worked—linkages, motors, bearings, gears, grease, pulleys. I was particularly drawn to mechanical systems, because I could actually see, touch, and smell the mechanisms. My interest in electronics and software came later (a circuit board doesn’t appear very exciting when you’re 10 years old, although those capacitors and ICs sure do resemble small cities) once I understood the invisible forces that make electrons do their dance. And that brings us to the present….what a joy it is to once again be building electro- mechanical devices, only this time I’ve added business cards to my arsenal! To me, Mechatronics is a way to be at the cutting edge of technology while still experiencing that
rush of discovery I knew from my childhood.

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on interesting topics surrounding Pocobor, and I am eager to hear yours as well.

Poco-Intro: John Pelochino

My name is John, not to be confused with Jon. We like the name Jo(h)n around here, it keeps it interesting/confusing. I’m pretty dam excited about this blog – a place to post my voice and spread the gospel of mechatronics. I’ll start it all off with a little blurb about me. I dig mechatronics – we get to play with electronics and make them do cool things in the REAL world. I’m a self-proclaimed tinkerer – why not take it apart? I like working in groups – nothing beats the energy in a brainstorm and you can’t really hi-five yourself (I’ve tried, not fun). And who doesn’t like a good hi-five? In the pocobor family, I’m probably the weird uncle – cracking random jokes at odd times and keeping things interesting or at least uncomfortable. That pretty much sums it up. Keep an eye on this blog – we play with knowledge, you’ll like it.

Poco-Intro: Brian Krieger

Hello world – my name is Brian and since this is my first blog post here, I guess I will introduce myself and also talk a little about why I am writing these posts. I am one of the partners at Pocobor and my background is originally in mechanical engineering, but I have been pretty focused on mechatronics and embedded systems for the last few years. Like the other bloggers here, I work full time as a mechatronics consultant / designer for Pocobor as
well as working on some mechatronics side projects that I am interested in. I also like robots.


From a big picture perspective, I am writing about this kind of stuff because I am very excited about the potential for really cool and useful innovations associated with mechatronics. I think that mechatronics (or integrated / embedded / electro-mechanical / [insert your pet terminology here] systems) is poised to change the way that we interact with the world. The Jetsons have seen the Future, and its name is Mechatronics (just kidding… but not really).

Cameron (one of the other partners and bloggers here) has a really interesting and much more detailed set of posts queued up for you that really dig into the ways that we see mechatronics changing the world and I don’t want to steal his thunder, but I told you I would try to answer the question “Why the hell does this blog exist?” The answer is: because we are deeply excited about the potential for mechatronics to make our lives more interesting, powerful, and happy. (It would also be disingenuous not to add that we are excited about our company’s
role in making that happen).

So that’s the big picture. The question now becomes “How can one help along that process?” We think that one answer is to create a vibrant mechatronics online community to share and discuss ideas, plans, and results. That is why we are adding our voice to forums like Mechatropolis, Mechatronics Zone and Bug Labs. We hope that we can reach people who are, like us, interested in mechatronics and its applications. We hope you will find some of
our ideas and activities thought-provoking and especially that you will let us know what your reactions are.

What kind of posts will be going up? Personally, I’m planning a roster of posts ranging from big posts describing some of the work I’m doing to little notes about anything mechatronics- related that I find interesting or cool. The first sequence of posts that I am working on will document the process of designing and building a device that will act as a lap counter for swimmers. This is just a project that I am working on because it interests me and my goal is
to let you know how I am going about designing and prototyping the device and also to solicit thoughts or suggestions on how to improve it.