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By Mike Garrison
Welcome to LiveRC's weekly column, "Talk-It-Up Tuesday!" Here we spend a little time talking with industry icons including racers, manufacturers, team managers, developers, promoters, and everyone in between! Sit back, relax, and go behind the scenes as we interview them all!
For this week's Talk It Up Tuesday we sit down with Alejandro Vegas the innovator behind the wildly popular "Unicorn" VRC Pro Simulator adapter to discuss everything from VSR Products and 3D printed shaft drive buggies to the future of wireless charging and everything in between!
LiveRC: Welcome Alejandro to this week’s edition of “Talk It Up Tuesday”! Let’s start at the beginning. Who, what, when, where, why, and how did you first get involved in R/C car racing?
Alejandro: Hi Mike! Thank you for having me on. My grandparents bought me a Traxxas Rustler when I was 9, and I used to bash that thing and then tear it apart every weekend. I first heard about my local track by word of mouth, and I went to Trackside Hobbies and Raceway for the first time when I was 13. The end. Ha! I was hooked, and I would go to Trackside every weekend to race and practice whenever I could all throughout middle school and high school.
LiveRC: What was your first major race win?
Alejandro: My first major race win would be the 2017 Team Orion Revolution at Race ‘Em RC. There were a lot of fast drivers there that year, and I was able to get the win in the 2wd Modified Buggy Class.
LiveRC: What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far as a racer?
Alejandro: Getting 3rd Place in Modified Stadium truck at the Surf City Classic was really cool. I got to be on the podium with some paid professionals and I also got $100! I never raced stock other than at Trackside when I first started racing, and as soon as I could afford a mod motor I put one in and never looked back. I have lots of B-Main results in the Modified buggy classes from national races like the Surf City Classic, ROAR Nationals, and JConcepts INS. Even though I have many wins and podiums at regional level events, I am most proud of those B-mains at the large events. If I had chosen to run stock for a while and attend those events, I think I would have a few podiums and maybe wins in the stock classes. It has always been hard for me to travel to races since I pay for my racing myself and missing school.
LiveRC: Off the race track you have started your company known as VSR Products. What made you decide to start your own brand in the R/C industry?
Alejandro: In high school we had a dedicated course hour where we could take any class we wanted, and every semester I would pick whatever was offered in the student shop. There, I got my Solidworks certification, learned to program and run CNC machines like lathes, routers, and mills, and learned about 3D printing. Back in 2017 for my senior project in high school, I wanted to make a shaft drive TLR (my sponsor at the time). I never got to race it, but I was able to assemble a full prototype, and checked all of the geometry through simulations on my computer. Once it was completed,I kind of realized that I could pursue this passion and make it more than a hobby.
I started using what I was learning in class to make parts for my RC cars after school, and taking them to the track. They actually worked very well, and I was very fast with them. I tried reaching out to my chassis sponsor at that time with my findings, and they were not interested in what some kid from Milwaukee had to say about their race cars (totally understandable). People kept asking me things like “can you make me one?” and “can you make this?” I quickly realized that I could make parts to sell. The only way that was affordable to me was 3D printing, and I bought my first printer freshman year of high school. I also realized I was getting very good at recognizing what parts were needed and what changes to make to improve the cars handling, going beyond what tuning options were available on the cars. Once I started selling a good number of parts, I was able to afford to start traveling to more races and keeping my equipment in better shape
LiveRC: One of VSR’s biggest hits so far has been the “Unicorn” 4-Channel VRC Pro Simulator Adapter. Explain to us exactly what the Unicorn adapter is, what it does, and why it has become so popular.
Alejandro: The Unicorn Adapter essentially translates the signals from your RC receiver into inputs the PC can understand, and therefore use in a game. It has 4 channel inputs, and those extra 2 can be used to program refuelling, marshalling, and other commands. I have only used it for VRC Pro, but people have told me they use it for racing games as well. The Unicorn offers unique code that filters through noise in the receiver, and makes for smoother operation and more realistic feel when playing the game.
LiveRC: Did you develop the Unicorn adapter yourself, or is there a team of people who helped you?
Alejandro: I actually made the first adapter a year ago just for myself. I was able to figure out all of the wiring but I had trouble with some parts of the code. I reached out to my computer science professor, and he actually sat with me in one of libraries until midnight helping me get it working, and we made some incredible improvements. It was very cool of him to do that. Once this Covid-19 situation happened, I realized people were going to want adapters to play VRC while at home, and I got all the supplies I could to make as many as possible. I was limited in how many supplies I can get, as well as how many I can make since I am still taking 20 credits of classes, just online now. That's where Paul Lemieux and Gravity RC came in, and they are now handling the production of the adapters as they can produce more units as well as source the supplies needed in bulk.
LiveRC: How often do you participate in VRC Pro Simulator races using your Unicorn Adapter?
Alejandro: To be honest, I really don't play that much right now. I would play for a bit when I was testing the adapters and prototyping, but I don't get to play as much as I would like. My classwork still takes up basically all of my time.
LiveRC: Another one of your popular products is the Project Thor wireless charging system for Sanwa and Futaba transmitters. Tell us a little about this and how it all works.
