A report on unexpected adventures at TI

Some weeks ago  I revived an email from TI. It invited me to Dallas, for their Analog Design contest Engibous Summit, at where I was given the first place prize. Woah.

Rewind a bit.

I started a project a while back, with the full intention of entering in that very contest. In fact, I gave a sneak-preview of it with the missile gyroscope video. But well, that did not get finished in time, without doubt due to the imagine RIT Tesla coil business that I’ve still yet to write about.  Thus, with the date quickly arriving and no project ready for that contest, I bought a case of Mountain Dew and finished a paper about the coil in one night, just in time for the deadline.

I really didn’t expect that to go far, but well, it did. Quite a bit, too.


The TI adventure, Δt = 0

So, about one and a half months later I find myself on an Airbus to Dallas. Approximately 6 hours of screaming children later and there I am, on a bus to a Westin Hotel.

There, I met the other contestants, many of their professors, and to my surprise, Antonio Mondragon at a finger-food stocked meet & greet. Afterward, we all headed to the new Perot museum for a nice southern-style dinner, wine and a presentation from some TI’ers about the history of this prize. Following that was a bit of free time to check out the museum.

Though the nature and space exhibits were nothing extraordinary, I was very impressed with the museum’s collection of minerals specimens –what had to be millions of dollars worth of tourmaline, native gold, calcites, topaz and countless other precious stones. To some, it’s no secret that I used to collect such crystals, and seeing such a display gives me some brighter ambitions for the future.:-)

Then I stumbled upon this, which in my opinion was pure hilarity.

But of course, one could not forget to mention the TI-sponsored exhibit. In fact, I was highly impressed with it as well.  It certainly was geared toward intelligent children (the ones who build redstone computers in mincraft, etc) which is not something oft-seen in a science museum. It had many sub-exhibits,  particularly mentionable were the wooden pixel video display [a play on DMD mirrors], the program-your-own robot exhibit that’s likely to bore the hell out of parents, the EMG robotic hand exhibit and the PID helicopter control exhibit. Personally, I would have done the PID one as a segway-type thing, but hey, that’s just me.

Overall though, the Perot Museum was quite awesome,  even if it didn’t have a giant musical Tesla coil.


The TI adventure, Δt = 1

After a 7AM breakfast with a whole bunch of TI’ers we headed out to the Forest Lane campus for a tour, technology demo and what I presume were future-promotional interviews. Though there’s nothing all that exciting to tell about the latter, the demo did have some nice products.

One which particularly impressed me was the computer vision demonstration, by a man who’s name I cannot remember.  Anyway, using what appeared to be an FPGA-equipped depth sensing camera, one was able to use hand gestures to preform various tasks such as launching a ball or making pseudo-lighting bolts. Though the gesture recognition was sketchy at best, it really hit home right then how far this whole Kinect business Josh Gilpatrick had gone, and also had me think of the possibilities one could have with this technology, for use in autonomous vehicles. More about that some months in the future!

Some time later, we headed off to TI’s DLP facility for a few demos. While that was neat, and gave me a chance to shamelessly snap a photo with a trophy I’ll never own,  in particular noticed the vein viewer demo they had set up in the corner. How I’ve seen this product so many times now,  how expensive it must be, and all it is in essence, is simply an infrared camera coupled to a projector. Fascinating.

Curiosity not relenting, I did notice something else equally interesting; a display of tiny, single-element mirrors with little galvanometer assemblies behind them. However, upon further inquiry they were hurriedly rushed out of the room -though not before I realized what I could use them for.

Afterward, we had a poster session followed by an evening siesta, itself followed by dinner at TopGolf. The dinner wasn’t anything too fancy, sliders and what not, but it was satisfyingly filling. However, I was particularly impressed with TopGolf.

Apart from the texas-style [huge] facility, I was startled to realize that every ball on that driving range had its own unique RFID identifier; and even more startled to realize that there were huge, yet specifically targeted, RFID coils out in the range’s targets. As you can imagine, such a system allows for interesting, theoretically score-accurate games.

I’ve yet to learn how they differentiated the incoming balls from the ones already in the targets’ nets, but I speculate that the nets have holes which let the balls fall to some RF-Safe zone, once they’ve been slowed enough to be counted. Nonetheless, the system did miscount -even fail to count- some balls, so I wouldn’t bet your bar money on it. 

Still, it was interesting to see what I typically thought of as a small business, be so successful with such a huge capital investment. I suppose in this respect, the now somewhat-old adage does hold true: If you build it they will come.


The TI adventure, Δt = 2

Following another 7AM breakfast, we were out the door again for another adventure. This time however,  a bit less intense.

The first order of business was a presentation, itself commenced with a presentation from DigiKey about the company’s founding and history. While I don’t think much of DigiKey today (it is, after all just another logistics company) it was enlightening to see another large business grown from what in essence, was somebody’s garage. While without doubt launched into the stratosphere via the internet, there was no questioning that DigiKey had to always been on top of its game to get to where its place is now.

After an inspirational speech, the winners were announced in ascending order. When the second place revelation came about, I was a bit startled to hear the beginnings of my advisor’s name slip from the announcer’s mouth. Hurriedly the err was recovered from, but not before a foreboding look on the speaker’s face prematurely revealed that I had placed first.

As you can imagine, that was unexpected. Such was followed with a last meet & greet, photos and a goodbye to all those involved, for most at least.

My adventure, however had just begun.


The TI adventure, Δt = {2.5, 3, 4, 5}

Yes, it had just begun.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but in essence, I spent the remainder of the week on the various TI campuses -meeting people, learning about their projects and gaining whatever wisdom they cared to profess. I’m not going to say much about it here, however, not only for the fear of divulging protected secrets, but also to respect the privacy of those who trusted me with their advice.  

I appreciate all the time and effort that went into organizing this event; Beth, Amber and Larissa certainly did not overlook any detail. I will say though, that the tour of DMOS6 paled in comparison to the fun I had talking to these engineers. The amount of ingenuity, and the satisfaction they find in their work has given me hope, that perhaps there are places where the world isn’t just a large bucket of crabs.




One thought on “A report on unexpected adventures at TI

  1. Adam I just saw you in one of TI’s youtube videos, congratulations on first place!

    Wonder how long it will be before other 4hvers come across it lol.

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