Success in Design – one tweet says it all!

April 18th, 2017 • DesignNo Comments »

Not the usual tweet that sends the planet on a tizzy, but this one. Too many people think that Design, as well as Engineering, can happen in abandon, without focus on business goals. However, this is almost never the case. Because, your business goals are different if you are Fitbit and not We-knock-off-your-designs-Inc. And while it may not be so glamorous to work at We-knock-off-your-designs-Inc, as a designer, you still need to recognize that the design goals are different for both organizations. And those are affected by both business goals and business results!

Sometimes, even things that appear blindingly obvious need to be restated.

Until next time!

— Srihari Yamanoor

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SolidWorks for Entrepeneurs – free, that is!

July 29th, 2015 • CAD Tips, Entrepreneurship, Product DesignNo Comments »

SolidWorks is currently the leading 3D CAD Program out there, and of course, it is a powerful tool in the hands of any designer/engineer, and surely, quite more powerful in the hands of a team of entrepreneurs.

The rules are “simple”: you need to have:

1. less than $1mn in funding,

2. “several” references, whatever that means – they have an FAQ section, which besides making things not so simple only mentions 3 references, and,

3. a product that needs CAD for its design.

Well the last one just makes sense. Imagine collecting references, digging out your tax ID number and all that for a product you don’t even need or can’t even use…

This seems like a very good opportunity for young companies, strapped for cash. Look at the links supplied below to get started! We wish you well, and let people know you heard it here…


1. The SolidWorks for Entrepreneurs Program Page:

2. FAQs on the program:


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Case Study: Starbucks – Destroying Customer Experience with one input box!

April 12th, 2015 • Case Study, Customer Experience, Customer Interaction, Customer Service, topics, Usability, User Experience, WebsitesNo Comments »

You read that right! I didn’t have to spend millions of dollars studying financial data worth several years and use all manners of deep insights to bring you this simple example of how to completely destroy your customers’ experience online. But wait, there is a bonus!

The Bonus

The input box I refer to, is on the COMPLAINT form. Sure, Starbucks would like to call it the “Customer Service” form or some variant, but, honestly, how many times do you go online to talk about your miscellaneous or even positive experience to your vendors? And even if you did, would being intolerably annoyed under happier circumstances be somehow more acceptable?

So yeah, I am there, staring at the web form, trying to complain about a really bad experience I had at a particular store and I cannot even submit the form! See the image below and I will explain why..


As you can see, Starbucks is very interested in knowing about your visit time to the store. Sure, that makes sense. Otherwise, it becomes hard to find out what shift you are writing about. Except, here are a few problems. All of us have now been trained like Pavlov’s dog to realize that if there is no red star next to an input box, we assume, that the information is not required, or if you fill it with something it shouldn’t matter.

You could still tell me, “Wait, they seem pretty serious about the box. They have a format suggestion and an example to boot. Why not just go with it?”. Which is what I did. Except, I typed in 05:00pm – yes, once again, like the proverbial dog, I am used to input boxes either understanding small variations and ignoring them or self correcting them? Well, this high and mighty form has no such provisions. It will simply refuse to submit your story of frustration without frustrating you more!

So there I was, gnashing my teeth, making sure I got the right spaces and capitalization just to submit the form!

The Analogy

Imagine walking up to a store manager to report an issue and he expects you to complain, speaking clearly with grammar and syntax intact, or he would refuse to listen to you. Yeah, how would that work out for you?

Did I tell you I was unhappy?

That is, I was at the page, to report I was unhappy with OTHER things Starbucks has been doing. Add this anal-retentive typing test, and I am definitely not at all happy with Starbucks. And this is precisely the point I am trying to get at. Customer Experience. User Experience. This stuff matters.

Treat the customer right, every single time!

I hope that for much less than a dissatisfying cup of coffee at Starbucks, you can learn from their example and stay away from such practices. Unless you are the IRS or the Passport Office or you manage the website for the input of nuclear weapon launch codes, I think you should un-clench, ease up on input formatting, and at least stop customers from becoming more and more frustrated with you. This can of course, be duplicated as a general principle in ALL your interactions with your customers.