Alejandro: Project Thor was a big undertaking for me, especially because I didn’t know a thing about electrical engineering or anything related to it at the time. My goal was to charge my radio wirelessly. The biggest challenge is that current wireless charging systems for phones etc only support 1 cell batteries. I figured out how to make it work safely, and I made as many as I could since they were extremely complicated to make. The design has lots of potential for uses outside of RC radios; basically it can charge anything wirelessly even if it has a battery larger than 1 cell. The battery is modified as well. It could be used for drills, flashlights, vacuums, anything. I looked into getting a patent, but getting a patent is pretty useless if you can’t afford to pay a patent lawyer to write it up properly plus another few hundred thousand dollars to defend it in court. So yea, my college budget did not allow me to do that lol.
LiveRC: Do you think there will come a time when we will have the ability to wirelessly charge our car batteries by simply setting our car on a “charge stand” as you can do with your transmitter when using Project Thor?
Alejandro: Yes, I tested it with a MOTIV RC shorty battery, and it works. It may take 6 hours to charge, but it's cool! I had to take the battery out of the car, as the wireless charging does not work through the thick metal chassis we use in RC. One day I'm sure the technology will be good enough to charge your battery in your car!
LiveRC: How did you learn so much about electronics and creating these unique customized products such as the Unicorn Adapter and Project Thor?
Alejandro: My background and expertise was in more physical design work like CAD, so all of the electronic knowledge was new to me. MIT actually publishes all of their lectures online for free, so I watched some of those. Reaching out to various professors at my university has been the most helpful, they all get very excited when you approach them with a project. I also spend a lot of time in the student lab, and I’ll often just go up and ask someone who is working on something cool for help. There are lots of people way smarter that me so I would be dumb not to ask them for help! When those sources were not available or did not have the information I was looking for, a Google search probably had what I needed.
LiveRC: You are currently studying at the University of Minnesota correct? What are you studying, and is your goal to take this knowledge and work in the R/C industry?
Alejandro: I sit in every lecture every day asking myself “how can I apply this to RC?” Whether it's chemistry, thermodynamics, deformation mechanics, or math, I am always thinking about how I can apply the concepts I learn to RC. Doing this probably distracts me, but it keeps me motivated and interested in my coursework. I even worked with the Formula SAE team working on a real race car, and I was constantly applying what I know from RC and vice versa. My favorite courses so far have been statics and dynamics, and body deformation mechanics. I would love to work for a RC race vehicle manufacturer and help design new cars. I would love to apply my background and experience in RC with what I am learning in school to make faster, more durable race cars.
LiveRC: When you are not creating new gadgets and racing R/C cars, what are some of your other hobbies and interests?
Alejandro: I enjoy sim racing when I have some free time. I have been playing iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and ACC lately. But, I can’t stop tinkering and creating, so now I am making gadgets for sim racing. So far I have made a button box, LED rpm light, and a LCD dash display. So, I would say that my main hobby is most likely creating things.
(Alejandro's latest creation - and iRacing Button Box)
LiveRC: What is one thing most people don’t know about Alejandro Vegas?
Alejandro: I would say how much I enjoy designing and testing parts for RC cars. I love the process, and RC offers a unique experience where you can quickly and efficiently figure out what changes do. Probably the most fun I have had so far in RC was my winter break two years ago. I brought one of my 3D printers to the track, and would spend every day there with Solidworks on my computer constantly making parts and testing them. I was very surprised, and I kept making my car better and better with every change. Once I was done with it, I was much faster and more consistent over a 5 minute run, and I had some other drivers try my car without telling them what I had done to it and they all were impressed.
LiveRC: Most embarrassing R/C racing moment?
Alejandro: 2015 Nationals at SRS I put up a top 15 run in qualifying for mod buggy and forgot to put my car through post tech, it was a big accomplishment for me to have such a great run, and it was super embarrassing that I subsequently lost the result due to an error so easily avoidable. People were coming up to me congratulating me on a good run and saying my car looked great, and it was so embarrassing having to tell everyone that I blew it.
(15-year old Alejandro after the C-Mains)
LiveRC: Thank you so much for joining us today Alejandro, it has been great chatting with you and learning more about VSR Products. Keep up the great work, and we look forward to seeing your next creation! Is there anything you would like to add before we go?
Alejandro: I want to thank you Mike and the entire LiveRC crew for your support of the industry through your This Shirt Supports My Local Track initiative. I would like to thank my family for not kicking me out of the house as I am constantly dremeling and working in the shop at night! Ha! I would like to thank my longtime sponsors JConcepts, Motiv RC, and BK Servo, if it were not for their support I would not be where I am today. Also thank you to Chris Malooly for the rides to and from the track in Minneapolis! I’m looking forward to racing again. Lastly, I would like to thank Jamie and Greg Tennies from Trackside Hobbies for creating such a fun atmosphere and excellent racing conditions week in and week out. I hope that we can all race together in real life soon!
Check out my website https://www.vsr3d.com to see what I have released! I am always working on new stuff. (shameless plug!)
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