One to Watch: TIer takes on world’s energy challenges, builds human-sized robot out of 3-D printed parts

In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile the movers and shakers at TI who are making a difference through their extraordinary work.

TI AvatarBart Basile lives the open-sourced life of a maker.

“Bart has got that maker spirit – always dabbling with something. He’s a classic hobbyist,” said Steven Smith, who mentors members of a Dallas high-school robotics club with Bart and a handful of other TIers. “I learn a lot just by watching him do his projects. He shows the kids how to do a lot of things, and that inspires them. He’s constantly enthusiastic about building things and making things better. He inspires me to do a better job.”

That enthusiasm is evident not only in his off-the-clock life, where he mentors high school students and builds science-fiction-looking robots in his Dallas-area apartment, but also in his role as a systems architect on our Grid Infrastructure team. He’s responsible for taking deep dives into renewable-energy technologies and products to understand how TI can provide value for customers.

“I’m always trying to teach myself new things,” Bart said. “If I can help other people learn new things, as well, so much the better. Having a lot of knowledge doesn’t do the world any good unless I share it – to teach other people so they can do more.”

Popping breakers

Bart, who is 29, grew up in the small South Texas town of Yoakum, where he learned to love engineering and science from his father, a civil engineer, and his mother, a middle-school science teacher. He attended a design-and-technology high school academy in San Antonio, earned a degree in electronic engineering from Texas A&M, worked with TI on a design project as a university senior, and joined TI after graduation.

“When I was in first or second grade, I filled my dad’s old briefcase with bits of wire and light bulbs,” he said. “I’d make circuits and little flashlights and, much to the chagrin of my parents, pop breakers in the house when I’d stick wires in outlets to figure out how they worked. It was dangerous, but I never burned the house down. I picked up my first soldering iron in fifth grade and started building simple circuits and learning the basics of electronics.”

As a college student, he built a lighting system for his apartment because he couldn’t afford to buy one. And he helped a friend construct a break-the-rules pinewood derby car for the parents category in a classic scouting event.

“A friend’s kids were in Cub Scouts,” Bart said. “For the pinewood derby races, they keep dads from making their kids’ cars by letting them enter whatever they want in an unrestricted class. My friend and I strapped a motor-and-propeller assembly off a radio-controlled airplane onto a pinewood derby car. It won by a wide margin.”

Renewable energy

Today, Bart focuses on renewable energy – understanding the energy challenges facing markets around the world and how TI products can help make the world a better place.

“Energy consumption and production are two of the biggest challenges that are facing the world,” he said. “If you look at how much energy we consume per person in the western world, we won’t have enough generation to maintain current consumption within 50 years or so. Solving that problem is a big challenge. Increasing the efficiency of how we consume and transmit the energy we produce is a significant part of ensuring that we will have enough energy moving forward.

“It’s a lot of fun looking into these issues and helping to solve these problems,” he said. “As an engineer, that’s what I love to do.”

TI AvatarI, robot

A couple of years ago, Bart’s team was about to demonstrate a circuit board to a customer and needed a protective cover to prevent electric shocks.

Instead of paying a premium to have the cover made, the team bought one of the first three-dimensional printers at TI so Bart could design and print the cover himself. That solution saved the team some money and introduced 3-D printing at our company. Since then, he’s become something of a 3D printing expert based not only on his creativity at TI, but on a personal robotics project that draws good-natured ribbing from friends and colleagues.

“We all laugh about the humanoid robot,” Steven said.

Bart is 3-D printing a robot – of a type that science-fiction fans would love – one piece at a time on a printer at his apartment. First came the fingers. Then came an arm, a shoulder, the torso and, most recently, the head. He’s begun working on the robot’s electronics, but at the moment, the lifeless figure lies slumped in a corner of his apartment. Someday, he hopes, the open-sourced humanoid will stand 6 feet tall – Bart’s height – and mimic human movement.

“I don’t want to say it’s an art project, but it’s more of an installation piece,” he said. “It’s an exploration of what we can do right now. What can we do at home as tinkerers and makers? How far can I really take this technology? I like the challenge of figuring that out. I don’t know the answers, but I want to. That’s how I start down a rabbit hole that takes me into building a 6-foot-tall robot.”

‘A pretty chill vibe’

Bart’s involvement as a mentor at Conrad High School in Dallas is his way of passing on that thirst for knowledge to the next generation.

“Some of the kids in the high school have the same mindset I did,” he said. “They want to build stuff. They’re interested in learning what they can do. We try to help these kids find their own path. We want to foster a love of science and technology. I see myself in a lot of them.”

And the students pick up on his enthusiasm.

“He’s like a big kid with them,” said Lindsay Clark, who teaches advanced geometry and calculus and helps sponsor the robotics club at Conrad. “They respect him as an authority, but they also see him as a peer. He can let them go off with fun ideas and help guide them better than a traditional educator would be able to.”

“Bart explains everything,” said Jose Rojas, a junior at the school. “He has patience with us. He guides us. He’s a mentor, but also a friend. Bart has a pretty chill vibe.”

What is the most impactful piece of feedback you got at TI?

The most impactful advice I ever got was at my old job during college, and it’s held true for a long time: Under-promise and over-deliver. It really boils down to always striving to exceed expectations, but be mindful to not set yourself up for failure.

Development takes many forms. Looking back, what opportunities have helped you grow and develop the most at TI? 

I started out in the Applications Rotation Program, and coming out of a strenuous senior design project, I worked hard to excel. It paid off, and my manager in my first rotation asked me to become a technology expert of a new sensing algorithm we were working on and made me the lead support point on a fairly large design-in. The project lasted beyond my first rotation and solidified my position on the team upon deployment. Since then, I’ve been granted a lot of different opportunities to work on very forward-looking technology and to exercise a significant amount of creativity in my day-to-day work.

What was the most difficult stretch assignment you’ve received at TI, and how did it help you in your career? 

I tend to do my best work under tight deadlines. While I don’t want to do it too often, my fondest memories working at TI have been putting in extra hours to solve customer problems or sitting in the lab the day before flying out to get a demo ready to run. Being reliable during crunch time also seems to reflect well upon managers, and they end up trusting you with more responsibilities, which leads to significant career growth.

What career advice would you give your 22-year-old self? 

Maybe I’m one of the lucky few, but all the decisions I’ve made seem to have worked out pretty well. I think 22-year-old me did pretty well to get where 29-year-old me is now. Having the perfect advice and avoiding the sub-optimal decisions probably wouldn’t have gotten me the experience required to get where I am and be happy that I took the ownership of my career early on.