For Local Tech Companies, Geek Gizmos Not Just For Clients

The CoffeeBot at Durham's Smashing Boxes (the small white box at the top) was created during its weekly Labs Projects sessions in which employees can work on whatever interests them.

Startups and entrepreneurial companies are hubs of innovation by both nature and nurture. They’re all bursting with creativity and novel concepts because they have to be if they’re going to survive in this dog-eat-dog world.

So it should come as no surprise that while many of these entrepreneurs are working tirelessly day-in and day-out to help their respective companies thrive, they still have some time to come up with cool inventions on the side.

Ranging from a “coffeebot” to a “SnackBot” and seemingly everywhere in between, these bot-type devices spruce up any tech company’s office decor in an on-brand way.

SAS Institute, an analytical data and software company, keeps its employees’ sweet tooth happy with its SnackBot, according to a SAS blog post by Chris Hemedinger, senior manager of SAS Online Communities. Senior Software Developer Pete Privitera and a team of “makers” built the internet-connected sensor device that measures the flow of M&Ms in any SAS break room.

The bot does much more than meets the eye; if anything it definitely exceeds expectations. It records the number of M&Ms in a database and records its fluctuations. The SnackBot even has its own website.

At Raleigh’s Republic Wireless, meanwhile, workers don’t have to make the always painful “20 step walk down the hall” to see if the employee shower is occupied. Instead, they’ve rigged a laser system to monitor the shower’s use and display whether anyone is in it, because of course they have. (And yes, it seems they have an employee shower.)

SAS and Republic Wireless aren’t the only ones with fancy gadgets. Smashing Boxes, a design and development company headquartered in Durham, is fairly bursting with in-office gizmos. Smashing Boxes regularly uses a CoffeeBot, a little bot created through its 3D printer and a custom-printed circuit board, that notifies its employees via Slack when a new pot of coffee has been brewed — a surefire way to get a fresh cup of joe every day.

Similarly the company also has a DoorBot that was also created by the company’s 3D printer. The bot is placed outside the company’s door and it notifies employees via Slack when someone is at the door. The buzzer itself is reconfigured from an Amazon Dash button, which allows Amazon users to order a product with the touch of a physical button. Given the expansive size of the office and the fact nobody sits especially close to the front door, the gizmo is practical as well as cool.

Smashing Boxes’ 3D printer, which churned out the CoffeeBot and DoorBot.

“We recognized there was a need, so we created the DoorBot to fulfill that need,” Director of Sales and Marketing Dave Shepley said.

The CoffeeBot and DoorBot, among other bots and gadgets, were created during the company’s “Labs Project” Fridays. Every Friday afternoon, Smashing Boxes encourages its employees to work on a side project that they’re interested in. Out of the these Labs Fridays, not only did they get a CoffeeBot and DoorBot, but they got also got a jukebox app.

MAESTRO is a jukebox app that enables the entire workforce to manage the office playlist, which helps ensure a playlist everyone likes and encourages maximal productivity. The app was created by the company’s former director of development, Brandon Mathis.

“A co-worker challenged me to build something that would enable the team to control the music via Slack,” Mathis said in a statement. “Naturally, I accepted.”

About Rebecca Ayers 6 Articles
Rebecca Ayers is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She's an intern reporter for GrepBeat.