A Mequon company which makes a robotic cart that has a British accent has won this year's Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest, which is run by the state business group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
Another finalist was a mother and daughter who make adaptive clothing for kids with health problems.
The Mequon firm is MuL Technologies. In a back warehouse, company officials demonstrated the MARC 2470, a four-wheeled black plastic cart that can be quickly programmed to tell it where to move.
"Calculating,” the cart’s recorded voice said, and the cart began to roll.
MARC stands for Mobile Autonomous Robotic Cart. It's battery powered and about the size of a pushcart you'd see in a dining hall. But the 2470 is designed to carry up to 200 pounds at a time, in places like warehouses or other sites where there's a lot of repetitive hauling over relatively short distances.
During the demonstration at MuL, when the cart reached its programmed destination at the end of the warehouse aisle, it stopped and simply said, "Arrived."
MuL technologies marketing spokesperson Hans Dittmar says part of the uniqueness of the MARC 2470 is that it has 3D cameras and a series of sensors to keep it out of trouble.
"If things should get in its way, or people come through the facility, or walk in front of it, things of that nature, it sees that and will avoid those obstacles,” Dittmar said.
Dittmar says another thing that makes the cart a good finalist for a Coolest Thing contest is that it will work without being connected to Wi-Fi.
"You essentially can take it off the pallet when it comes into the facility, and program it and use it within five minutes. There's no training. No map that you have to upload. There's no big process to get it provisioned for your facility, it just automatically does that on its own,” Dittmar said.
And the British accent for the MARC 2470?
Dittmar replied, "We listened to different samples of people who would do the voiceovers for us and we collectively decided it sounded exotic."
MuL Technologies has about 100 employees.
Another finalist for this year's Coolest Thing Contest has two employees. Plus, a pint-sized inspiration named Caleb.
That’s 5-year-old Caleb Olson of Stoughton, son of Anna Olson and grandson of Eileen Weum.
Caleb was born with chromosome deletion, a disorder that can cause various problems, including for Caleb, in his gastrointestinal tract. Eventually, a small tube was put into his abdomen for feeding. Feeding that took place every hour, with removal of Caleb's onesie needed to access the tube, and dressing him again afterward.
Weum says she took care of Caleb one night.
"And at about time 10, for me, getting up in the middle of the night, for one night, I was like, 'This is insane. This is not happening anymore. People are not sleeping, this baby is not sleeping.' So, I cut big holes in all the fronts of his clothing," Weum told WUWM.
Weum soon refined the idea to making clothes with zippers, snaps or pockets over the feeding tube so Caleb didn't have to wake up and be undressed to be fed.
Caleb's medical teams eventually convinced Eileen and Anna to get into the business of making what's called adaptive clothing for other kids with feeding or medicine tubes. The work is done on evenings and weekends, as Weum also runs a day care.
The sewing, mainly on machines, is done in Weum’s backyard in a structure they call a she-shed.
Anna Olson says she hopes the adaptive clothing offers moms and dads something really cool, privacy for their kids and peace of mind.
"With parents not having to embarrass their children. Not getting the awkward looks from strangers, because people say, 'What are you doing, that's not normal, that's not natural,’ ” Olson said, referring to the typical practice of undressing the child to access the tube.
The clothing company is called C.C. Moo, a combination of the way Caleb used to pronounce his sister's name, and her nickname.
The other two finalists for this year's Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest came from much larger operations — a huge electric rope shovel made by Caterpillar Global Mining in South Milwaukee, and preemie diapers that use nanotechnology from Kimberly-Clark in Neenah.
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