Category: Culture (page 1 of 2)

Project Wing – Drone Delivered Burritos in Blacksburg VA

drone_deliveryAn autonomous flying robot delivered burritos to me and a bunch of other Rackers for lunch today. I don’t know if I should be giddy with geek joy or fearfully completing my HERFgun in the basement. Either way, cool cutting edge drone research is happening here in Blacksburg VA as a part of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) is doing  “as part of an initiative to push research and safety measures for unmanned flight.”[1]

How does Blacksburg rate as one of the limited six “FAA-sanctioned drone test sites”[1]? In a word, Virginia Tech.  VT happens to be the home of the Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems (VaCAS), “an ICTAS/College of Engineering research center which facilitates interdisciplinary research in autonomous systems technology.”[2]  They even have their own drone test landing strip at Kentland farms just outside the town limits called the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems (KEAS) laboratory.

But enough about research, let’s talk burrito-drones!

Being one of the larger software dev centers in Blacksburg, Racksburg (our nickname for Rackspace Blacksburg) was invited to come out and partake is this limited, by-invitation-only, test bed research event…and boy was it cool! They are not only researching and solving technical issues with the drone delivery tech itself, but are also figuring out things like: what kinds of orders are doable via drone, what kinds of prices consumers are willing to pay, what level of delivery fees people are most responsive to, and how often the sample clientele are most likely to use such a service (after the new/coolness factor has faded).

So here’s how the test incarnation of this unique food delivery trial run worked.

  1. drone_taking-ordersPlace your order:
    This will not be typical once implemented commercially, but in this test run we (the customers) drive to the delivery test venue, take a number to be called to the order kiosk (they’re making an App for this) and place your drone-burrito order. You can order burritos or burrito-bowls (around $6-7 ea). There is also a $6 fee per delivery. While a 100% surcharge is rather steep, a drone can fly two orders at a time so it’s good to find a partner to share the delivery fee.
  2. Relax and Snack While You Wait:
    drone_waiting1drone_waiting2While you wait for your order to be filled and delivered (which only takes between 6-10 minutes), you’re invited to sit and nosh on free chips, guac and drinks at either their canopy shielded picnic tables or their adirondack chair lounge area where you can watch the drones come and go. Pretty sweet!
  3. “Look! Here it Comes!”
    burrito-joy_captionI’ve got to say.. Drones are awesome, and most everyone loves a good burrito. But together , as one Racker expressed it you will “Experience Pure Burrito Joy!” He was so happy about getting to partake in this über yummy/geeky research project, that he rendered this intricate drawing of the experience. What more can I say!?  Oh, I guess we could show a narrated video of the experience:

     

  4. Enjoy!
    drone_eatingSo I don’t know if it was the burrito, the Garlic Cholulas they had on the table, or the whole drone-burrito-joy experience — but the Alphabet/Project Wing/Chipotle[3] experience  was truly magical. Here’s a selfie of my Racker buddy Dave Williams and I noshing on our air-mail delivered lunch (we split the drone delivery fee and so paid just $3 ea).
  5. Survey Research
    drone_surveysOf course as participants in Project Wing, we wanted to do our part by spending the 8-10 minutes needed for filling out their consumer research questionnaire. I recognized their multi-question, market research format by how they really drilled in to how much consumers would be willing to pay for such services, combined with a NPS style closing question formatted in a 0-10 scale of “would you recommend this service to a friend”.  I shared that I would be willing to pay $3-4 for such a service, but not more than that (even if it really was this quick), but that I would consider a $2 delivery fee to be a “good deal”. Here’s a shot of some other Rackers filling out their survey, still glowing with “pure burrito joy”.

Over all, Alphabet Inc’s Project Wing burrito drop was a really cool experience, and I was honored that Rackspace was invited to participate. I hope the university and Project Wing folks are able to use our feedback to refine this delivery system of the future…although there was a tongue and cheek joke when one Racker asked, “Can we get lounge chairs that hover so we don’t have to get up to pick up our burrito?” (a cutting narrative reference to what these types of services ultimately led to with regards to human narcissistic laziness in the futuristic Disney film Wall-E).drone_wall-e

Let’s all hope that projects and services like these end up bettering mankind and that our future mechanistic overlords don’t take advantage of this new dependency on them. 😉

All joking aside, most technology innovations like these make our lives that much more efficient and convenient. It’s up to us to make sure that we remember to use this extra time to get out, experience and enrich the amazing world in which we live— not use it to turn inward.