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Installation Tip: Installing Vibrant in Windows 7

October 29th, 2012 • Programming Tips, Software Installation, Web DesignNo Comments »

The Preface: The other day I showed up to a free introductory Ruby on Rails(RoR) lecture class. I have never worked with RoR and I did not realize you needed either Linux or a virtual box to be able to create a virtual machine and run RoR. You create this using Vagrant, which uses VirtualBox, an Oracle product (from the erstwhile Sun I think).

I did not find good instructions on how to do what should be an easy install and so I decided to write them up. Hopefully, this helps someone!

Here are the installation steps. These worked on a Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit installation, with most updates completed.

1. Download and install Vagrant. I did nothing special with the installer. Remember the location where you install it. Keep it generic, organized and simple.

You can find Vagrant here:

2. Download and install VirtualBox. Again, nothing special with the installation. Remember the location where you install it. Keep it generic, organized and simple.

You can find VirtualBox here:

3. Go to the command prompt by typing “cmd“.

4. Using the command prompt, change folders and go to the Vagrant folder. On my computer, it is here: c:\vagrant\vagrant\bin

5. Initialize Vagrant: at the command prompt, type this: vagrant init

6. Set up the VirtualBox path, so that Vagrant knows where it is, and can set up boxes at your beck and command. On my machine, I did this, based on my VirtualBox path:

set path=%path%;c:/Program Files/Oracle/VirtualBox

7. Set up the base box as follows:

vagrant box add base

The reference for this is here:

You are all set! You can now set up as many virtual boxes as possible. You can read all about that in the VirtualBox documentation.

If this post was helpful, or if you had issues, do leave a comment…

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Tip: 2-12-2012 – Drafts first or fillets first? Big ‘uns or small ‘uns?

February 12th, 2012 • CAD Tips, Engineering Challenges, Product DesignNo Comments »

We are building and testing our Android Application, as part of a larger schedule to get things out. So, this will be a quick update.

CAD Model Design – the order of drafts and fillets…

You may not be designing a dozen models a week, so this may not concern you much. But when you do, drafts come first and fillets next. If you find yourself in the need to apply different draft angles, which is a bit atypical, then the larger drafts come first.

Similarly, larger fillets come first! This is the order in which you should create the models in the design tree. Take a look at the example below:


[Click on image to enlarge]

In this example, the larger fillets are 6mm, and the smaller fillets are 4mm. Yes, it is a simple enough example that they could have the same radii, but this is a demonstration for the situation you will run into when in your designs. As you can see above, everything appears in order. This is because when the parametric model for this component was built, the larger 6mm fillet was applied first, and then the 4mm fillet was applied.

Now, let us see what happens if this order was reversed, that is, the 4mm fillet had been applied first, and then the 6mm fillet was applied:

[Click on image to enlarge]

As you can tell, creating the smaller fillet first causes quite a bit of havoc. This can potentially cause sharp corners and other potential errors, or simply cause the model to lose fidelity and fail!

You can create a similar example for drafts. If you have accidentally created them in the wrong order, you might be in luck if your model is more symmetric. In a future episode, we will show you how to re-order features in the design tree or design history. If you are using a parametric modeling program such as SolidWorks, SolidEdge, Creo or Inventor, you can look up the help files.

Send us feedback to tips [at] or leave comments with your thoughts!

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The National Robotics Week wants you…

November 30th, 2010 • Contests, RoboticsNo Comments »

to design a superb slogan!

Yes, the second National Robotics Week will be here in 2011! And they are having a slogan design contest.

The rules are simple: You have until December 13, 2010 (and if you are superstitious don’t worry, it’s a Monday, not a Friday, and until 12:01 AM EST – which means you can burn the midnight oil on the 12th and party on the night of the 13th) to submit a 120 word slogan that is inspiring, original and of course related to robotics.

Simple enough?

Why, do you ask must you do this?

It is simple. It shows you are interested in robotics and winning contests of course.

Want to do more? Maybe you can conduct an event of your own, or like me, you could attend one and yet, spread the news! For more information, visit:

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Where are all the engineers? The developing world needs YOU!

