We Made an Impact!

A personal account written by David.

The Evidence

Here’s a video that my cofounder NorAzmi published on linkedin today that just took me out of a huge slump in motivation.  This young Malaysian boy is simply having fun playing with the remote-controlled SCUTTLE (our robot) and taking a ride.

This is everything we need to show in one video.  What did we show? We’ve made robotics

  • FUN
  • OPEN for the WORLD
  • STRONG enough to take a ride… or build an industry.

And no other robotics company has done this!

In my experience in Malaysia (2020), I met people at all stages from kids to careers to retirement.  This country has aspirations to be a technology-based economy but currently most of the jobs are technician-style work at best. For those fortunate enough to get engineering degrees their design skills are usually set aside for what pays the bills – a lot of jobs with manual labor.

As we got started in creating the SCUTTLE Robotics PLT (company), I saw the neighboring country, Singapore (population of Dallas), swallowing up almost all of the investments for new technology & startups.  The largest open robotics company in the world, called Open Robotics resides just 2 miles away from Johor where we started our company in Malaysia and isn’t doing any activities in Malaysia (population of Texas). 

Nobody with the big money REALLY wants to take the risk of attempting a tech startup in a place that isn’t already a leader in technology development.  So to-date, everything in the project has been self-funded by myself and NorAzmi.

But as I worked with NorAzmi, Malaysians were very supportive of our mission and the colleagues we met in adjacent tech types of startups were eager to collaborate.  This is why we kept going, even after I moved back to Texas (2021).

When I saw this video

I reflected on my personal journey. I just passed the 10 year anniversary of my quitting at Toyota Engineering North America.  With SCUTTLE, I had expanded our work into two countries, created lots of results, but still didn’t (and still don’t) have enough revenue to pay myself a paycheck.  Sustaining this SCUTTLE project felt uncertain, and I felt drained.

It was an eery feeling sitting at home, working alone for tons of hours, and realizing that I’ve walked away from over 1 million dollars of pay and benefits since 2014 when I left Toyota. 

Rewinding just two years prior to my Toyota desk job, I was on a trip in Guatemala (2011) designing a water project with our college organization.  At my desk in 2013, it pained me to know I was at the desk revising engineering plans to save pennies instead of saving lives (yes, we literally had engineering meetings about savings of 6 cents per part from suppliers).  This is part of the reason that I left Toyota and headed to grad school.

So now we have two two impactful projects to consider, a bit over a decade apart. 

In early 2023 I learned that our water distribution system serving over 500 families had gone out of service and wasn’t getting repaired, despite the 6 years of planning, building, integrating, and teaching the Guatemalans.  (it still may be repairable but that’s a story for another time).

When I look at these two projects – they’re both incredibly rewarding but there is a magnificent advantage of the SCUTTLE project.  This robot project comes with all of the free resources to learn the engineering that goes into creating, modifying, and inventing almost any robotic machine you can imagine, starting with one platform.

The good feelings are back

And this year, there were some really bad feelings.  In December 2022 and January 2023 I put aside all of the engineering to build up an investor pitch.  I thought surely we have enough momentum to get investments, especially with our Intel and Texas Instruments partnerships.

But I was jolted with an unpleasant reality:  investors wanted a different business model, they don’t care about open source, and they don’t care about impact.  More than half of our methodologies are meaningless in front of investors and even if I got funding in January I’d have to leave behind most of my goals about impacting the world.

That hurt too.  I couldn’t find a way to spin this model into a form that maintains what feels right and also pleases the investors.  So I put aside the two months of work and crawled back to my desk to keep going without funding, and stay straight and narrow on the mission.  But I was running out of steam.  And running out of faith. 

There is a new direction now.

I know exactly how to explain this project and be able to crowd-source the funding we need to keep going, and it’s all focused on that first image and the boy on the robot.  We can tell the world that we are making an impact and that we are giving the “outsiders” all the resources they need to learn robotics, enjoy robotics, and form new career paths anywhere in the world.  Even in the developing world. And, we have proof.

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