In its half-completed state, “Spider-Bot” looks like a primordial land crab—albeit one that is made of composite plastic rated for conditions harsher than the hottest desert and coldest tundra on Earth.
The bot’s spine is hinged, a feature its developers say will help it climb near-vertical slopes with its arachnid-like legs and adjust to sudden, obtuse changes in terrain.
Spider-Bot will need those abilities because it could one day find itself navigating massive craters on the surface of the moon.
Spider-Bot is a robotic terrestrial drone made mostly of 3D printed parts that is under development by Janesville tech manufacturing startup GLW Technologies, one of the newest tenants at the Janesville Innovation Center.
It’s just one project that the company hopes could wind up in the hands of space explorers on missions to the moon and beyond.
GLW moved from Madison to the Janesville Innovation Center last fall. Late last year, the company launched a new partnership with Colorado aerospace startup Lunar Outpost to design wheel suspension parts for a lunar rover robot, GLW owner Nick Shepherd said.
Lunar Outpost’s robot could land near the moon’s south pole in 2023 under a contract with NASA to collect rock and soil samples from the lunar surface.
NASA wants to learn whether some moon materials contain enough water and carbon to help space explorers sustain long-term expeditions, which could come as soon as 2028 and run for months, even years.
The local company has styled itself partly as a contract manufacturer of niche parts made of 3D-printed materials, which Shepherd said can help other companies build new technologies faster and at a lower cost.
Shepherd and his partners are now delving into artificial intelligence design models that can produce aerospace and medical equipment parts from plastic. The parts have the look and some properties of complex organic matter, such as sea coral or animal bone structures.
“The problem is there’s no way to produce these pieces using traditional methods. You can’t mold them, and if you could, it would be very costly, so the only way to do it is to use 3D printing,” Shepherd said.
He said certain plastics his company uses in 3D printing can form parts with enough strength to withstand super-subzero cold and heat surpassing 170 degrees Fahrenheit—conditions similar to outer space and the moon’s surface.
At a national aerospace conference about a year ago, Shepherd said his company connected with a few major aerospace companies that liked the idea that GLW was making parts with 3D printer technology.
He said that’s how partnerships with Lunar Outpost and other aerospace companies eventually developed.
Shepherd said GLW was in talks this week with an official with NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts who is an expert on solar radiation on the moon and Mars.
“What I love the most about 3D printing is that it can be a massive equalizer in industry, how we can design and print so many different materials,” Shepherd said. “And we do all that with literally a push of a button. Out comes these wonderful potential parts that can do everything from testing if you have COVID in three minutes to operating on a lunar rover on the surface of the moon, and eventually Mars.
“It’s amazing to me that these things are being done in a building in Janesville. Some people think the future’s 20 years down the road. But it’s here, right now.”
Spider-Bot and other projects aside, some plans GLW is tackling are rooted on this planet.
This week, Shepherd and his partners Andrew Maule and Andrew Klinge were working out wiring modifications to the computerized drive attached to their prototype “Windigo,” a six-rotor helicopter drone that is made almost entirely of 3D printed parts.
Shepherd was limited in how much he could say about the new project. But his company hopes to design and build lighter aerial drones with interchangeable, 3D-printed parts that can lift, carry and drop off heavier items, such as ground drone vehicles, among other things.
Shepherd envisions aerial drones being increasingly used in complex, large-scale visual analysis work, such as crop surveying and nuclear power plant inspections.
GLW’s move to Janesville and occupancy in the innovation center has put the company in a better position to grow, Shepherd said. He said the entrepreneurial environment is more inviting and inclusive to his startup than what he experienced in Madison, where GLW started.
“Janesville is not a small pond at all. We haven’t found that. What we have found is that we thought we were bringing something unique to the area, and the people here have listened to us. It’s a very positive environment for us.”
Rep. Bryan Steil lashed out at Joe Biden on Wednesday as the new president called for unity to solve the nation’s problems.
“Despite promising to work for unity, in his first hours in office President Biden has managed to destroy American jobs, support giving amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants and make plans to enact a radical anti-life agenda,” the 1st District congressman said in a statement.
“On day one, Biden has set the tone for what is to come in his administration: legislating by executive orders, championing massive spending bills and supporting far-left priorities that reverse years of economic growth and job creation,” Steil said.