November 18th, 2010 • Engineering Challenges, EntrepreneurshipNo Comments »

Are you an engineer looking for your calling? If so, you don’t have to wait much longer. The Science and Development Network recently broadcast some very somber news based on the first ever international report on engineering. There are simply not enough engineers in the developing world, and this appears to be stifling growth. The UN Millenium Development Goals require an increase in standards of living in the developing world, and this is not achievable without innovative engineering feats.

What the heck are UN Millenium Development Goals?

The UN Millenium Development Goals are a set of eight lofty goals adopted by the UN to eliminate poverty and alleviate life in developing nations across the globe. These include the following:

1. End poverty and hunger
2. Universal Education
3. Gender Equality
4. Child Health
5. Maternal Health
6. Combatting HIV/AIDS
7. Environment Sustainability
8. Global Partnership

As an engineer, you can readily see how you could potentially influence every goal stated above. These goals have a deadline of 2015, and progress has been slow. Additionally, the lack of engineers who are really influencing things on the ground is appalling.

How bad is it?

Well, the report uses developed nations as a benchmark. In these nations, there are about 20 – 50 engineers per 10,000 people. Now compare this to 5 per 10,000 in most developing nations, and less than 1 in certain African nations!

What can engineers do? Well, the three basic necessities of life are typically fulfilled through large scale engineering – we are talking about food, shelter and sanitation.

Several innovations through engineering are required to solve the problems faced by over 1.1 billion people on a routine basis.

Why are we missing so many engineers?

The shortage appears to be a consequence of a simple lack of interest and a lack of engineering academies. Of course, it is also simply possible that people are not aware of the feats that can be achieved through engineering. In general, when reports and studies are commissioned through the UN, the recommendations for major investments and course corrections are made. Ideally, these recommendations if followed, can solve the problems of course. However, smaller changes can be effected quicker on the ground.

Meeting the challenges

There are, of course several ways to bell the cat or meet the challenges as an engineer. There are several opportunities for you as an engineer. Let us take a look at a handful:

1. Engineers for a Sustainable World

Engineers for a Sustainable World is an example of an organization that can bring together students, engineers, teaching professionals and others to work towards a sustainable

future in both developing and developed nations. Started in 2002, the US based non-profit organizations makes key connections between student teams and local communities to

drive success through a curriculum based approach.

Take a look:

2. Engineers without Borders

This is a more international organization, with chapters in several countries across the globe, working towards the same goal – a sustainable future fostered through engineering. Of course, like every other organization worth it’s weight in gold, they have their own mission and vision that I encourage you to check out:

3. Social Entrepreneurship

Of course, ESW and EWB (abbreviations for the organizations mentioned above) are two of the major resources I was able to find online. Aside from these organizations, there are several large and small organizations that are popping up every day. They all have a common goal in sight – solving social problems through entrepreneurship. Whether you start one or volunteer with one, or join one, there are several resources such as business plan contests through Universities and other organizations that allow you to compete with your plan for a better future, win some money and hit the ground with innovative solutions.

4. Spread the passion

Are you finding satisfaction in your career as an engineer? Then maybe it is time to spread the passion. While it is understandable that organizations such as the UN would like to inspire engineers locally, an engineer can solve a problem from anywhere. Moreover, there will always be the challenge of issues such as “brain drain” where young engineers could potentially find satisfaction in financially lucrative pastures. Given this, you could inspire a student to consider an engineering career.

Of course, we have the image of a “mad scientist” through fiction and lore, but not one for a “mad engineer”. So, inherently, taken negatively or positively, engineering is not considered to be one of your brightest options out there.

Reinforcing a positive view of engineering

Whether it is in the United States or anywhere else in the world, you will have opportunities to motivate young engineers. For example, I spent the past weekend volunteering with Splash, teaching middle school and high school children about cancer research, being green and associated career opportunities. You can find out more about Splash here:

Essentially, you should explain to people what it is that engineers do and why it is “cool” to be an engineer. This will motivate more children to think about using engineering as tools to make the future always a bit better than the present! May the developing world see more engineers.


1. UN Millenium Development Goals:

2. The SciDev network article on the missing engineers:

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Engineer, inspire thyself: Oil Cleanup XChallenge announced!

August 4th, 2010 • Contests, Engineering Challenges, EntrepreneurshipNo Comments »

Preface: This blog is brought with passion both for the oil clean up, and the summer of blog, my effort to blog severally and variously across my websites in Summer 2010!

