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Once Upon a Time: Becoming an Employee of the Year Finalist

One of our star team members, Liam Smith, has been nominated for the Eagle Biz Employee of the Year Award 2019 and made it into the final three! We sat down for a chat and asked him to tell us a bit more about how he got to where he is today…

The Liam Smith Story

When you look at this quiet, fairly unremarkable young man sitting before you, hunched over at his desk, head down, tapping away at his keyboard, pausing momentarily to check something then tapping away again, you could easily be fooled into thinking that he’s nothing special. This is where you’re wrong. Liam Smith, or Leebo as he’s known around the office, is our SECRET WEAPON.

Understated, but never underrated. Always pushing himself to do better, learn more, code faster, be the best at everything he turns his hand to. Leebo doesn’t shy away from the unknown, he tackles it head on, full throttle. Unsure of something – our CTO reports that Liam is a smart researcher, canny and adept at using all the tools available to him to find the information he needs to move on further in the game – that is the game of app development, where one false move could result in more than just an ego tumble.

Long long ago Liam came to us, a wizard’s apprentice with a lot of untapped potential, searching for an opportunity to shine.  He immediately took to our office of nerf wars and nerds, quickly becoming an integral part of our family. Described by some as quirky and tenacious, Liam’s infectious enthusiasm is fuelled by all things technological, fantastical and the occasional McFlurry (crunchie please!).

Read on to find out more about the mage behind the rainbow keyboard… 

How did it all begin?
“When I was younger, I did a bit of programming at school and found I enjoyed it, especially the balance of creativity and problem-solving. I had a dream of doing video-gaming, and that is still a some-day goal of mine.
Following school, I spent a couple of years at college, studying IT Software. Then 3 years ago, I found myself working in my local supermarket, fed up and frustrated. I kept thinking back to my gaming ambitions, but I realised that I needed to further my skills to get potential employers to give me a chance. After a long conversation with my Dad one night, I researched apprenticeships online, found out the information I needed – funding, options, how to apply and went for it; everything else just followed on from there.”

How do you end up working for Apps In The Sky?
Apps In The Sky (AITS) was the first company I clicked on, and they gave me what I needed – the confidence to believe in myself again and the opportunity to learn and grow.
It was challenging work to begin with. Starting out on the Android development team, I pushed myself relentlessly to master the commercial software languages, the stuff that wasn’t covered in my college classes. I think I’ve proved myself a hard worker, and now I’m learning how to become a specialist in iOS development too.”


What challenges did you encounter?

There were periods when it was really tough; I found it tricky learning how to manage my time and develop the discipline required to balance college assignments with real-life apps that I was working on. Fortunately AITS were fantastic, supporting me to complete my apprenticeship with flying colours and pushing me to succeed at something I love.”

So what now? 
“Being part of the AITS team is brilliant. I feel like I have come a long way in such a short space of time. I’ve also written a few computer games, 2D platform and puzzle games, and AITS have given me encouragement all the way. I love coming to work now – the sense of achievement, and skill required. The fact that every day brings something different is what keeps me motivated and hungry to learn more.”

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Introducing Uncle Bob…

Who is Uncle Bob?

smart robot arm. By smart, we mean he can be controlled using an app on the latest smartphones and tablets.

More technically…

Uncle Bob’s “brain” is an Arduino programmable board connected to 5 servos. The servos move different joints in the arm: one for the base to swing left/right, 3 along the arm, and one to open/close the claw. The Arduino’s serial port What’s Uncle Bob?

is connected to a Bluetooth module, so Uncle Bob can be controlled either by USB or Bluetooth.

The app is written natively for Android and iOS – as only truly native apps can give us the quality of experience (speed and latency) that is needed. It connects via Bluetooth to Uncle Bob and sends commands to move the arm.

And in future?

Smart apps have a lot of potential beyond what Uncle Bob demonstrates. We could:

  • Add notifications to the app – for example to tell you when the arm has performed a certain action.
  • Add in-app payments – so you can get the arm to vend something, say, on payment.
  • Increased marketing for your business.
  • Communication with customers can be increased.

Why did we make Uncle Bob?

We’re exhibiting at Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2018 and wanted to demonstrate how easily we can convert a device to a smart device. We’re not experts in robotics, or even electronics generally, and Uncle Bob is not particularly ground-breaking. What really is exciting, by contrast, is the app which directs it. We’re hoping that people can make the leap between their own much more accomplished devices, and the benefits of making them smart.

Why make a smart device?

We’re sure that similar technologies can be put to greater effect than picking sweets out of a box, and we’d love to be involved with all manufacturing businesses. Everything in today’s world is without a question, mobile. Everything is hugely influenced and enhanced by mobile technology. Have you got an idea that you want to apply to your business? Give us a call on 01256 274108, or come and visit us at SME18 at Stand L190! Come and see Uncle Bob in action!

What benefits would an App make to your business other than a smart device?

Having an App can help you with many different things across your business, you could have an app to help with the following:

  • Timesheets – allowing employees to log in and log out.
  • Work Orders – allowing employees to request repairs and fixes.
  • Production line tracking
  • Creating and managing workflow and tasks with ease.

Watch our video on Uncle Bob below!

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Installing a test app using Google Play

Google Play has an awesome Alpha testing system, allowing you to download pre-release versions of apps when their developer invites you. However the invite system can be confusing.

So, this is how you install an app as a private alpha testing user.

Firstly, your app developer should have given you a link like https://play.google.com/apps/testing/com.appsinthesky.colourifico. Go to that page.

  • If you get the “App not available” message like the below, then you’ve got the link wrong or your developer hasn’t enabled testing correctly.
    Google Play app not available for alpha testing
  • If you get the “App not available for this account” message as below, then the account you’re signed in with isn’t on the private testers list. More on this below.
    Google Play app not available for this account
  • If you’re asked to sign in, then sign in with your address as it appears in the private testers list.

A word on accounts. Google requires you to visit the link having logged in as one of the accounts in the private testers list. This is the cause of most of the issues we’ve experienced with this system. If you have multiple Google accounts, you’ll have to switch to the correct one using Google’s standard view switcher button (top right):

Google View Switcher button

(hit the rightmost of these buttons).

Finally you should get the “Become a tester” screen. Hit the blue button, and you’ll get a link to the Play Store to download the app.

Google Play successful test invite screen

 

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The Big Self Driving Car Pile-up (Apparently)

Well honestly, Google, what did you expect?

Rightly proud of their self-driving cars, which have been roaming the US unleashed for over half a decade now, Google recently released the following boast: In 1.7  million miles, our cars have only been involved in 11 minor accidents. That’s an incredibly impressive stat. The cars have been journeying all over the US, racking up miles and miles, every day for 6 years. In all that time there have been no serious accidents and no minor ones caused by the cars themselves. The 11 minor accidents consist of, eg, people running into the back of the Google car whilst waiting at a light.

However, that’s not how the media were ever going to report it. “Google acknowledges its self-driving cars had 11 minor accidents” says the Guardian. The Telegraph’s by-line reads “Google reveals number of crashes its self-driving cars have suffered in the US, raising fears over the safety of the technology“, when in fact quite the opposite is true.

Self-driving cars are a really exciting new technology; one of those rare things that truly have the opportunity to revolutionise how we live. The technology is showing real promise as it matures. But as with anything new there will always be detractors – and this kind of headline doesn’t help.