My name is Jan Malášek, which is a Czech name, so the “J” is pronounced as an English “Y” (if you care, we can go over the last name in person, or you can consult your local Czech person). I grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii, spent five years in school in Massachusetts, and then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to work on Pololu. I recently turned 30, and I’m still not the millionaire I had hoped to become at age 23 and then by age 25. Hitting 30 means it has been twenty years since I got started with electronics and ten years since I routed the first circuit board that said “Pololu” on it.
I have been trying to teach electronics to my friends and others around me since I was in high school, and I have wanted to write a book about building robots since before I started Pololu. However, making the time for that is getting more and more difficult; my hope is that I can make at least some progress toward that goal by writing a series of articles about common problems encountered by those getting started in robotics.
About this blog
I’m not even comfortable calling this a blog, partly because having one seems trite at this point. Some folks at Pololu have been pushing for a company blog for years, but I wasn’t too excited about something that would amount to a bunch of press releases. However, one major aspect of blogs that I like is the interactivity provided by comments. Thinking of this project as a blog helps make explicit that part of the purpose is to be more personal, to allow some commentary, and to provoke some interaction with customers, employees, and others that are involved with Pololu. I thought for a while about whether this should be a “Pololu blog” with either a mix of authors or no explicit author, but I want this to be more personal than the rest of the content on our web site, so I have committed to making this the blog by me, president of Pololu.
I have several kinds of readers in mind:
So, there are a lot of lofty aspirations and uses of the word “hope” here. I’m not sure of the extent to which I’ll be able to satisfy my goals while keeping things personal and interesting without offending or alienating too many customers, but let’s see how it goes.
12 Comments New Comment
24 Nov 2010
There is about to be an explosion of interest in the world of hobby robotics. It's called the Boy Scout Robotics Merit Badge and it launches in April. What is Pololu doing to get ready for it?
24 Nov 2010
I had not heard about the robotics merit badge, and we have not done anything to get ready specifically for it. I looked around a bit and didn't find any details about it; can you provide some specifics of what's involved or links for more information? What would you like to see us do in anticipation of this launch?
7 Dec 2010
Aha! I thought the name "Pololu" sounded Hawaiian. Mystery solved.
5 Jan 2011
I am also of Czech heritage. It's great to see you using the proper pronunciation and spelling. I'm just starting out but have purchased several of your products all with good results. I love the supporting articles you provide. I believe in supporting science and engineering with young people and robotics is definitely an interesting way to do it. Maybe one day some of your products will end up helping to explore another planet or the bottom of the sea. Keep up the great job.
7 Jan 2011
Thanks! Does standing in a few inches of water at the beach count as touching the bottom of the ocean? If so, our products might have already been to the bottom of the sea...
25 Aug 2011
I too am Czech!
Very nice articles in your blog (even the one where you oppose comments ;) )
I would like to see you write about a plan for a novice to intermediate robot builder in order to get more masterful. I started with the BASIC Stamp and later went on to the Arduino, not before making side ventures into PIC programming that failed miserably.
That is why it would be nice to have a recommended path if you will. Complete with suggested reading, and platforms.
Another blog post would be on how to interface a netbook or small full blown computer into a Rover type robot.
Keep up the great blog.
26 Aug 2011
In that case, ahoj should be with a J, right?
Thanks for the feedback and suggestions. I already have a long list of topics, and I don't think either of those were on there; I'll definitely add them. I also started with the BASIC Stamp and then PICs (after a few years of just electronics without any programming). It's difficult to come up with a "recommended path" when it's kind of a lot of parallel paths, and people who approach robotics can have very widely varying skills.
28 Aug 2011
I, too, am a PCB designer, though not also an electrical engineer. I am working for a double-E who has adapted one of your motor drivers to a field outside the remote control field. We want to mount the qik 2s12v10 directly as a piggyback onto a motherboard, using the headers as board stackers.
Since you provide no data on the locations of these headers, we have to measure and guess, and already some motherboards have been built which don't quite fit the qik 2s12v10.
We realize we don't represent your typical market, but here is a suggestion: Along with the other technical data for each module, post the Gerber files for your modules, at least the silkscreen and top soldermask layers (if you don't want to give away the full artwork). Doing so will automatically smooth the way to new markets for your products based on the ingenuity of engineers you've never met without requiring any marketing efforts on your part, or any drawings modifed by draftsmen, but only some time spent by your documentation department to gather some files together and give to your webmaster to get the files in place available for download.
Meanwhile, please send me the silkscreen and soldermask Gerber files for the qik 2s12v10.
29 Aug 2011
I know we need to work on the documentation for the mechanical aspects of our products, but thanks for the reminder. In general, if there is some information that you need and that isn't on the web site, you can email or call us about it. I'll ask someone to send you a drill drawing for your qik 2s12v10. By the way, the qiks are purely serial motor controllers, so they are not intended for radio control applications.
24 Dec 2011
Just stumbled across your website. I am an old geezer, 65 yrs. old, who likes to experiment/play with electomechanical and electronic things. You certainly present a lot of easy to understand information for people like me, i.e., a beginner. I just purchased a Parallax Basic Stamp to teach myself about microprocessors and eventually want to build a rc contolled wheel barrel or wagon to use in the yard.
Thanks and regards. By the way, my wife and I visited Prauge and Brno a couple years ago, nice places.
25 Jan 2012
Jan, please feel free to delete this post. I simply wanted to bring your attention as quickly as I could to a potential issue within your company.
I requested a laser cutting quote for some small 4" x 24" basswood sheets 1/16th of an inch thick. Easy stuff.
I created a file to cut small circles with a square hole, as many as would fit on the wood. The minimum order for the wood from the supplier is $25, which is 20 sheets of wood. Might as well get them all cut, right?
Your website says the average cost of laser cutting comes to about $2.50 a minute. From the quote I received from your laser cutting department, it calculates out to almost four hours (!!!) of cutting time on your laser. Really? Really? I could cut them out with my leather punch in less time than that.
It would seem that someone saw the finished pieces adding up to 2,000, and decided to make a little money off me. That is a guess, but compared to other quotes I am getting, your price seems incredibly far off. Even greedy.
Thought you'd want to know.....
25 Jan 2012
Thanks for the feedback. It looks like you are aware that this is not the most appropriate avenue for this discussion, so you might want to think about what prompted you to post here before trying to contact us some more conventional way. You do bring up two subjects that I think are worth discussing publicly.
First and most directly addressing your comment, you got quoted a little over $500 for over 2500 identical little parts. A laser cutter is not necessarily going to be the most cost-effective way to do that kind of job, and if you have a better way of doing it, great: do it that better way. It's a similar situation with the competing quote: I don't think we promise being the lowest-cost option, but you might not be getting an apples-to-apples comparison since there are other factors like turn time, quality, support, etc. I'm not saying the cheaper options are necessarily going to turn out worse: I might have done your job for half or less back when I was running a laser out of my house. Still, a lot of your ire seems to be stemming from your disbelief about it taking four hours, and that does not sound that off to me.
Second and more troubling is your resorting to complaining about greed, which seems all too popular lately. There's some rate at which things are worth it for us to do, and if that rate does not make sense for your application, don't go for it. There are probably things that you would not do for $100 but that you would do for $1,000; does that make you greedy (in some bad way)? You say, "Might as well get them all cut, right?"; isn't that the same greediness? It's fine for you to come back to us with your other quotes to make sure there wasn't some miscommunication about your requirements or to try to negotiate a better price, but it's not appropriate or helpful to stoop to that kind of name-calling. Also, you should want to work and interact with competent people, for whom "greedy" probably isn't a particularly meaningful word.