The Janesville Republican was responding to Biden’s executive order to stop the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, Biden’s call for a law to deal with millions of people living and working in the country without legal status, and his plans to reverse a policy of the Donald Trump administration that bans U.S. funding for organizations that provide or refer patients for abortions.
“It is not conventional for a legislator to come out firing immediately without any expression of goodwill to the incoming administration,” said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at UW-Madison who watches partisan politics.
“It’s a hostile stance, and maybe that comes from being a congressman who came to office during the Trump era,” Burden said.
But Burden noted another Trump-era Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay, was cordial Wednesday:
“The peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of American democracy. I stand ready to work with President Biden and Vice President Harris on the enormous challenges facing our country, and I’m praying for them and their families,” Gallagher tweeted.
Gallagher joined Steil and the other Wisconsin Republicans in the House in opposing the pipeline order, but Gallagher also said he would work with Biden on the country’s problems “despite our political disagreements.”
The Gazette on Thursday asked Steil if he sees any hope for working with the new administration.
“I will continue to work with anyone to help the people of southeast Wisconsin,” Steil responded through a spokeswoman.
“I attended President Biden’s inauguration and heard him talk about unity. Unfortunately, his words ring hollow,” Steil said, because of actions such as Biden’s pipeline order.
“Neither he, nor anyone on his staff, ever reached out to me to ask how this move could impact people in Wisconsin,” Steil continued. “While I will work with anyone to solve problems, I will not be silent when Wisconsin jobs are being destroyed.”
Precision Pipeline of Eau Claire and Michels Corp. of Racine County have contracts to work on the pipeline. Steil plans to meet with Michels Corp. workers Friday to discuss the pipeline project, Steil spokeswoman Sally Fox said.
Burden and his fellow UW-Madison political scientist David Canon noted that Steil’s statements come at a time that the Republican Party in Congress is split between Trump loyalists and those of the traditional approach, such as Sen. Mitt Romney and the late John McCain.
Canon said it’s not surprising to hear Steil’s statements, however: “Given the mess we are in right now and the multiple crises we are facing, it would be nice if the country would try to pull together the way President Biden was asking yesterday, but it’s going to be tough sell for some people,” Canon said.
Steil’s stance appeals to skeptics of Biden’s agenda, Canon said, and it also shows the split among Republicans. He noted polls show most Republicans still question the legitimacy of the presidential election.
“Clearly, groups of Republicans are not willing to let go of this idea of a stolen election, which obviously has been proven to be a lie,” Canon said.
“To move beyond that, to get people to recognize Joe Biden is the legitimate president, is something Republican leaders are struggling with,” Canon said.
He noted that top congressional Republicans signaled their acceptance of the election by attending the inauguration, even though the outgoing president didn’t attend.
“Until the Republican Party can heal that rift, we can’t have the country unified,” Canon said. “I think the party first has to decide what direction it’s going before you can have that bigger task of pulling the country together.”
If the Republican rejectionists win control of their party, then Steil’s approach could help him raise money and win votes, Canon said.
“But Wisconsin seems in general a state that traditionally preferred less-partisan politicians, more working together, more in the Tommy Thompson mode of governing,” Canon said, referring to Wisconsin’s longest-serving governor, a Republican who was known for his willingness to work with both sides of the aisle.
Steil spoke with less vehemence on WCLO Radio’s “Your Talk Show” on Thursday, when host Tim Bremel asked about Steil’s statement.
“Those are very strong words on the first day of what everybody hoped would kind of be a chance for us all to take a deep breath and try to view each other with a little more respect,” Bremel said to Steil.
Steil responded, in part: “We all need to tone down the rhetoric in D.C. But I do think we need to have a very serious conversation about the policies we need to have going forward, how we keep American workers working, how we’re keeping America healthy, and how we’re keeping our country and our communities safe.”
Later on the station’s “The Stan Milam Show,” host Milam asked prominent Republican operative Brandon Scholz about Steil’s “blistering” of the president.
Scholz said Biden’s orders were not bipartisan. He said no one should be surprised to see Biden issue them, but neither should people be surprised to see Republicans come out against them.
If Biden wants bipartisanship from Congress, Scholz said, he’ll have to offer some of it himself.
“Our politics have become so partisan, so divided, that bipartisan work is really few and far between,” Scholz said.
