Amber, wife of Nathan Parrow, CEO of Oklahoma Robotics, and is a Writer, Photographer, and Marketing Director
Being the wife of a robot maker is a little bit like the movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Fortunately, we have not had any incidents with ant-sized children floating around in a bowl of cheerios about to be eaten by dear-old dad. I would say there is still a disproportionate amount of tech in our house with our kids not knowing what it’s like to have normal parents. You see, I’m pretty much the perfect match for my robot-making man. I started teaching myself web and graphic design after our first kid was born, got my amateur radio license when pregnant with our second child, and was discussing my web design side gig while in labor with our youngest. If there was such a thing as a geek prom, my husband and I would undoubtedly be crowned king and queen.
Mind you, this all happened right as geek and nerdy was beginning to be a badge of honor and not the brunt of jokes from the mainstream crowd. I’d like to think that quite possibly we pioneered the geek power couple. We’re talking 18 years of marriage, multiple projects and gadgets strewn about the house, an obscene amount of power cords that the husband thinks should be hoarded, oh, and a remote-controlled lawn mower.
That’s one thing you need to understand about the robot-making type. The hard-core ones don’t like to do outdoorsy things if they can help it or any mundane chore or process if they can automate it. That’s where my engineer dad told me the secret to the engineer’s mind… there is a compulsion to spend hours developing a way to get out of work. So when it came to yard maintenance, the engineer in my husband was summoned. The culmination of the mower project was when he stuck a web cam on the motor, cleared out human and animal life forms from the backyard, and then started mowing from the comfort of the bedroom watching from a big screen TV.
I would say that was the beginning of our slippery slope of robotics. The tiny workshop at that house was not big enough for the tools the husband was dreaming of and so we moved to a home that could accommodate a bigger building complete with I-beam construction and a pully system that could lift the engine out of a car. I’m not sure we ever used the pulley to that end. I distinctly remember hoisting up an organ with it, but whatever the case, it was not used in a conventional way! Looking back, our only oversight was not installing a bathroom in the shop. Even robot makers have biological needs, they are human after all.
Robotics is not a lot of fun unless you have other enthusiasts to come over and play. As a mother I arranged many a play date for my children, but I didn’t know that was something robot making husbands also required. So a club was formed and we started jumping into the local tech communities. I would say things escalated when the husband met the solar guy. That is when they started collaborating on projects, more commercial and paid in nature, him coming to Oklahoma City, us traveling down to Dallas.
One of the really fun projects was the electric car. We’d drive down to Dallas, I’d watch them work and do a little shopping while the kids spent the weekend with grandparents. It was a nice reprieve for a sleep deprived couple with young children. This was before the time you saw Teslas on the road. But a guy ahead of his time called the robot making husband and his accomplice to see if an Acura could make the 30-minute commute between Denton and Dallas completely battery powered and at highway speeds. Challenge accepted. I distinctly remember the first test drive and not hearing an engine. Not too long after, that lack of engine noise would begin its journey to becoming mainstream.
I saw some amazing things with that project. Many of the parts were custom designed and manufactured like the coupler for the transmission to the electric motor. I helped drill out holes on the brass bars that connected the dozens of batteries sandwiched in the trunk of the car, extracting as much energy from them as possible to make the heavy chassis haul a ton of metal, batteries, and willing humans down the highway.
I could go on and on with the other things I witnessed as the wife of a robot maker. Some I’m bound to secrecy thanks to something we call the non-disclosure. Now that I’m a marketing director, those things drive me extra crazy as I can’t brag about all of my husband’s technical exploits and the things that I have seen.
Then the one project came along where all of a sudden, we went from side business with a few colleagues to a crew of 12 in a matter of months. It is apparent you are no longer a side gig but a real business when you have multiple calls each week with an accountant and would be in a purgatory of paperwork and confusion if you neglected those calls.
In this stage of this robotics adventure we learned the true meaning of being nimble; building offices and decks in the workshop to accommodate tools and team. During that time, I managed to work things to my advantage by sending the old refrigerator to the shop for all the energy drinks and caffeine required to build robots and getting an upgrade for my kitchen. I’m pretty sure any day Master Class will be calling to add this skillset to their repertoire.
The prototype was one of the biggest things our shop has seen, bringing us back to the days of not having enough workspace. Oh, and remember that there is no bathroom. The team built the monstrosity in a matter of months. When it came time to assemble, it looked like a giant erector set, a dream come true for any kid that spent hours playing with Legos, Lincoln logs, or any other building toy from their childhood. This was the real thing however, and it also involved moving parts, electronics, micro controllers, software. These are the things that make up robotics.
That brings us to this wife of a robot maker gig of mine. The people and communities that saw this young geek couple grow a little bit older and greyer over the years also watched this unique business grow from infancy to adolescence. And in that, I noticed support and excitement of us as a couple and our journey in building a business together with curiosity and voyeurism over our eccentric ways.
In this journey, I like to think that maybe people are drawn to a good love story and want to know about the realness of it. But this is not necessarily the chick flick story that focus on the infatuating love that lasts for a little bit. No, this is all about the marathon love that takes a couple through decades of life, that sacrifices and supports each other. Because the love story of a robot maker and his wife unfolds each day like most others with the ups, downs, health, sickness, gains, losses, tears, joys, family, children, pets, mortgage and car payments. The only difference is that this story has robots, conversations about microcontrollers, servers, hot debates over web CMS, welding, laser CNCs, and multimeters. I may be just a little biased, but I think that gives us a little bit of the cool factor.
In a time where we are looking more and more to technology to solve our problems, maybe it is good to know that behind the technology are humans with their own stories that were driven to build and develop the new thing that may be in your hand, your home, or your workplace. And know that somewhere on a little road in Oklahoma there is one of many of those stories, a home where a robot-maker lives with his wife and they are building a little robot-making business complete with their kids, pets, and a robot making team. They may solve some problems, build some really cool things, but in the end, they are writing their love story in one of the geekiest ways possible.