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About John R Orlando

My name is John Royce Orlando (and thus the JROBOT….get it?) and I have been fascinated with robotics for as long as I can remember.  Growing up in New Jersey, I got interested in computer programming after my mom bought me and my brother Dan a TI-99/4A home computer in the early 1980’s.  I started programming in BASIC on that puppy when I was about 10, and still remember how excited I was when I first made a circle bounce across the screen….those were the days…

I was always interested in electronics.  I used to go to the local Radio Shack and buy resistors because they were cheap (5 for $0.19 at the time).  I would come home, and quickly hook them up to a battery to see what would happen.  I distinctly remember some of them getting very hot immediately, while others didn’t seem to ever heat up much.  I would supplement my resistor purchases with small DC motor purchases as well.  But those darn motors always seemed to go to fast to do anything useful with….oh well…

My mom, always one to encourage my interests, bought me my first solderless breadboard and soldering iron from Radio Shack for my fourteenth birthday.  Right around this time, the high school I was attending decided to throw away all of the back issues of Radio Electronics and Popular Electronics it had collected over the last 12 years or so.  I quickly snatched them all up, realizing that I had stumbled into something sweet.  These magazines provided me with a fantastic education over the next four years.  I learned about analog and digital electronics, as well as microprocessors and assembly programming.  This “education” culminated with the design of what I called a “programmable robot controller”, which was essentially a digital recorder that would accept a “program” of direction commands, and play them back to drive motors.  Unfortunately, I never got around to actually building one, but the foundation was laid for the future.

My junior year of high school I finally got a chance to take physics, and had the extreme pleasure of being taught by Mr. Renier Shmidt.  Mr. Schmidt was a younger guy whose interest in physics and science in general greatly affected me.  He was probably the best teacher I have had, always challenging us and making physics class the best part of the day.  He was also the head of the Science Club.  Mr. Schmidt knew I was interested in electronics, and was always encouraging me to work on projects.  He even funded an attempt at building an electromagnetic cannon that used digitally controlled electromagnets and photogates to shoot a steel nail into a board.  Good stuff…

After graduating from Glassboro High School, I attended the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana between 1993 and 1998.  I majored in Electrical Engineering, and was mainly into the digital side of things, such as embedded systems and assembly programming.  While attending Rose, I co-op’ed with Delco Electronics (now Delphi Electronics) in Kokomo, Indiana.  I worked there for six different assignments, with each assignment being about three months.  I learned a lot while at Delco, on both a technical front as well as a social front.  The friends I made there are some of my closest, many of whom I remain close with to this day (see Backpacking project).

While at Rose, my friend Steve Goetz and I embarked on what I would call my first real robot.  This purpose of this robot was to drive around a circular rink (about 8 foot in diameter) and collect small plastic discs.  The bot was controlled by a Miniboard, sporting a 68HC11.  The Miniboard controlled two DC motors hooked up to a toy car, with a Teddy-Ruxpin surplus actuator on front that was used to grab the disks.  The intention of this robot was to be part of an Aerial Robotics competition, where a small helicopter would drop off our robot, which would then collect a disk on the ground and return to the helicopter.  We got the robot working, but the rest of the Aerial Robotics team didn’t have an entry ready in time.  Steve and I still got 4 credits for our independent study efforts anyway.

My senior year at Rose, I convinced the EE department to let me do another independent project, but this time it would be a year long project worth 12 credits.  The project was to develop a small group of autonomous robots that would be able to play tag with each other.  Now THAT was a kick-ass way to earn 12 credits!  Many sleepless nights later, and a whole lot of head scratching, the project came together and worked as planned.  Check out a complete description of the project here.

After graduating Rose, I accepted a job with a research lab within Motorola Inc. called Applied Technology, in Schaumburg, Illinois.  I have been working at this group for the last 6 years, and plan to be there for the foreseeable future.  They have given me an opportunity to play with hardware, software, and even a little mechanical stuff from time to time.  I have learned a ton from the excellent engineers this group employs.

In the fall of 1998, I met my wife (Lindsay) at a party down in Noblesville, Indiana.  Even though the exact sequence of events is sketchy, I remember the situation being that she walked right up to me and said “I don’t think I’ve met you yet….I’m Lindsay”, and I was hooked.  We got married July 20th, 2002 in Grand Ledge, Michigan, where she grew up.  In July 2003, we bought our first house in West Dundee, IL, where we have lived ever since.  Lindsay is my best friend, and my playmate for life….and she supports my robotics addiction in every way.  She even told our realtor that a major requirement of our house would be a “robot room”, which is a workspace for me that is integrated into the living space of the house, but allows for it to be closed off somehow when it gets too messy.  Believe it or not, I got exactly that…check out the photos here.  I told you she was cool….Oh yeah…She is a school teacher, and has taught middle school and junior high for the last six years, for Chicago Public schools on the south side of Chicago, and currently for Marquardt Junior High in Glendale Heights, IL.

In late 2000, I stumbled on to the Chicago Area Robotics Society (Chibots), a group that was just starting out.  I was ecstatic to find a group of people who enjoyed getting together to talk about robotics in all of its many facets.  I have been an active member ever since, and can be regularly found on the second Sunday of each month at their meetings.

In the Spring of 2004, I decided to get serious about my interest in vision, and started working on a small embedded vision system again.  This culminated in an entry into the Atmel-sponsored Circuit Cellar contest for my AVRcam project.  Details about this project can be found here.  I am planning on making a small production run of this project, and making it commercially available to the public during November of 2004 (if all goes well ;-).

Geez…enough of this technical talk….other random stuff about me:

-I love the outdoors, and really enjoy camping and backpacking.  I did a 52 mile hike near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming in 2003, and did a 70+ mile hike in early September 2004 in Pennsylvania.

-I am very passionate about music.  I really enjoy playing both the guitar and piano.  There is something about improvisational music that taps into my soul in a very special way…its hard to explain.  I am a big Phish fan (went to my first show at Deer Creek in 1995), and have seen them around 15 times.  I have recently been listening to a lot of Keith Jarrett after my uncle (Dan Ketchum) sent my the Koln Concert as a gift.  If you haven’t ever checked this stuff out, and dig jazzy-insane piano improv, check this out.  I would also highly recommend his Breman-Lausaine concerts.

-Lindsay and I have two cats, Miles and Sammy.  They were strays that Lindsay’s cousin found, and we have had them since they were kittens.

-I have played soccer my entire life.  I still play from time to time for an Indoor team with some friends at Motorola, but I don’t seem to make the time to play as much as I would like.

-Have you already figured out that I talk a lot???

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