 

 

 

 

[1] “Delivery Drones to Be Tested in U.S.“, Bloomburg
[2]  VaCAS homepage
[3]  “Alphabet Teams Up With Chipotle For Project Wing Test: Drones Will Deliver Burritos To Virginia Tech “, Tech Times

 

 

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eLog Refugee Software Wins “Peoples Choice” Award in International Startup Competition in Blacksburg

IMG_9638_cEver year Rackspace Blacksburg supports an international team in the VT KnowledgeWorks Global Student Challenge. This year we hosted and worked with “Team eLog“, a couple of young UK entrepreneurs who had the idea of creating a software app and back-end system to help international refugees and immigrants track the voyage from their home land to their destination country.  It’s been determined that almost 90% of refugees actually have and use smart phones. This being the case, the would-be-immigrant simply downloads the eLog app,  inputs their vital stats, state and personal ID, birth certificates and documents.. and then uses the app to track their voyage to their destination. Once arriving at the destination country’s immigration or refugee processing office, they grant the immigration office access to their eLog account, GPS tagged travel history, country of origin, travel photos and other journey data, thus greatly reducing the work and delays of immigration processing while saving the destination country much of the time and labor of traditional paper-trail tracking and security checks.

IMG_9568_ccRackspace helped team eLog refine their pitch, think about other revenue models, and how to present their app as not just a war-time, distressed-country refugee tracking tool, but also as a peace time tool for moving standard immigrant documentation services from the 20th century into the 21st century paperless/GPS based journey and personal-ID documentation.

IMG_7596

Is that someone’s upside down head (bottom)?

After the competition and awards ceremony, eLog along with all the other international (and US) college teams all came back to Racksburg to party down and mingle with our local young professionals group. It was an awesome, rocking party that ended up being super eclectic (music wise) and a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in being a host company for a VT KnowledgeWorks student team, or would personally like to be a host family and invite a team into your home late next summer, contact the VT KnowledgeWorks folks and let them know. It’s a really fun and enlightening experience, not just for the students but for everyone involved.

 

 

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STEM Turns Technology Takers Into Technology Makers

IMG_6882
Here at Racksburg we’re big believers in exposing kids to STEM and  information technologies. Admittedly, we do this partly because making our region more attractive to seasoned technology experts with growing families is just good for business (as discussed in this previous blog post). However we also invest in STEM because exposing kids to IT/programming technologies helps transform their mind set from one of being mere consumers of new technology, into becoming more technology innovators, makers and creators. Something  we all need to strive to do in our communities and schools. Continue reading

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Rackspace sponsors Kids’ Tech University

By Annelise Rosmaita

kids-tech-2016-02-27On Saturday February 27, I went to Kids Tech University. It is an event at Virgina Tech that features interactive hands on activities and even some college type lectures for kids to get us interested in Science, Technlology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Rackspace is a corporate sponsor for the event.

The lecture was on cell life and cancer presented by Dr. Carla Finkielstein from the Virginia Tech Department of Biological Sciences. It was very interesting. She showed videos of how cells duplicate and how cancer happens by cells duplicating uncontrollably. After the lecture, we got a Scientific Method and Kids’ Tech University packet on cell life, and an Aha-Album. Whenever you have a scientific, mathematics, engineering or technology aha! moment, you can jot it down in the album. Continue reading

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Racksburg Helps Host International Entrepreneurship Competition

Every year, Racksburg (Rackspace Backsburg) sponsors the Virginia Tech Knowledge Works (incubator/entrepreneurial) Global Challenge and hosts one of the teams. In their words:

vtkw-lunch

(L to R) Adrian Armijos & Richard Condor
(Team LifeBooks), with Rackers Brad Gignac,
Dan Shain and Tweeks

“The Sixth Annual VT KnowledgeWorks Global Partnership Week, August 16-22, 2015, offers student teams and faculty from all over the world a chance to collaborate and initiate their personal global networks through learning, socialization, and friendly competition. During this week-long celebration, 55 international students and faculty members from 13 universities around the world visit the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. Three finalist teams are awarded $45,000 in cash prizes to encourage their entrepreneurial endeavors.”

vtkw-at-rack

Ricky at Adrian, hanging out at Racksburg

This year, the Racksburg office hosted the Ecuadorian team, “Team LifeBook” (Adrian and Richard) refine their pitch for their interactive book/iPad product (see video).

Continue reading

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Racksburg is Getting Girls Interested in Tech – And You Can Too!

One thing I love about Rackspace Blacksburg (aka “Racksburg”) is how we support our local STEM community through both sponsorships as well as Racker volunteerism. But besides sponsoring (and teaching) classes on programming robotics or rocket science, there’s another lesser known need in the STEM community. If you look around most of today’s leading tech companies you’ll notice a pretty significant imbalance of women in tech jobs. Only 18% of today’s Computer Science grads are women (compared to 37% in the 1980s!).[1]  A problem you would think should be getting getting better in the 21st century, not worse.