Doris A. Henschel-Stuhr
William L. “Bill” Hollingsworth
Jacqueline Diane (Hunt) Huff
Anne M. Moench
Ronald G. Pike
Judith Kay Swartz
Evelyn M. (Goehl) Wanninger
After almost three decades of trail building and maintenance, Dean and Jayne Paynter are experts at cutting and removing buckthorn and other invasive shrubs.
The job is difficult, but you won’t ever hear them whine.
“They never complain,” said Janesville Parks Director Cullen Slapak. “They always have a can-do attitude.”
That is one of the reasons he nominated the Paynters for the annual Fellowship Award from the Wisconsin Park and Recreation Association.
They received the honor this week for their outstanding contribution to the trail system in Janesville and Rock County.
Since 1992, the Paynters have removed brush and led many trail-building efforts. They attended meetings in support of trails to counter those who said “Not in my backyard.” They mowed and plowed trails, talked to politicians and service clubs, and planted prairies.
The Janesville couple also conducted runs, walks and bike-tour fundraisers and funneled the money into the local trail system.
In short, whenever there was trail work to do, Dean and Jayne were there.
They will be the first to say: “There are a lot of people who do what we do.” But not many have persevered for so long.
“No two people are more deserving,” Slapak said.
Tom Presny, retired parks director for Janesville, agreed.
“I’ve had a working relationship with Dean and Jayne for a good 30 years,” Presny said. “I would sum them up as people who are about improving the quality of life in their community, their county and their state.”
He called the award “a sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all they have done.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of users on Janesville-area trails each year, and in a way, this nomination is a ‘thank you’ from all of them,” Presny said.
The Paynters were campers, hikers and bikers before they also became trail enthusiasts.
In the early 1990s, Dean was out running south of Janesville when Dave Gibbs stopped to ask him where the abandoned Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bed was located.
Later, Gibbs and Lloyd Goding, who were then university instructors, called a meeting to turn the bed into a hiking trail. Thus, the Rock Trail Coalition was born.
Dean and Jayne were founding members, and Dean was president for 27 years. Today, both remain on the board of directors.
The coalition’s long-term goal is to create a rail trail across Rock County that connects to the northern Illinois trail system to the south and to the central Wisconsin trail system to the north.
Today, the trail extends from Janesville to the state line.
Over the years, the trail coalition has raised money to help acquire properties, leveraging “thousands of dollars to help make trail projects happen,” Slapak said in his nomination.
“It is the philosophy of the RTC (Rock Trail Coalition) to not just ask a municipality to do something, like buy a property or build a trail,” he said.
Instead, the coalition comes to the table with an idea and the offer of funds and volunteer hours to make it happen.
“The RTC has held steadfast on the idea of, ‘Don’t make demands; instead, offer a partnership,’” Slapak said.
In addition to the coalition, Dean and Jayne have worked on the Ice Age Trail for many years.
They have organized volunteers for work days and secured camping spots, typically at a local farm, where volunteers stayed. The Paynters also became experts at providing a “camp kitchen” and have taught others how to keep hard-working people happily fed.
Dean is on the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s advocacy committee, which deals with government issues related to the trail and its partners. Dean stays in touch with legislators representing the Rock County area and has strongly advocated for the stewardship fund.
In addition to hands-on work, the Paynters believe it is important to be among the decision-makers.
Dean has served on city and county advisory committees and other boards and commissions over the years.
The Paynters also are founding members of the Friends of Rock County Parks, where Dean is president, and Friends of Rockport Park, where Dean is secretary. As Friends of Rockport Park, they are among the volunteers who focus on the upkeep of 6 miles of unpaved hiking and biking trails in Janesville’s largest park.
For several years, Jayne has proudly tended a garden along Janesville’s Peace Trail near the wastewater treatment plant. The garden consists of mostly prairie plants and other perennials.
The Fellowship Award is among many received by the couple.
In 2016, Dean and Jayne received the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s Spirit Stick, which symbolizes long-term dedication and service to the trail.
In 2017, the Janesville Parks Division placed a picnic table and plaque along the Peace Trail in honor of the Paynters “for their countless hours volunteering to make the 31-mile paved trail system in Janesville what it is today,” Slapak said.
The Paynters both retired in 2009. Jayne was a medical technologist for 41 years, while Dean worked in human resources.
They look upon their trail work as an extension of themselves.
“We don’t think of it as something separate from our lives,” Dean said. “It is just something we do.”
Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux @gazettextra.com.