The Genesis of an Idea
If you’ve ever seen an old rusty structure and wondered how dangerous it might be; you’ve grasped the seed of the idea from which Robotic Technologies of Tennessee (RTT) was born.
It all began 1997 when Jamie Beard, a passionate robot and remote control hobbyist, was looking for an advisor for his Masters Program at Tennessee Tech. Mr. Beard’s passions led him to Dr. Stephen Canfield, a young professor in Tennessee Tech’s engineering department specializing in “kinematics” and “mechatronics.” Dr. Canfield realized that Mr. Beard was a bit of a prodigy and eagerly agreed to be Mr. Beard’s adviser. (Mr. Beard became Dr. Beard in 2004 after earning his Ph.D.).
Luckily for Mr. Beard, young Professor Canfield had recently arrived from Virginia Tech where he had completed his graduate studies in mechanical engineering. At Virginia Tech he learned that successful University Professors and their graduate students needed benefactors. At Virginia Tech Mr. Canfield had worked with a team that built specialized robots funded, in part, by utility companies in the nuclear industry.
In Middle Tennessee, Professor Canfield quickly realized that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a regional utility company, was the major benefactor of University Research in his field. He and his new prodigy set about building a robot to show TVA executives. The TVA officials were intrigued and asked Professor Canfield if a climbing robot could be developed to perform inspections on steel boilers used in coal fired power plants. Both Professor Canfield and Mr. Beard gave a resounding “Yes”; and a partnership was born.
To fully understand our story, you need to know a little more about Dr. Canfield. Dr. Canfield will never tell you he’s really smart, but he is. And this is really important because solving difficult challenges is not easy. Before Dr. Canfield became Professor Canfield, he invented a revolutionary robotic wrist that would later become known as the Canfield Joint (Patent Number 5,699,695; issued 1997). Today that joint design is used by NASA and private spacecraft builders in their spaceship designs to manipulate thrusters and solar panels.