Wired In: Maxwell Feinberg

Wired In: Maxwell Feinberg

Each week, Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet MAXWELL FEINBERG, a newly minted University of Illinois graduate in aerospace engineering and computer science who moved to San Francisco after creating Jetson Robotics here. "Stealth robotics company innovating the mundane" is how he describes his latest project — multi-robot systems for cleaning a variety of commercial and industrial spaces, named for the all-purpose robots in the old "Jetsons" TV show.

Are you old enough to remember "The Jetsons"?

I remember watching "The Jetsons" on Cartoon Network when I was a kid, but the idea to use it as a name actually came from my mom. It was her favorite show and she always joked that my dad was like George Jetson (in the sense that he'd offer a bill from his wallet and then we would take his wallet). The name also resonated with my co-founder, Steve Macenski, because his mom always wanted him to invent a flying car like they have in the show. I can't say that I know the show very well, but I want to make a world where all of their technology is real.

Tell us more about Jetson Robotics.

At Jetson Robotics, we envision a future where robots are a part of everyday life. We're creating a future where robot assistants help us get ready in the morning, robots transport us to and from work, and robots help us accomplish more meaningful goals. We're starting by creating robots for the workplace that help cleaning crews accomplish more in less time. It may seem like an odd place to start, but it's an ideal avenue because we're able to seamlessly integrate into existing workflows.

Why do you enjoy working with robots?

I really enjoy the feeling of creating something that is able to move around and interact with the world. Even though robots are usually only able to understand a very tiny slice of reality (and I'm using the word "understand" very liberally here), it feels like you're creating a living thing. Kind of like a toddler with fantastic motor skills that can only accomplish a few very specific tasks. There are so many things that can go wrong. It makes every day a new adventure!

You're passionate about entrepreneurship, always working on some side project. Can you reveal any of those?

Food has always been a huge part of my life, both cooking and eating. I'm currently trying to figure out how to integrate some tricks I learned in the kitchen into robotics. I'd tell you more, but I haven't figured the details out myself yet!

What's your best advice for someone who's starting up?

Before you commit yourself to starting up, make sure that you actually enjoy what you're working on. I've been a part of several failed startups that ultimately didn't pan out because the team wasn't committed to the idea enough. Going through those experiences taught me a lot though, so it can be worthwhile to explore some ideas just to see where they go.

Did you ever make any mistakes that you learned from in your early years?

I was a really stressed-out kid. Tests gave me horrible anxiety and I always felt incredibly tense whenever I was assigned long-term projects. I was terrible at receiving feedback because I took everything too personally.

How did you fix that?

When I was about 12, I traveled by myself for the first time. I went to this leadership camp with a ton of other students from across the country. During our time together, we learned about the qualities that make leaders successful and discussed things like effective communication and self-improvement. I learned to separate the things that I do from who I am as a person, which has helped me to more critically understand my mistakes and learn from them. The experience helped me to shift from a mind-set of avoiding mistakes to one of seeking them out.


Do you have interests in social media? Are your startups on any of them? I've been trying to be more active on Twitter and Instagram. You can find Jetson at facebook.com/jetsonrobotics and www.jetsonrobotics.io.

What's your favorite app? I really enjoy soundboard apps. I'm always looking for new ones.

On social-media platforms, I follow: Jim Cramer, Massimo Bottura, Elon Musk, Simone Giertz, Rachael Ray and Lebron James, to name a few.

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I generally prefer paper books. I'm reading "Creativity, Inc." by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace.

Do you have any wearable electronics? I still wear a Pebble time steel. It's super-robust; I've worn it on hikes and climbs. I originally thought it would be useless, but changing your music from your wrist while you're exercising is really nice.

Do you have an entrepreneurial hero? I don't agree with the vast majority of things that he says or many of his methods, but I really respect Elon Musk. He has undoubtedly pushed the world in the direction of the future, expanding our reach into space and preserving our planet with green technologies.