Moving into Marketing

Now that the design of the Roadrunner Comfort has been thoroughly tested, reviewed, optimized, and is ready for widespread distribution, it’s time for me to put on a marketing hat and see if I can sell a unit or two. I’ve managed to get it listed on Amazon, and our own RoadrunnerComfort.com is finally looking good and working well. You can buy product there and leave reviews, although to be honest reviews on Amazon would be more helpful in getting the word out.

Reflecting on my blog posts, I’ve realized that I haven’t highlighted the most significant enhancement to the Roadrunner Comfort: automatic updating. Starting in 2024, every unit sold and connected to a Wi-Fi network will automatically check in with our website during the early morning hours for software updates. This ensures your RRC controller always has the latest software. You can also initiate this update check manually from the new Status screen.

One of the recent updates includes the customer-requested ability to switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, now available from the Setup screen.

OH, and remember that new user guide? Well, I can’t keep myself from making many small improvements, but you can always download the latest version from RoadrunnerComfort.com/Support.

New User Guide for Roadrunner Comfort

I finally found the time to produce a more complete User Guide for the Roadrunner Comfort (RRC). From now on it will be included with all new purchases, but for those who already have their RRC or want to learn more before making a purchase decision, I’m making it available for download.

Page size is 5.5 x 8.5”, with two pages per side of letter-size paper.

  • For screen reading, there is a version that makes it easy to scroll vertically through the pages.
  • For two-sided printing, there is a version with page order setup for folding into a nice little 8-page booklet.
  • For single-side printing, and for the page order is correct for four pages of landscape printing, each with two half-size pages side by side.

Screen Version

Single-sided print version

Two-sided print version

Refining (optimizing) a Design

A design can be anything, an electronic circuit or an association of individuals

A design consists of components

Each component itself consists of components

The shape and function of each component potentially affects the shape and function of every other

Refining a design consists of iteratively revisiting design elements to optimize shape and function

Design iteration cycles between top and bottom (overview and details)

After a component’s design is refined, associated component designs need to be re-optimized.

As components are optimized, the design becomes more compact and efficient.

Compact & efficient = powerful.

Progress

I find myself getting better and better at communicating with animals. This gives me great pleasure, and hope for a better future. They have great wisdom built into their very existence.

This doesn’t keep me from spending the bulk of my time immersed in technology. I’m an omnivore when it comes to tech, at least up to a point. I enjoy doing product, electronics and mechanical design, as well as graphics, writing, and more. 3D printing is a gas (when it’s not giving you ulcers) and I love programming in C, though I’ve read that Rust is the new overwhelming favorite programming language, so I may be enjoying that before long.

An early prototype display test using a fractal image generator.

I want the Roadrunner Comfort to support Matter (the new standard for smart home devices), but I’m not ready to tackle that integration yet, at least not by myself. The tools for developing Matter-based products aren’t yet user-friendly enough for me. But they are improving, it’s just a matter of time.

Right now, I have plenty of other things demanding my attention, not the least of which is shepherding the Roadrunner Comfort into production. Testing has gone well, though the number of units in actual use remains smaller than I had hoped. Not unexpectedly, design glitches (fortunately minor) delayed things, and like most engineering projects, this one is running somewhat slower than hoped for. At the same time, though, reliability and extended product lifetime are looking solid.

I’ve prepared production-level documentation for the existing product which could be built almost anywhere and sold widely with healthy margins. I’m working on establishing production, distribution and support networks, something that, were I employed by an existing company, would have been done by someone else and completed by now. But, as I mentioned, I’m an omnivore, and I’m not in a hurry. The Roadrunner Comfort is a product that will last for decades in people’s homes. In some cases it will replace controls that have been in place for many decades. Such older tech should never be replaced with something less reliable, efficient, or easy to use. So taking the time to get it right is my job #1.

Another year, more progress

Obviously, I’m not great at maintaining this blog. Sorry! In my defense, I’ve been busy.

The last year saw good progress on the Roadrunner Comfort, if less than I was hoping for. But here is a list of good things that happened:

  • My close cooperation with TLC Plumbing, New Mexico’s leading HVAC provider, continued. They only installed a few units out of the 100 they bought from me, but made key contributions to improving the product. I’m looking forward to delivering improved product to them for 2023 and continuing to work closely with them moving forward. Oni, Robert, and Keanu, you guys rock!
  • I improved the user interface for entering Wifi login and on/off times to work more like a contemporary phone.
  • I eliminated the irritating “Reading Temperature Sensor” screen that froze out user interaction for some seconds when the sensor was accessed once every minute. Also, when the display is sleeping it no longer lights up once a minute to show that message.
  • The controller now pairs with an individual Bluetooth temperature sensor, enabling multiple controller/sensor installations within the same space.
  • Various performance improvements and bug fixes.

In 2023 I’ll be focusing on a hardware redesign for lower cost and increased production, and planning for 2024 rollout of volume manufacturing and distribution. Stay tuned!

Summer Success

It’s all good news. Over the summer of 2021, we field-tested a revolutionary new smart swamp cooler controller in 9 different homes. The results were overwhelmingly positive: every user loved it. One even joked, “You’ve saved my marriage!” 

