Left Hand Robotics Autonomous Snowbot
Judy Warner: Shane, so nice to meet you. Before we get started, I just had to ask what the story is behind your unique name?
Shane Zinner: In this area, there was an American Indian Chief Niwot or Left Hand (-ed) (c. 1825–1864) who was a tribal leader of the Southern Arapaho people and played an important part in the history of Colorado. Many 'Left Hand' things, such as Left Hand Canyon, Left Hand Brewery, and the town of Niwot, Colorado were named after him. So, given our founders are from Niwot, CO, it only made sense to name the company Left Hand Robotics.
Warner: What an interesting backstory... So how long has Left Hand Robotics been in business?
Zinner: Since July 26, 2016.
Warner: Can you explain how an autonomous snowbot works?
Zinner: The SnowBot Pro uses advanced GPS technology to follow a predetermined path and an array of sensors to avoid obstacles during operation. Its rotating brush clears a sidewalk from edge-to-edge in a single pass to meet even the highest standards.
Warner: What kind of controller and engine does it have? Zinner: Right now it has a gas engine with a hydraulic system, which is typical in earth movers or other heavy equipment. We’d like to one day create a fully electric model.
Warner: Who is your market and how will you be going to market with your autonomous snowbot?
Zinner: Our market is fully commercial, such as 24-hour care facilities, hospitals, property managers, and commercial and residential properties. Any organization in need of snow clearing for safety purposes and labor savings. Late hour snow removal is a big problem for these people. If snow starts falling at 2 in the morning, it’s very difficult to find a snow removal company to service them at those hours—and it’s extremely expensive to have 24-hour on call snow removal services. As far as how our customers will acquire our equipment, they can either buy or lease.
Warner: People are often concerned robots will take away jobs. How would you respond to this fear and concern?
Zinner: Commercial snow and ice management is dangerous, hard, fatiguing work. Also, snowfall in most of North America is unpredictable and sporadic. Snow and ice professionals tell us sourcing workers who are willing to clear snow from paths and walkways is difficult. Our robots perform 60-80% of the snow clearing work, while snow and ice professionals take care of the remaining work, such as clearing steps and narrow areas. Additionally, it is our hope that we will provide higher paying jobs to make the SnowBot Pro as we continue to grow.
Warner: So Shane, you are an EE and a board, can you tell us about the kind of electronics under the hood?
Zinner: We have a fully custom board that is packed with a lot of functions. There is a controller board with GPS, processing capabilities for the sensor data, lidar, ultrasound, and analog-digital features. It was challenging because on one board there are noisy control systems alongside low noise features.
Warner: I know you used Altium Designer® to layout the board. Were there any specific features that were particularly helpful?
Zinner: The 3D Modeling was a great help mechanically to make sure everything was going to fit together. While I’ve used other EDA tools, the 3D capability in Altium is far superior and this allowed us to get this board right in one spin which is always great if you can get it right the first time.
Warner: Congratulations! That says as much about your ability as the tool, but we appreciate your kind words. Have you begun selling units yet? If not, where are you in your product development cycle, and what is your launch strategy?
Zinner: We have instituted a pilot program across the country and Canada to get feedback and take care of any final modifications before we start shipping. We are however taking reservations now, so we are getting close.
Warner: Lastly, what inspired the founders to create this autonomous snowbot?
Zinner: While both have enjoyed long and successful careers in technology companies, their biggest inspiration came from mentoring FIRST Robotic teams for over a decade. In fact, some of the kids they have mentored have come to work at Left Hand Robotics and been very instrumental in the development of our product. The other inspiration was how much they both tire of clearing their own walks and driveways every winter!
Warner: That’s great to hear. We sponsor many FIRST Robotics teams here at Altium and we love to hear when others help mentor the next generation of engineers and designers. Shane, thank you very much for taking the time to tell us about Left Hand Robotics and we wish you all great success!
Zinner: My pleasure, Judy and thank you.