STEM Diversity Movement Helps The American Tech Sectorblog-series-image
In a day where more and more tech companies are outsourcing critical Dev and Engineering jobs, even pushing congress for more H1B (overseas tech sector) workers — it’s more important than ever that we build up and make use of our own domestic, female, tech work force. A work force that actually helped create the computer industry in the first place back in the 40s.[2] Continue reading

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Turning It Up to Eleven

The very last song on last week’s Radio Ethiopia was a “power song”: it was the 2048th song played since the debut of Radio Ethiopia on K-RACK on October 3, 2012. So at this point I’ve broadcast exactly 2^11 songs over the internet from Racksburg. (Of course I keep track of this stuff, I’m a computer scientist!)

I know that you’re just dying to know what the other power songs were, so here we go. (The first show was a special Peter Tosh edition, so in one sense his songs are over-represented in the list, but on the other hand, they are very powerful songs, so what the heck.)

power artist title date
0 The Wailers “No Sympathy” 10-3-2012
1 The Wailers “Stop That Train” 10-3-2012
2 The Wailers “400 Years” 10-3-2012
3 Peter Tosh “Sinner Man” 10-3-2012
4 Peter Tosh “Arise Blackman” 10-3-2012
5 Augustus Pablo “Point Blank” 10-17-2012
6 Impact All Stars “Ordinary Version, Chapter 2” 10-24-2012
7 Burning Spear “Farther East of Jack” 11-28-2012
8 The Soul Syndicate “Great Stone” 2-6-2013
9 The Mighty Diamonds “Them Never Love Poor Marcus” 6-5-2013
10 Augustus Pablo “Kid Ralph” 2-16-2014
11 The Mighty Two “War” 7-15-2015

Rackers can listen to Radio Ethiopia (and other great shows) from the comfort and safety of their workstations, Tuesday through Friday. Wednesday is Racksburg Day.

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Racksburg Fitness Challenge!

The Racksburg Rackers are competitive (so are most Rackers) so sports and challenges are a fun way to trick us into being healthy. The Wellness committee capitalized on this and issued our first challenge: Walk to Mordor.

Teams of 5 collectively had to walk from the Shire to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s journey. Key points along the challenge were Rivendell, Lothlorien, Rauros Falls and of course Mt. Doom. This was 1779 miles. The competition started on Summer solstice and concluded 60 days later when team Frodo completed the challenge.

Our second office wide walking challenge is currently in progress and is known as the “Gold Rush”. Teams of 5 Rackers are working together to cover the 2,841 miles from the Blacksburg office to the San Francisco office.

Our first point of interest is passing Lexington Kentucky – where teams were challenged to get pictures with horses; below are my teams photos.

Here is the badge teams who completed the Walk to Mordor challenge got:

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Here is my team, More Cowbell, and our horse pictures to symbolize reaching Louisville:

20150522_121223 20150522_121125

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Racksburg loves potlucks

Racksburg has a monthly potluck group called OMNOMNOM or Noms for short. Inspired by the office-wide cooking competitions held occasionally throughout the year, a group formed to make potlucks a more regular event. The group is open to anyone who loves to eat and cook. Often the group is the test subject for new or modified recipes created just for the event. Generally the group shares recipes by email after the event, then picks the theme for the following month; June will be the one year anniversary of the group!

There have been themes such as chocolate (yes chocolate can be savory), soup & salad, finger foods, Irish foods, food on a stick, vegetarian, and most recently: a seafood boil! What better way to celebrate spring than eating outside in the nice weather.
Below is the group enjoying our seafood. Thanks Tweeks!

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The Racksburg Equilibrium

 

As I commit my changes to our team github repository, my droopy eyes tell me its time for my coffee. I pause the streaming music, remove my headphones and walk towards the closest of the four fueling stations in our office.  I can hear my teammates discuss colorful kibana graphs that fill up our team television monitors. A teammate expresses his preference for the dashing framework, which sparks an animated banter of technical discussions. I pour myself a generous cup of coffee and look outside to see a little yellow airplane land at the Virginia Tech Airport. Warm sun, clear sky, lush greens, beautiful mountains, summer definitely is close. Walking back to my cube, I see my teammates have dispersed from the dashboard discussion, some back to building awesome Rackspace Cloud Office apps and others off for a Ping-Pong break. High on caffeine, I get back to figuring out my next chef recipe.

RCB_STEMlunchHawaii

Racksburg (Rackspace + Blacksburg) gives you the platform to build awesomeness and at the same time provides ample benefits to balance work with your personal interests. Local gym memberships, bring your dog to work everyday, family outings, summer cookouts, holiday parties, community service, technical conferences, hackathons, tech talks, stem outreach programs are just some of the opportunities here that help you grow both professionally and personally.

This diverse and open work culture is precisely the reason why I love being part of Racksburg. If you want to experience the same make sure to check out our  job openings.

 

 

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