Meet Jackie. Jackie's always on guard; she'll keep your home safe. A close companion, Jackie is here to keep you updated and put your mind at ease, all while hovering a few feet off the ground. The thing is – Jackie’s a robot.
Eight Six Ninety-One Technologies is an Evanston entrepreneurial startup founded by Robotics graduate students Jackie Wu, Ritwik Ummalaneni and IMC graduate student Florent D’Souza. Together they are producing and promoting their creation, Jackie, a flying security camera that easily syncs to your phone.
“The entrepreneur’s goal is to understand what people’s needs are and then figure out how to create a business to solve a societal need in a way that makes money,” said Wu.
Founded in fall 2014, the company set out to find this societal need by interviewing people about how robotics might help make their lives easier. Wu found out that people wanted something to help them monitor their house while away.
That’s when Jackie was born. The robot is a four-rotor copter with blade guards and a camera attached to the bottom. Like a remote control toy, Jackie can be flown around the house while it transmits the recording video to the user’s phone.
Wu used the example of checking on your cat “Fluffy.” Users of the product would turn to their phones to steer and fly the Jackie to Fluffy’s bowl to check if the cat was fed. Afterwards, users would fly Jackie back to its landing pad.
While the final product is a collective effort, each team member brings something unique to the process. D’Souza provides the marketing assistance by helping publicize their product. Ummalaneni is the engineer and is in charge of the Jackie’s technical interworking. The leader of the group, Wu, is the visionary and chief behind the project.
To create this product the two main creators, Wu and Ummalaneni, first had to make sure the concept was actually workable. To do this, they created a prototype using some of their old robotic equipment and installed the software that makes Jackie the security camera it is. After sketching their own designs, the company is now in the manufacturing stage where they created a Kickstarter page to raise money to mass-produce the robot.
“Manufacturing, I thought was going to be a piece of cake. I thought very naively, ‘Oh yeah we’ll send it China,’" said Wu. "No, it’s like a giant process.”
This process includes a quality control test, continuing to modify the design and making sure the motors have an energy source. The biggest hurdle to overcome, however, is deciding which manufacturer to trust. Wu explained that in China some products are of low quality while others are of high quality. Since the team wants to be in the latter category, they have partnered with Australian intermediaries to work with and help find Chinese manufacturers to create the type of product they want. Overall, Wu says he predicts the proces to take six to eight more months before Jackie can be on the shelves.
Unlike the nearly yearlong undertaking needed to complete Jackie, figuring out the name was relatively simple. D’Souza’s girlfriend suggested the moniker, commenting that “Jackie” sounds like a pet’s name. This was the concept the team was going for. Similar to a pet, Jackie would be at home waiting to help out its owner.
Though the team’s plan has kept on track, Wu can’t help acknowledging the risk factor that comes with entrepreneurship.
“The most challenging part of entrepreneurship is dealing with the uncertainty of creating your destiny," said Wu. "Our success or failure depends on our efforts and we control our efforts everyday."
But the team keeps going by believing in their vision of providing customers peace of mind when away from their home. And while satisfying the customers’ needs is Wu’s goal, he says he sees entrepreneurship as just as enjoyable for him. After Jackie, Wu already has 600 plus ideas ready to put to the drawing board, such as using drones to shorten wait time in lines and creating a phone app to encourage recycling.
“I can’t work for somebody else. I have to do my own thing," said Wu. "Like, I bristle when someone else is like 'you have to do this, this and this by this week.'"