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Seattle Robotics Society

Page last updated: 10/17/2017

Commentary by S.D. Kaehler

October: I have been thinking a lot the last few months about the Seattle Robotics Society, the monthly meetings, how things have changed, and what we do. I have been around long enough to have seen things change a lot, to see many people drop out of sight, to see enthusiasm wane, but also to meet new folks who are passionate about robots. Many of you who have been coming to meetings for a long time may have noticed these changes and perhaps have asked yourselves why. Years ago, we used to have over two hours of "Round-the-Room"! We packed 80-90 people in a classroom at RTC the size of the upstairs conference room (standing room only; arrive early to sit)! Every month people brought what they were working on, showed off robots they were building, shared tough problems they were figuring out, and demonstrated incredible things. It doesn't seem like so many people do those things anymore. What's different? What's changed?

Perhaps one thing that is different is the open expression of personal passion and persistence. There aren't as many people now who share these things as readily as in those of bygone days. A few people come to mind, but most of us seem to prefer tagging along rather than trailblazing. This raises the question of whether the Society has lost these important traits or if they are simply hiding under the surface, waiting to be reignited. These passions not only came out in meetings but in sharing learned experiences through articles written for the Encoder, and through massive participation in Robothon contests which used to run for two full days. I believe these passions are still here and that the Society exists to help people find and fulfill those passions, but...

The prospect of building a working robot may seem overwhelming, beyond many people's abilities and capabilities. The complexity of the task seems too great to overcome. Even building a modern kit like the SRS Workshop Robot can seem intimidating if you've never attempted something like it before. Ask yourself (and honestly answer): What's holding me back? Is it time? Is it money? Is it experience? Is it fear of failure? What? Consider that no one in the Society ever started our knowing everything they needed to know to reach their goal. They didn't know exactly what they were doing or how they were going to do it. The amazing robots that people made weren't the products of Master Robot Builders. They were the product of passion, persistence, ingenuity, effort, and lots of failures. These robots emerged from the forge of trial-and-error where things are cranked, ground, driven, pushed, and shoved until success was achieved. Robot Builders wanted success so bad that they kept at it until they achieved it. They came out the other side with experience, clarity, ideas, and a desire to help others follow that path. This is what the Society is and what the Society does. No one else can do the hard work for you BUT others can and will walk with you, help you figure things out, provide alternate perspectives or new ideas. The SRS meetings should provide a place where you can be energized to jump back into the battle. I believe this is what our meetings and workshops can and should be doing. Will you join me on this exciting adventure?

I have come to realize that my methods of running the monthly meetings have institutionalized them, making things organized and well-defined but stifling my and your creativity and flexibility. This has allowed all of us to step around the original mission of the Seattle Robotics Society by spending our time together talking about robots more than building them. I don't know about you, but I have used this as an excuse not to work on my own robots. As a result, I have not made any progress on my robots in far too many years. I ought to have a small stable of working machines by now, but actually, have nothing to show for a lot of time gone by. I wish to refocus the meetings on their original purpose and emphasize participation in building robots, not just talking about them. I want to do this because I need it and I believe the Society needs it and that we all will benefit from it.

Stay tuned as more ideas are developed and shared.

If you have comments or opinions on this article, please email me at SeattleRoboticsSociety (a)

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