From Internal IT to Hacking Robots in Warsaw


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This post comes from Kevin Grablin, IT Operations Engineer and SendGrid’s newest employee ambassador.

makerland“How would you like to go to Makerland in Warsaw?”

I almost fell off the ski-lift at Eldora when Tim Falls (Director of Developer Relations) offered me the opportunity to fly 5,302 miles to Warsaw Poland to attend the first ever Makerland conference. He was offering me my first chance to play the role of a SendGrid Ambassador and attend an amazing event. It’s important to understand why this was such a huge deal for me, as my role in SendGrid is not that of a Developer Evangelist. I’m an IT Operations Engineer at SendGrid and my primary role is to support the internal IT infrastructure, as well as end users, and network engineers, among many other miscellaneous jobs.

What is Makerland all about?

Makerland is an event based around the Make movement. It’s a movement to help people understand that if you can dream it, you can make it. With the resources available today, there is literally no limit to your imagination’s reach. This movement helps to tie the internet of things into your daily thought process and the ideas you create. Is there some way I can show my emotions via the horns on a viking helmet? YES! Can I feed my cat from across the world? YES! I want to make a robot and have it dance to Gangnam Style. Let’s do it! These are not half-witted ideas, these are actual creations that came from this event. As Nicolas Rigaud from Aldebaran Robotics put it, “there is no magic behind technology,” and this movement helps to put technology in your hands to make whatever you dream.

So, I packed up every bit of gear and gadgets I own and flew to London to meet up with Developer Evangelist Robin Johnson, then flew on to Warsaw together.

Makerland_4

The Conference

On the first day of Makerland we hopped a taxi to the amazing venue, the Copernicus Science Centre and got signed in. The weather outside was a bit cold and windy, but inside the venue was on fire. There were drones flying, 3D printers extruding, robots dancing, soldering irons soldering, submarines sinking, speakers speaking, and Raspberry Pi’s…Pi’ing. The event had some amazing sponsors giving out some very useful swag. Spark gave each attendee their Spark Core which is a development board with a wireless chip that allows you to bring the internet to all sorts of hardware hacks. Mobile Viking was giving out SIM cards and 2GBs of data and Sugru gave out their amazing self setting super-putty.

After the first day of talks from speakers like Rachel Rayns from Raspberry Pi, Robin and I dove head first into the Make lifestyle. We started building a robot that would serve drinks at the SendGrid hosted after-party in a little over 48 hours. After much contemplation and deliberation between us we decided on basing the robot on Lego Mindstorms. We settled on the EV3 platform and as Robin prepared to code the brains of our aptly named “ShotBot” I ran off to gather whatever materials I could get my hands on to make this ShotBot serve shots. We had considered the Arduino-based SumoBot and a few other options, but went with the Mindstorms due to the available sensory packages it already had. The first task we tackled was the requirement for the robot to serve drinks. I ran over to the “3D Modeling Made Easy” and got a quick tutorial from Justyna Faldzinska before spec’ing and building the prototype shot tray on tinkercad.com. Then we pushed the file over to MonkeyFab 3D printers and got it extruded in a quick hour and a half. As the day went on we quickly had what was looking more and more like an autonomous 4 wheeled vehicle that serves shots.

Makerland

Back at the hotel bar that evening Robin and I fervently continued to build while some highly regarded event speakers gathered around for good company and drinks. After some much needed CAD help from Pawel Szymczykowski from Zappos Labs we had a finalized Shot Tray made from the SendGrid logo. It was all coming together into Wednesday and after 5 hours, our new beautiful shot tray was 3D printed by MonkeyFab and we were finalizing our ShotBot.

ShotBot

 

That afternoon Makerland’s hackathon concluded and there were some amazing hacks to be shown–robots killing robots, emotional robots, air drums, dance graders, and drawing sumobots. The excitement and sense of community in that room that evening was so amazing and it goes to show how good of an event Kuba, Ola, and the rest of the organizers created.

As the SendGrid party drew near, we did our best to finalize our little Shot Bot. We attached a GoPro with some Sugru and delicately carried it to the incredible venue they had planned for the night. When we arrived to the party to everyone’s surprise there was a professional drink robot already there getting prepared for the evening. While drooling over it’s magnificence, Robin and I decided that our humble SendGrid ShotBot would better serve as a testament to the party goers that there might be a little magic behind technology, but it’s magic that we can all learn to harness and MAKE something!

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Kevin Grablin is an IT Superhero on most days, but now also represents SendGrid at events as an Ambassador. If you’re interested in joining a company where your role isn’t defined exclusively by your title, see available positions.


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