While politicians rushed to capitalize on the BP oil spill, someone finally decided to do something practical about it. After the BP oil spill, when everyone was merrily (they were almost celebrating the disaster as a media opportunity), reporting about how it was bigger than the Valdez spill of 1989.

All the time, one was left to wonder why no one brought up the fact that for 21 years, practically nothing was done to prepare for future oil spills. As BP and the Government scrambled to find solutions, it looked like things were only going to get worse and that was about all that was to be expected…

Along came the “Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge”! Finally, someone is belling the cat – rather enabling you to do so, for a whopping $1 million USD!

X Challenge and the XPrize Foundation The XPrize foundation is a non-profit organization, billing itself as an educational organization motivated to provide radical breakthroughs. From space to oil spills, I should say they have had an amazing propensity to push for radical breakthroughs.

In the improbable likelihood that this is the first time you are hearing about them, take a peek:

The X Challenge for oil clean up will go from August 2010 through August 2011, and the project that can demonstrate most effectiveness in cleaning up spills will take home $1 million USD. The second and thrid prizes are not too shabby either!

Clean up Brainstorm

Ideas, though dime a dozen, have been aplenty for the oil cleanup. There have been ideas for unique skimmers, using human hair and many many other ideas that a quick internet search can throw up. Many of these ideas are worth a second look,and I am sure you can come up with several ideas yourself!

Yet, as even a mediocre engineer would recognize, you can’t simply shoot from the hip unless you are in a choreographed “Gun Smoke” or “Bonanza”. In real life, great ideas need to be “reduced to practice”, that is, great implementation through trial and error, prototyping and such. Keep those ideas coming, keep noting them down and more importantly, keep thinking about how you would go about implementing them.

Team work is key

Ideas also do not occur in vacuum. Edison might impress you otherwise, but he has been known to routinely steal ideas (not bad, if not done with vengeance). This is why I like the XPrize and the associated challenges. They inherently promote teamwork. Do not underestimate the amount of effort, the variation in thought and the exercise in building such a challenge would take.

This is why you should look to put together a great team. You will need designers, engineers, artists, physicists, and of course, more importantly chemists to start with..

Each thought has it’s own roots – a physicist, at least the classic one, will talk about the differences in density for oil and water. A great civil/water engineer will tell you about the possibilities to distill and/or use techniques such as reverse osmosis. A designer will get you grounded on scale, an artist will remind you to build something effective, and simultaneously appealing.

Looking beyond the contest

When you think of your team for the oil clean up challenge, I want you to explore the possibility that you may not be among the top 3. No, I am not being the pessimist you think I am – as an entrepreneur, I have always thought there is a need for at least a rudimentary form of pragmatism. Just rudimentary will do, I know :).

Think about recruiting at least one or two folks who might think about commercializing your ideas, filing the IP and such. The contest’s point is not to serve simply as a boost for the winners. As a somewhat successful and unsuccessful alum of many business plan contests, I can say with certainty that, you most definitely should get in the habit of looking past these contests.

Going on the record

Since I am posting on the challenge, I thought I would go on the record about my own willingness to participate in the contest. I have always thought about the XPRIZE contests and I have wanted to be part of at least one of the teams. But, I have always found myself busy, and now find myself much busier than I have always been.

However, if you come across this blog and are looking for someone who can help you out, I bring with me the following skills – previous participation in business plan contests, great ability to facilitate successful brainstorming sessions, intellectual property creation, business planning, strategy, mechanical engineering design, CAD and design analysis and great amounts of energy in general. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you could use any of my skills.

I wish you great success in your efforts as you go through the Oil Cleanup X Challenge!


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National Robotics Week: Where do you start with building your robot?

April 15th, 2010 • RoboticsNo Comments »

How is the National Robotics Week going for you? At least one person got back to me and told me that the post was inspiring enough to get them started on building a robot. Bravo! Now that we are that far along, let us take a look at how you could get started with building your first robot.

Before we begin…

I thought I would share some robotics news with you. Did you know that NASA and GM put together a 300 pound robot called “Robonaut2”? NASA is planning to the International Space Station (ISS) and work in the lab! To keep you from straying, I am linking the story at the bottom, not here.

