Hidden robots

No local-press parking.

No local-press parking.

Photo By Ken Widmann

I’ll admit, last week’s prediction of a violent robot coup at Schilling Robotics may have been premature, even alarmist. From outside the compound at Second Street and Jacques Cousteau Place, all seems chipper between staffers and the deep-sea droids they are supposedly manufacturing. But I’m still curious as to why a 275-employee sub-sea robotics firm would call the Republic home (for tax advantages?), since the deepest area in this landlocked and long-drained marsh is the UC Davis philosophy department. Well, this week’s development showed that Schilling management’s attitude toward the press seems to derive from large-wave surfing: Go big or go home.

A quick review: After months of foot-dragging, the company seemed near to accepting the idea of me dropping by for a quick visit. I wasn’t looking to become the Sinclair Lewis of the remote-operated vehicle industry, just hoping to see some cool underwater shit and help our readers learn why such an ocean-intensive firm would be based in the Central Valley. Schilling seems like a neat outfit—their Web site even has a “Decompress” section with YouTube links to some amazing deep-sea footage, such as “Sperm whale investigates an ROV” and “Black smoker giving a show,” which turned out to be a hydrothermal vent, not Richard Pryor.

So when Schilling’s head of public relations, Barbara Gardner, asked if the firm would be able to review our story before publication—a nonstarter—I figured that no visit would be forthcoming. Lo, hours after turning in last week’s column, I got a voice mail from ol’ Babs. Was I finally granted a golden ticket to behold the mysteries of this deep-diving candy factory? Nope. Schilling’s management had turned down my request on grounds they “didn’t want any disruptions of the manufacturing process, however brief.” Gardner also asked me to give her a call. Curious, I dialed.

Gardner apologized for not returning my calls promptly and for ushering me out the door so swiftly. No worries, I told her. Then she said something odd.

“I think most companies are glad to have any positive local press. But Schilling doesn’t really benefit from local press, because we have no local customers.”

Wow! How does Schilling know that not a single greater Sacramento area SN&R reader is scouring Craigslist for an XE extended-excursion tether management system rated for depths over 13,000 feet? Like nobody around here ever dropped a wristwatch into Lake Tahoe? And who says SN&R is local—we have a site on the Web. That’s the World Wide Web, my friends. For all we know, some guy in charge of procurement serving on a Black Sea drilling rig is giggling his way through a Bites column right now.

“So,” Gardner added. “I think it was a simple cost and benefit evaluation.”

Got it. I’d hate to see how the company handles a visit from a local Girl Scout. You national, kid? No? Well, we’ll buy a box of your Thin Mints, but first you gotta close on a titanium hydraulic manipulator arm.

Anyway, next time, I’ll say I’m from the Sacramento International News & Review.