Our regional tech community was honored to recently have internet blogger and technology futurist Robert Scoble come to town. While here he gave a “Beyond Mobile” technology talk for the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council and toured several of our region’s many technology success stories – or success stories in the making.
Aeroprobe Logo-01

First up in our technology tour was Aeroprobe, the well established aeronautical instrumentation and materials research lab located in the Falling Branch Corporate Park in Christiansburg. The company CEO Nanci Hardwick was our host and showed us the two hot areas of technical innovation that her company invented:


  • Unique air flow measurement instrumentation for aerospace, automotive, and other airflow test industries
  • 3D deposition metal printing (using Additive Friction Stir Deposition technology)

IMG_20160125_101237_404_cAeroprobe is already well known in the industry for their cutting edge aerospace and innovative  air speed and turbulence detection probes, however their new innovative 3D additive metal printing technology yields almost all the advantages of caste and milled metal parts without all the time and expense of tooling parts out of block stock materials. Additionally, their technology can now also print very large custom parts that previously would have been unfeasible or impossible.  These advantages not only bring together a huge savings in time, costs and a new level of custom parts flexibility, but also introduces new areas of mixed metals research that could not even be explored until now.

IMG_20160125_102402_072_cNanci was awesome, especially once she discovered that our tour was being fed live out to the 2,000+ Scoble Facebook followers. While streaming the live video interview, Scobles followers offered insightful technical questions. Here’s a link to the full 1+hr video tour.

VTTIlogoOur next stop on the tour was the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, or VTTI for short.  VTTI is a hotbed of automotive and self driving car technologyIMG_20160125_105511_935_c, and much of their car communication protocol  and accident
avoidance data is fed to government departments like the federal DoT (Department of Transportation) and inter-vendor standards committees.  Their research is used to help establish protocols, standards, and regulations around the big emerging industry
of self driving cars.

VTTI_smart-roadJared Bryson, their Senior Mechanical Systems Group Leader gave us the full tour of their research garage (pictured above) and then on to the very popular research track referred to as The Smart Road (full video here).  The Smart Road is a unique research track as it is one of the few research roads in the world that can simulate rain, snow and fog as well as testing of pavement and offer a plethora of other real time in-pavement sensors to report on moisture, temperature, strain, vibration, and weigh-in-motion data.

Throttle-LogoAfter a relaxing and fun lunch with various area tech experts, we walked over to Tech Pad, one of several tech co-working startup spaces in the region. Scoble interviewed two different customer building phase startups.  The first was Mindsense pitching their second big email filtering service called Throttle andCardIsle_logo the second a greeting card kiosk startup called Card Isle.

Here’s the video of the Throttle pitch, a SaaS (Software as a Service) email filtering product that allows you to stop vendors, websites, and even other individuals from abusing your email address. It works on any email account type you have (gmail, exchange, hotmail, etc), integrates with web site account pages (to automate email/password forms), works with other web-account/password tools,  and even notifies you when a vendor tries to sell your email address(es) to spammers. Very cool, out-side-the-box type solution needed by many – even if they don’t yet realize it.

The Card Isle product is an actual walk up kiosk that is currently installed in several shopping centers and retailers around the US, and is rather like a RedBox for made to order/printed as you wait, custom designed greeting cards. A very practical, personalized greeting card kiosk system. These guys participated in the San Antonio based Tech Stars program’s class of 2015 which really helped them refine their business model and product. Here’s the video that Scoble posted on Facebook from his visit with Card Isle.

The last tour stop was right across the street – “The Cube” at the Institute for Creativity Arts and Technology (ICAT) on the north side of VT campus. In Scoble’s Facebook post he says,

“This room was built to be the ultimate VR/AR space…”


Here’s a link to his walk through video tour (which without the augmented reality goggles, really can’t do it justice).

After a full day of touring native high tech and startup companies, we dropped Scoble off at our luxurious on campus hotel and conference center The Inn at Virginia Tech  to relax and prepare for his big talk for the RBTC that night, “Beyond Mobile”.  A very insightful talk on what current technology trends mean for the average technology consumer  (below in case you missed it):

The next day we Scoble visited two more startups that we were all interested in checking out: Torc Robotics and FollowMyVote.

Torc_logoTorc Robotics, the large, commercial robotics company, was our firt stop. Torc specializes in large scale remote control and automated machine robotics for mining, construction, R&D, and defense applications. Very cool, cutting edge (and some classified) stuff… no cameras allowed inside, of course.Torc_Flemming

Our friend (and CEO) Michael Fleming showed us around, after all the necessary security precautions were met.  The sheer scale of their robot-icized earth moving gear and large vehicle automated systems was impressive, if not intimidating.  Since we could not bring a camera on site we don’t have any real media to share from this visit, but if you get the chance to visit their facility in the Blacksburg Industrial Park, the automated earth movers all scurrying around the property by themselves should give you a clue that these guys are serious about large, autonomous work-bots.

FollowMyVote_logoOur final high tech tour was a personal favorite of mine FollowMyVote  located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.
While FollowMyVote doesn’t have any giant earth moving robots, their technology is as big if not bigger an earth mover in that it has what’s needed to bring our political process into the 21st century.  That is, the technology to finally deliver the US (and world) a, “secure online voting platform that will allow for greater election transparency”.

IMG_6795_mYou really need to see their YouTube video (below) to get the basic idea, and then the Scoble Facebook interview to understand the nuts and bolts of the open source crypto/accountability technology (called blockchain distributed database) that makes it tick. What FollowMyVote currently has up and running is worlds better and more secure than anything any other production voting system today has to offer! Seriously, I don’t know how a democratic society can even consider using anything but a fully open source and auditable e-voting system like this.

Overall not only was hosting Scoble’s visit to the region super informative and a ton of fun, but I got to meet and see more cool people and technology here in my own area than I have in the previous five years of living here.  If you want to find out and track what’s going on in the areas of disruptive technology, and what your own future will look like “Beyond Mobile”, you really owe it to yourself to follow this professional futurist in all of his globe trotting adventures and cutting edge interviews.


Rackers Robert Scoble, Tweeks, Doug & Sue Juanarena,
Jarret Rhyner and Robert McADen

Scoble on FaceBook
(now his main social following platform)

Scoble on Twitter
(for the quick, 140 character glance)

Scoble on LinkedIn
(for that professional touch)




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