The first step – educate yourself!

In the last post, I mentioned how you will touch on mechanics/mechanisms, electronics, microcontrollers and software among other things in building your robot. There is of course much much more when you build on the complexity of your robots such as design considerations – weight, profile (is it going to be a cube, a spherical robot or what) and so on. I also mentioned you should try to avoid being overwhelmed by all this. If you prepare well and take things in small bites, one step at a time you will get there in no time and maybe you will come back and teach me a thing or two. Whether it is robotics or fly-fishing you always want to have your eyes and ears open to learn from folks.

Where do you learn stuff?

You may be tempted to go out and buy a handful of books. The first step though, is for you to go to the library – your school’s library or a local library near you. If that doesn’t work, use the internet. There are two types of things you want to find out:

1. Learn about robots and robotic applications. Just like Robonaut2, there are hundreds of thousands of robots out there. Reading about what people are doing out there gives you a good idea of what you might want your own robot to do. Of course, there is a more important function that this serves – it inspires to know!

2. Learn what is involved. Pick up a good book on mechanisms. Do you know what the rack and pinion mechanism does? Have you heard of the Geneva Indexing Mechanism? Do you know that you could use a photo-resisting LED to build a line-following robot (more on this later). How about some C programming?

All of us have different inclinations – some of us are more mechanically inclined, some of us are electronics whiz kids. But all of us could use being the Jack (or Jill) who has dabbled in a handful of trades trying to build that gallivanting robot!

Step Two – What do you want your robot to do?

Yes, that’s right. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. You can’t get to the sea without getting your feet wet (metaphorically) and so on. You do get the basic picture – goals first, crazy building in your basement, next.

In the beginning, take small steps. You might want to build a robot that walks, moves or runs a straight line before jumping ahead to a bot that will walk your dog. So, let’s do that. For now, let’s assume you want to build a very, very simple robot, one that follows a line. You may ask – well why not make it even simpler and just make a robot that says “Hello World” or moves, leave alone follows a line. That is fine. Keep it simple (although sound chips etc. maybe a bit much for a beginner, so a talking bot can wait unless you have the electronics background or the right kit).

Okay, you want a robot that moves, and possibly follows a line. What are you going to need?

The inner workings

At the base level a robot needs to be able to perform a task repetitively and (rather) reliably without constant supervision. To achieve this a robot needs:

1. A breadboard (we will talk about all this in a later post, for now, go with the flow), a protoboard or a microcontroller.

2. Depending on what electronics you choose to control the robot, you will want to think about motors, resistors, capacitors and so on.

3. Sensors – robots need a sound sensory mechanism. How does a robot know it is on the right or wrong path? How does a robot respond to changing circumstances? This could be an IR sensor (the thing that makes your TV remote go for example), a photo-resistor, a temperature sensor, or something even cooler like a Hall-effect sensor (yes, go west and build a robot young man or woman, there is great opportunity to stay excited for life!).

4. Your objective – your path, plan, course or whatever it is that you want to build and use to challenge your robot and show it off to friends and that special person… If you are already tuned into robot contests, you know you could build robots based on several interesting challenges such as the robot’s maximum weight, it’s speed while following a course and so on. In the beginning (and yes, I plan to repeat myself) you want to keep things very, very simple.

Your main goal is to build your robot and test functionality as you progress. Once you have got the basics right, you can challenge your robot as you progress.

5. A hand sketch – yes, make a sketch. If you look at the basic books and websites for images of robots, the electronics, the power source and so on, you get a fairly good idea of what you are building. You need to try and put what is on your mind on to a hand-sketch. It doesn’t have to be pretty at all. It has to communicate and commit to paper what you are thinking.

While you make this effort to translate what is on your mind onto a real bot, you may see challenges along the way. If you plan a solar-powered bot, where do you put the solar cells? Is it better to have a flat roof that spans your solar cells? Do you slant the roof so that you can keep the electronics accessible? If you keep the roof horizontal and flat, the robot has a good profile. However, if the roof is slanted, you can easily access the board and replace any resistors or chips that burn out. The path you take will depend on what you find as you test your bot, or on the challenges you set yourself up with.

