Bill Porter is a Panama City Beach, FL-based electronics engineer working for the US Navy. When he isn’t working on unmanned systems for the Navy, he spends his time running an engineering-focused educational outreach program and working on his own projects. In this interview, Bill talks about his first designs, technical interests, and current projects.
CIRCUIT CELLAR: You’re an electronics engineer for the United States Navy. Can you describe any of the projects you’re involved with?
BILL: I work with unmanned systems, or robots that are teleoperated and/or autonomous. This includes systems that swim under water, on the surface, or across the land. The Navy is working hard to develop robots to do the jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull and help keep the sailor out of harm’s way. One such system is called MUSCL, or Modular Systems Craft Littoral. MUSCL is a small, man-portable surface vehicle that is used by Riverine Patrol for remote surveillance and reconnaissance. I was the lead electrical engineer for the project.
Besides robots, I am also working on a few education outreach programs that work towards getting more students interested in STEM careers.
CIRCUIT CELLAR: Tell us about The Science Brothers nonprofit outreach program. How did the program start?
BILL: The Science Brothers is my main educational outreach program run out of my Navy base. For two Fridays every month, a few of my coworkers and I will visit a local elementary school to put on a show. The script of the show centers on the dynamics of two brothers, who specialize in different fields and argue over whose science is “cooler.” The result is a fun and wacky trip exploring different premises in science, such as light, sound, and energy, with examples and demonstrations from the realms of chemistry, physics, and electricity.
The program restarted when a few coworkers and I sat down and decided to bring back an old program that had existed on the base in the ‘90s called “Dr. Science.” The goal of the program was to bring science-based experiments to the schools using equipment they otherwise were not able to afford. By wowing the students with the spectacular-looking demos, we get them excited about science and yearning to learn more.
CIRCUIT CELLAR: Your website (BillPorter.info) includes projects involving 3-D printing, motor controllers, and LEDs. What types of projects do you prefer working on and why?
BILL: I am a hardware guy. I love to fire up my favorite PCB CAD software just to get an idea out of my head and on the screen. I do not breadboard very often, as I would rather take my chances trying some new idea on a board first. Either it works, or I have an excuse to design another PCB. Thankfully, group-order PCB services have enabled my addiction tinkering at a very low cost. I wish I was stronger at mechanical CAD design to really get the full potential out of my 3-D printer, but I have done well enough without it. It really does come in handy at times, whether it is a quick project enclosure, a mount, or a part for our garden.
CIRCUIT CELLAR: Do you have a favorite project?
BILL: Yes! My wedding of course! I married the girl of my dreams who is just as much as a geek as I am, and as a result, we had an extremely geeky wedding over a year in the making involving many projects throughout. So much so that our theme was “Circuit and Swirls” and we carried the motif throughout.
We designed and made our own wedding invitations involving LEDs, a microprocessor, and a clever Easter egg. Furthermore, we 3-D-printed our centerpieces, built up our own “e-textile” wedding attire with LEDs and EL wire, and we even had a “soldering ceremony” during the event. It made our parents nervous, but in the end, everyone had a good time. Did I mention I asked her to marry me on a PCB she designed for a project?
CIRCUIT CELLAR: Are you currently working on or planning any projects? Can you tell us about them?
BILL: I have one main project that is taking up all my time at work and at home. A coworker and I are the technical directors for the first-ever Maritime RobotX Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation and by the Office for Naval Research (ONR), will take place this October in Singapore. It will include 15 teams of college students from five participating nations and put them to the test by challenging them to design a robot that will complete five tasks autonomously. As one of the technical directors, I have been helping design and build the interactive course elements that the teams’ robots will be facing. Find out more at Robotx.org.
CIRCUIT CELLAR: What new technologies excite you and why?
BILL: I have always been infatuated by LEDs and ways to conserve energy, so I am most excited to see how efficient LEDs are starting to take over as the new source of light in the household.
The complete interview appears in Circuit Cellar 291 (October 2014).