Friday, December 10, 2010

Howe Brothers “Keeping Busy” in Waterboro

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
It seems there’s never a dull moment for Howe and Howe Technologies.
Mike and Geoff Howe are the designers and builders of Ripsaw MS-1, the world’s fastest dual track vehicle that goes from zero to 50 miles-per-hour in 5.5 seconds and can crash through buildings and over sand dunes. It is controlled remotely and designed to aid the military in scouting areas without endangering the lives of the combat troops involved. It is currently under testing by the military.
But the brothers aren’t the kinds who sit around and wait to see what happens to their inventions.
They are working on an aquatic version of the Ripsaw, named Riptide, that has been tested in Ogunquit. “We do a lot of our work in Maine,” Geoff Howe said in a telephone interview. “Maine is very important to us.”
“We’ll do everything we can do to make sure anything we develop stays in Maine,” Mike Howe said.
They’ve been contacted by firefighters and are working on a robot specifically for firefighting applications.
In addition, a New Zealand mining company has asked about developing a robot to aid in disasters.
“Here’s a Maine based company being called, the international spotlight being put on us,” Mike Howe said. “We’re going to be developing a robotic platform” basically for search and rescue in mining situations.
Oh, yes, then there is a vehicle they designed and built for an Augusta man who is confined to a wheelchair and wanted to go fishing with his son for the first time in 20 years.
In there somewhere the Howes have done one season of a reality show on the Discovery Network, Black Ops Brothers, that had, Geoff Howe said, the best premiere numbers in the Discovery Channel’s history.
The brothers will debut a second season of Black Ops Brothers Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 10 p.m.
Geoff Howe said the show is “like no other show in the history of television” because it is “real, about two brothers who are trying to make it in business. You’re going to see the real deal.”
The Howes have appeared on other channels as well as Discovery, including the military and history channels and were courted by others but settled on doing the show for Discovery.
Mike said doing the show “was a double edged sword” because “it could help us or hurt us but we decided to do it. We’re innovators and part of innovation is in getting your technology out there. That’s the end result.”
While accomplishing all that, the company has relocated from its 4,000 square foot facility in Eliot to a 55,000 square foot site in Waterboro that includes a retail store to give people access to all kinds of merchandise featuring their company logo.
Howe and Howe’s employment level varies with the contacts they are working on.
After the first season on Discovery, the Howes received what they termed “a lot of contacts from all around the world saying ‘can you guys build a wheelchair for me,’” Mike Howe said, including one from Augusta.
It was a Navy veteran confined to a wheelchair who said he hadn’t been able to go fishing with his son for 20 years. Rocky told the brothers the wheelchair he was in couldn’t even go on gravel roads.
Mike and Geoff Howe decided to build an off road wheelchair. What they designed and built was a platform onto which a normal wheelchair could be rolled and strapped in.
The brothers said the day Rocky arrived at their facility with his son and was able to go fishing in the Ripchair was one of the most profound days they’ve experienced.
Mike Howe noted that the chair gave Rocky back some of the freedom he has lost fighting for freedom for the rest of us.
“He can actually go out to the woods, go hiking, go hunting, go fishing, and nobody has to wheel him around,” Mike Howe said.
In the near future, thanks to the Discovery Channel, Rocky will own the prototype the Howes built.
“It brought Geoff and I outside of our box,” Mike said. “Outside the commercial, capitalistic box and said let’s do something for someone else.”
Photo caption: The Howe brothers, of Howe and Howe Technologies, designed this vehicle for a man in Augusta who is confined to a wheelchair. The so-called “Ripchair” allowed the user to go fishing with his son for the first time in 20 years. (Courtesy photo)