In the beginning, I would recommend you look up and build the quintessential “line-following robot”. Later you can think about varying on the theme – using a microcontroller, or a lego kit to add complexity, using solar power along with those heavy 9V batteries, or introduce more variations. Once you gain confidence you can build bots that have “eyes” on them, that is, visual sensors, or build and enter a robot that competes in “Robosoccer” contests. If you really feel like challenging yourself, and have the budget, you could build your own robotic swarm! A swarm of robots is a collection of robots that are very similar in function and work as a team to achieve goals such as finding objects, clearing paths and so on.

6. Budget

Robotics, like photography or golf can be an expensive hobby. So some caution is warranted. Try to pick out books from the library. Cheap out on electronics, scavenge where you can and more importantly, keep things simple by planning ahead. Ask around before buying anything and shop around for the best prices.

Tomorrow, let’s dig even deeper into your first “line following robot” and what you might need to get there.

The NASA News Article

Today’s Resources:


1. Craigslist: –

Yes, the website is the first place to find the best deals all around! Don’t forget to check out Amazon and many other places as well.

2. Jameco Electronics:

I picked Jameco so that you will have a resource to start with. As far as electronics go, there are many other good sites.

That’s all for today. Let’s tune in tomorrow for more fun with robotics!

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What’s a robot anyway?

April 13th, 2010 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

In the spirit of the National Robotics Week, that would be this week, I thought I will take this journey into robotics a bit further. While we all dream of R2D2 and Lt. Commander Data, today’s robots are mundane. The good news about that is the fact that anyone can build simple bots, that say follow a line, or a given path, lift weights, move stuff…the list is practically endless.

How does one build such robots though? Robots usually involve the following aspects:

1. The physical form of the robot. Some of us like wires sticking out of a board, while others among us love to have the robot be properly enclosed. You could get really artsy and make sure your robot is well “dressed”.

2. The mechanisms involved – Robots, by definition tend to move or have moving parts. Yes, you could get all semantic about how it can be a robot as long as it does repetitive tasks – but most robots, like to move and be in shape. Let’s move on.

3. The electronics – A purely mechanical robot can be constructed, yes, but most modern robots love to have some circuits on them to make them more capable and efficient.

4. Power – With all the mechanics and the electronics, the robot needs an “Energizer Bunny” or two…to be completely mobile, robots need a good source of power.

5. Software – Robots need instructions on what to do, when to do it and how to do whatever “it” is that they do. At the very basic level, you could use on-board electronics to drive this. However, as you start adding functionality to your robot, you might want to streamline how the robot reads instructions and performs tasks. You can add several subroutines for situations that you anticipate might arise in the robot’s “lifetime”.


We covered the top line items. Of course, mechanics and mechanisms come with gears, shafts and the like, electronics involve timers, ICs, LEDs, resistors, capacitors and the like. The source of power can be anything from a solar powered battery to a really lengthy chord. You will add or modify these per your design and functional requirements.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed?

Don’t be. While it might seem like you would need a handful of degrees just to construct a simple robot, things are much easier. You just need to start simple, and take it from there. Your robots, in fact will closely resemble your inclination – are you a mechanical whiz? Do you eat a bunch of chips and wires for breakfast? Or can you write a line of code a second?

If you don’t feel inclined in any specific manner, you could buy one of the so many, many kits out there. Or, if you are in college, you could take a handful of classes (that will be discussed in a later post). If you are in high-school, you could attend a workshop or two. Or, go to the library, pick up a handful of books, dig in, build and get started! Maybe your local area has a robotics club or two – some of the clubs have manifested themselves online and offline. Examples include the Home Brew Robotics Club in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Seattle Robotics Society, or Chibot – the Chicago Robotics Club. And, there are many, many more!

Don’t forget to check out resources such as the MIT OCW for some of the best “free” education you can get!

Later this week, I will try to discuss more resources and methodologies on designing robots.

Share and grow

Remember, all these resources I mention have been put together by well meaning folks. You should do the same! Maybe you don’t want to get into robotics for your own self. Maybe all you are trying to do is to encourage someone in your family or community to work with robots. More power to you! Do you know of resources that I am skipping here?

Please feel free to let me know!






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