Jul 262011

Robert Pflum hopes, at this time next year, the sounds of remote-controlled snow plows will be filling the air.

If they are, it will mean that his invention will have been successful.

Like so many other inventions, Pflum’s PlowBot started as nothing more than a hobby.

“Before I started my master’s, I had more time on my hands,” he said. “Initially, I took the largest remote-controlled, hobby-grade vehicle that I could find, and put some thought and time into it. I pulled it apart, stripped it and rebuilt it. I added some aftermarket parts and designed some of my own to see what it could do.”

The 15-pound result was the first of many iterations that could be used to clear sidewalks and driveways from the comfort of one’s home. Pflum said it was able to handle two inches of snow. As it did its work, Pflum’s neighbors would stop and watch and ask him questions.

The local television news station was soliciting story ideas, so Pflum sent them a Youtube video of his creation, which resulted in a live interview and demonstration. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, and soon Pflum was receiving requests for the snow plow from Las Vegas, Manhattan, and across the Midwest.

The increased interest spurred Pflum to investigate the possibility of having his invention manufactured and distributed.

“In January of 2010, I started designing the version that we are creating now,” he said.

The broad-based curriculum he took while earning his aeronautical technology degree from Purdue was very beneficial to him in the design phase.

“We learned a lot of fabrication skills — metals, welding, machine work,” he said. “I had a very broad background in pneumatics and hydraulics. It was perfect.”

He coupled that knowledge with what he was learning in his MBA program at Bowling Green State University to figure out the business side of the new venture.

He expects to receive the finished parts for the 145-pound PlowBot in the coming weeks so that he can begin building inventory for snow removal needs in Winter 2011. He also plans a larger version, weighing more than 600 pounds, for customers who need extra power.

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