Designed and manufactured in Los Ranchos, this new controller, dubbed the Roadrunner Comfort, provides unprecedented comfort and convenience. It works with already-installed evaporative coolers, replacing existing switches, rotary, or old-school thermostatic controls. With easy drop-in installation (no new wiring required), it transforms virtually any swamp cooler into a modern, high efficiency, high performance cooling system.

The Roadrunner Comfort controller doesn’t just switch on and off the swamp cooler, like a thermostat, to maintain indoor temperature. Instead, it uses a sensor clipped to the air vent to keep the temperature of the air being blown into your home at the temperature you set. This keeps the air throughout the house at a constant, uniform temperature, rather than running chilly near the vent and warmer further away.

The smart Roadrunner Comfort controller has a color touchscreen with easy to use controls and a remote app for your phone for your convenience. The 3D printed enclosure uses compostable plastic, and the whole package is designed for an extended lifetime towards a more sustainable future. And, it is designed and made right here in Los Ranchos, New Mexico.

Look for the new product launch in the spring of 2022.

Doing our part

“The movement you need is on your shoulders”

-Lennon/McCartney, “Hey Jude”, from the eponymous album

It’s no secret that I was heavily involved in transgender activism (see gendertalk.com), and still am to a degree. My Dad taught me, by example, to step up and do the right thing when the situation warrants. That’s where the Roadrunner Comfort comes from. It’s my part to make our way of life more earth-friendly, more sustainable.

When Gordene and I moved to Albuquerque in 2016, my disabling neck injury relented within a year. First I wrote an iPhone app just for the fun of it (yes, I’m a big nerd). I looked around for opportunities to contribute to the health and welfare of our planet, as well as our local community. I noticed the primitive controls on our home swamp (evaporative) cooler. I alternately froze and baked at my desk location too close to a vent. When I looked online for better alternatives, I found no modern replacements. So I decided to design one. That is, after all, what I did professionally, but now the cost of the needed hardware tools had become affordable, and there were plenty of good, free software tools.

In early 2018 I built a functional prototype to see if what I had in mind was reasonably feasible. It was! I played with algorithms all summer, studying the variations in performance as the weather varied and tweaking for response time and stability. Then I met Dr. Frank Reinow from NMT, who secured a grant and a team of students to take the first crack at the design during the 2018-19 semester. When they finished I bought a 3D printer and built on their work, and have now, after 2 more years of development, installed 10 units in homes around Albuquerque, including two in ours. And the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ll be doing a client survey this fall, and might even get some crude statistics. I’d hoped to gather daily data from all of them (via automatic email), but flaws in my programming reduced the yield to one installation plus the two units here in our home. Though it’s less than I’d hoped for, that data should be adequate for the new student team I’ll be asking to model the system behavior and further optimize the algorithm over this coming semester.

Whether or not the students succeed, our installed units show that we’re already outperforming regular thermostats. So we’re confident enough to plan to roll out a larger quantity product for sale in time for next summer.

Thanks for your interest. You could be the only one who has read this far. 😉

Stay tuned.

DOE uninterested

On January 26 I received a “non-responsive” email from the DOE, meaning that my project doesn’t fulfill what they were looking to fund. The primary reason given is the limited geographic area that my project addresses.

I’m good with that. The SBIR funding was a long shot, but one that I thought worth taking. I learned a lot in the process that will help me going forward.

I’m going to focus on the technology again for awhile, adding connectivity and diagnostic functionality to a package that looks great and works reliably. This, in preparation for field deployment in volunteer homes this summer.

I’m also making connections with the other entrepreneurs in the Albuquerque area, thanks to Dan Heron and ActivateNM.

Momentum is building!

LOI submitted

First milestone towards a DOE grant is now behind me: a letter of intent is now in the hands of the DOE Topic Manager. I won’t hear any feedback unless it’s deemed NOT responsive to the topic, and if that not for several weeks. In the meantime, I’m diving into proposal prep, with the help of John Servo with Dawnbreaker, a company that specializes in helping startups commercialize their innovation.

From the LOI:

Evaporative cooling (EC) is a highly efficient technology that uses less than one-third of the energy of compressor-based systems, making its adoption an effective tool in the fight against global warming. While EC adoption is growing in the industrial sector, it is losing market share in residential applications, especially new construction. ND intends to counter this trend by developing and producing a modern residential EC controller that provides superior comfort and IAQ [indoor air quality], while addressing convenience, a leading reason people switch from EC to compressor-based cooling.

Good News

First, I am beyond thrilled to announce that as of today, Nangeroni Design is a family business. My wife and partner Gordene O. MacKenzie, PhD has agreed to bring to bear on the cooler controller project her brilliant academic background and savvy business experience. Gordene will serve as Partner and Senior Advisor for the firm. This agreement will be formalized in due time but is considered by the two of us to be effective immediately.

Second, ND has been accepted into the Department of Energy’s Phase 0 SBIR program, which will provide us with the following services:

1) Letter of Intent (LOI) writing assistance;
2) Phase I proposal preparation, review and registration assistance;
3) Market Research Assistance;
4) Indirect rate and financial information.

We are deeply grateful for this assistance and look forward to filing a successful proposal by February 22. Stay tuned.