Niek's EZ-Robot Experience

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work for one of the world’s greatest robot companies? Introducing Niek Blankers!

From The Netherlands, the Work Experience program offered Niek the ability to work with a company this summer. Niek packed his bags on July 14th to fly half way around the world to work at his favorite robot company, EZ-Robot.

Niek is a talented 15 year old who has been building robots and soldering electronics since he was 8. As a member of his local Hacker Space (de Jonge Onderzoekers Amersfoort), they helped him build robots and design electronic experiments. Niek has also designed the world’s smallest Arduino (Bareduino), which is sold by our friends at Seed Studio.

"Many jobs are opening to the younger generation as the robotics industry continues to grow.", says DJ Sures. "EZ-Robot is contributing to the future of robotics by investing in our youth."

Day 1

I arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday July 15th, 2013 with the DJ and the entire EZ-Robot team waiting to pick me up at the airport. After a quick introduction to everyone, I traveled with DJ in his car back to the office. It's so much bigger in reality than it looks on camera! It also turned out that they'd just broken down a wall last weekend to make the office bigger.

After spending a couple of hours looking around the office, DJ took me over to his house. We sat in the basement where EZ-Robot all began and DJ showed me a lot of cool robotics stuff and we had a great talk. We were getting kind of hungry, so I taught DJ the recipe for the typically Dutch recipe for 'Hete Bliksem'. While he was out to the grocery store picking up the ingredients, I was supposed to take a 1-2 hour nap which DJ would wake me up when he got home. Unfortunately, I was so vastly asleep that he wasn't able to wake me up. As a result to this, I woke up fully-rested at 3:30 AM. After spending about one and a half hours on my phone, I decided to go downstairs and taste DJ's attempt at making the hete bliksem. He did a great job! To make the breakfast even more delicious, I also had a ham-egg-cheese sandwich. I watched Futurama on Netflix until DJ woke up.

We left for the office at 11am, and when I arrived, I sat down behind my laptop and installed some necessary software to begin working on my intro presentation to the group. Then we went out for lunch at the Inglewood Drive-in. I had a cheeseburger and a float (root beer with ice cream). It may seem like a strange combination, but trust me, it did taste good! After this very special lunch, I prepared and gave a presentation introducing myself to the team members. I also had some nice conversations with the even nicer team members. EZ-Robot is like a family, and now I'm a part of it.

Day 2

I woke up at 8am this morning, so I guess I'm finally used to the time difference between Canada and the Netherlands. To kill some time until DJ woke up (who'd been working on EZ-Builder 'til late in the night) I watched a couple of episodes from the TV show 'Eureka', that DJ had introduced me to.

DJ and I left for the office at around 12pm. I'd forgotten to bring the power plug adapter for charging my laptop. With Jeremie's help (EZ-Robot Designer), we built a new one (picture coming soon). Jeremie was designing an Arduino module for the new products and since I've been working with Arduino's for a couple of years and designed a lot of my own, we brainstormed together. We came up with some pretty good ideas. After about half an hour of brainstorming, Dennis (EZ-Robot Videographer) needed me to shoot yesterday's video. I was kind of nervous at first, sitting in front of the camera but Jason (EZ-Robot Marketing) did a great job of helping me calm down. Then it was lunch time! DJ and I both had a cutlet parmesan sandwich. It was actually quite tasty! After finishing nearly half of my lunch and putting the other half in the fridge, I decided to work on the little biped JD. I messed around in EZ-Builder for about an hour when I found out about the auto-positioning control. This really helps a lot! At the end of the day, I was nearly able to get him to kick back and forth with one of his legs.

Day 3

At the EZ-Robot office, I started the day trying to get a prototype of the biped robot "JD" to walk. I got as far as having him stand on one foot. It was much harder than I had anticipated as he must balance his weight while moving around. I then moved on to the hexapod (six)'s example project and messed around with it for some time figuring out how to make it move around. Before heading off for lunch, Dennis wanted to film my progress on JD. I had him wave a couple of times, and move around a bit. Working with the JD has made me realize that bipeds have alot of potential, but require more thought when programming.

Since I had such a hard time getting JD to walk, I wanted to design my own biped that would be simpler and have a lower centre of mass. Maybe something for beginners. I think it would be able to walk better than JD and easier to learn on. Cory (EZ-Robot's CAD designer) taught me how to use Solidworks and together we got as far as the feet and legs.

It was a busy day at the office with many people coming in for meetings with DJ and other team members. EZ-Robot has been in a lot of magazines and online articles and more are being made each week. This is a very busy group!

Day 4

This first week was amazing. I had a lot of fun meeting the entire team and following some of them around to see what their roles are like at EZ-Robot. I tagged along with Jeremie, Cory and Geoff when DJ was busy. I'm getting more and more used to shooting a video each day. I also feel like I actually live with DJ now, we're like room-mates. I'm really having the time of my life over here!

DJ and I went to the office pretty late. Geoff (EZ-Robot's "Jack-of-all-trades") was busy indexing their inventory so I helped him with that. They go through so many servo's and battery holders testing all of the new products! After we were done putting everything in its proper box, I found an aftermarket quadcopter lying on the shelves which they had been experimenting with. DJ told me I could fly it, so that's what I did. It was really hard to control, but eventually I got it to hover a couple of centimetres above the ground. It turned out that Cory used to own a RC helicopter. I let him try it, and he was pretty good at flying the thing!

We met with Mark to visit a car show EZ-Robot sponsored in Stanley Park by DJ's house. There were some pretty neat cars over there. I'm not really interested in what a car looks like from the outside, more what happens underneath the outer shell. After that we were supposed to go to Heritage Park along with Mark (EZ-Robot's Operations Manager) and his son, but it was too hot outside. DJ and I decided to instead go to Banff. Banff is a National Park with a very popular little tourist town. On the way there we stopped in Canmore (another town on the way) to have lunch, and we also stopped at various other sightseeing spots. In Banff we walked around for a while, I bought DJ some rubber duckies (he's really into them) and we also picked up some candy (fudge, peanut brittles and Rice Krispy clusters). It was about 8pm when we decided to head home. We had dinner, watched some TV and went to bed.

Day 5

This morning I woke up and found DJ already working! DJ works best at home, so he often stays up until late at night and then wakes up to continue working.

Alan (Operations at EZ-Robot) and I were talking today and asked me to use the Revolution to build something new. Specifically, he wanted me to build something new using the existing Revolution Robots to show how easy it would be for the new products to combine and swap. I decided I want to combine the JD and Roli Revolution robots. I looked at what would be needed and saw the pieces would need an adapter to combine properly. I worked with Cory to design an adapter piece and we printed it later in the day. It fits smoothly and the new robot looks great!

Earlier in the day I'd also found a cool vintage robot in DJ's magical basement. I asked him if I could EZ-B'ifyit and he was okay with it. In the afternoon, I took it apart and cut a slot into the legs for continuous rotation servo's to fit in. It is still under construction.

We're in the middle of repainting the main desk in the office, so on the way to the office we picked up some more paint. The paint we're using is stainless steel and actually has steel fibers in them. When it's wet it just looks like grey paint, but drying really brings out the steel shine.

And of course, to end the day I watched more Eureka back at DJ's place Smile