Branch Networks Powers Maritime RobotX Competition in Hawaii


How do you keep 15 autonomous catamarans in constant communication while they navigate, translate, and recover objects over eight days off the coast of Hawaii?

You build a network — a really good one.

This was the task set before Branch Network’s Nick Casassa at last month’s Maritime RobotX competition in Honolulu, Hawaii. Casassa is the Chief Technology Officer of Branch Networks, a Panama City Beach-based network and internet provider and a TechFarms tenant. RobotX is the most complex competition of RoboNation, a nonprofit that provides robotics education internationally.

During the eight-day competition, 15 collegiate teams from three continents converged on Hawaii’s Sand Island. Their goal: produce the boat that can best dodge obstacles, identify symbols, navigate courses, recover objects and more — all autonomously. For months, each team had been preparing a twin-hull catamaran, to which they affixed an array of sensors, hardware, and software to complete the autonomous tasks.

To enable all of that communication, RoboNation required a solid network. That’s where Branch Networks came in.

“It was go design the network, order the equipment, pre-configure the network, as well as document, and then get out there, build the network,” said Casassa, who got his feet wet during RoboNation’s RoboBoat competition in July 2018. “When things were appearing — the staff trailers, the competitors’ tents, the tents for the competition — as those were all being built and set up, I would build my network into those elements.”

The end result was more than 4,000 feet of fiber and several thousand feet of Cat 6A cable — “the standard for all Ethernet communications” Casassa said — providing access points up and down half a mile of beach.

“There are multiple wireless connections, multiple wired connections, there are several radios all running and operating at 2.4 GHz, 5.8 GHz, as well as other frequencies that are used for all kinds of communication and automation for each one of these worldwide teams,” Casassa said.

Also heavily involved in the competition was another Panama City Beach resident, Bill Porter, an engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.

“The competitor course was Bill’s job,” Casassa said. “Everything from how they operate their radio communications to how they decide what tests they have to do. But the boats that were out there that were autonomous were able to communicate because of the network I built.”

It might not have been the typical beach vacation — Casassa worked about 15 hours a day — but the work paid off. The only “issue” to hamper Casassa’s network was someone inadvertently unplugging a piece of equipment.

“I had one lady with RoboNation come up to me and tell me, ‘I am so impressed,’” Casassa said. “’We’re always so nervous about something going down with the network. But you met all of our needs and then some. We never had anyone complain about the internet.’”

Casassa said a common problem with such “pop-up networks” — think large outdoor concerts, for example — is that providers fail to understand the density required to accommodate all of the data being transmitted.

“What that means is a lot of access points, a lot of infrastructure because you have a lot of users trying to do stuff in a very little bit of space,” he said.

“That internet connection needs a way to reach all of the people that are in a venue. So we have to kind of lay the tracks the rest of the way so that everybody can travel on those tracks. Everyone wants to have a train that goes really fast, but nobody realizes you have to have the tracks.”

Up next for Branch Networks is another kind of pop-up network: emergency communications after a disaster such as Hurricane Michael in October 2018. After the storm hit Bay County, Florida, Branch Networks made headlines by using an existing internet connection to prop up a large Wi-Fi network for about 300 nearby residents. That same kind of network is possible on a much larger scale, Casassa said.

“If there is no power, that complicates things but doesn’t make it impossible,” he said. “One of the things we’re talking about making is a new kind of tower, basically a trailer with a large-capacity generator, and an extendable mechanical tower, that we could park and prop up and give people Wi-Fi access.”

The technology exists but is prohibitively expensive and is used mostly for military applications. Branch hopes to make its mobile Wi-Fi networks accessible for both the emergency and government sectors.

“We realize that there’s a huge need for this in city and local governments,” Casassa said. “We have plans, and we hope to be able to build and deploy these systems when needed.”

EntreCon 2018 Draws Record Attendance

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EntreCon 2018 was an exciting and rewarding event for entrepreneurs, business owners, and employees who gathered to receive training and network with hundreds of other like-minded business professionals throughout the region. This popular entrepreneur conference has developed over the years into a learning experience where attendees receive insightful presentations from featured speakers and panelists from around the country who share their strategies for starting and growing their businesses. This year there were 8 EntreCon Award winners in 8 different categories ranging from Startup Business of the Year to Entrepreneur of the Year.

Hosted by the Studer Community Institute, EntreCon focuses on three core ideologies: better jobs, better lives, and better communities. For the Northwest Florida region, EntreCon continues to be an awesome event and is doing its part to help grow jobs and build a better community for all residents.



Meet Jaynx, TechFarms’ Newest Tenant

Janyx Logo

by: Stephanie Gorges

Cybersecurity has drawn international attention in recent years, with data breaches, phishing scams, and election interference regularly grabbing headlines.

But for David Mans, owner of cybersecurity company Janyx, securing the nation’s digital infrastructure starts on a much smaller scale.

“The biggest question I’m asked is, ‘Who needs to worry about cybersecurity?’” said Mans, a Marine Corps veteran with 25 years of experience in information technology. “They’ll say, ‘I’m a small-town flower shop. Who’s gonna care about targeting me?’ But from a hacker’s perspective, it’s not about you yourself. He’s looking for weak targets.”

Small businesses’ websites quickly became easy entry points for hackers, a lesson Mans learned in Janyx’s early years. The company, started in New York in 2013, had focused primarily on custom software development services. But as hacking and breaches became more widespread and publicized, Janyx began offering cybersecurity in 2016 — with instant results. By early 2018, the company had conducted 168 forensic investigations.

“That entails a lot,” Mans said. After verifying an incident has occurred — meaning it happened over a computerized system, was conducted by a human, and was done with malicious intent — Mans and other investigators determine the extent of the breach and begin damage control. “From there, we identify how the intrusion took place and to what extent did they get inside that system? Did someone download something they shouldn’t have when they clicked the link in their email, or is it somebody actually pivoting throughout the network, moving from computer to computer?”

Investigators then work to reverse-engineer the malicious software and trace it to its origin, at which point the investigation often is turned over to law enforcement. It’s a process that has been repeated millions of times in recent years, propelling cybersecurity spending in the U.S. from $40 billion in 2013 to $66 billion in 2018, according to figures compiled by research and advisory firm Gartner.

“I got the realization that our weakest link in the national infrastructure are the companies that don’t have the resources or technical proficiency to protect themselves,” Mans said. “They don’t know how to start, where to begin, or even what it encompasses.”

Mans decided to bring that knowledge back to his hometown of Panama City, relocating Janyx to TechFarms in July. His mission is simple: protecting those who otherwise can’t protect themselves in today’s digital landscape.

“A lot of times, what we’re seeing is the businesses themselves have a good reputation as a small, mom-and-pop flower shop that doesn’t bother anybody, so the hacker sets up a program on that weak server that sends out phishing emails,” he said. “So now that company has unwittingly become an accomplice to this person’s crime. On day one, anybody, whether it’s a personal website or a business account, needs to look at cybersecurity. You put one computer asset on there and connect it to a network, and you need to start looking at cybersecurity.”

Janyx also covers the preventive side of cybersecurity — preventing the hacker from “getting to the family jewels, if you will” — cybersecurity consulting, software development, and cloud computing consulting. Learn more at



Hurricane Michael Update


(Pictured: Typical street in the Cove section of Panama City)

October 10th, 2018 is a date that residents of the Florida Panhandle will never forget. On this date, Hurricane Michael tore through the region causing unimaginable damage to property and taking at least 39 lives. The Category 4 storm had sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, just shy of a Category 5, and was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle since record keeping began. It was the forth strongest hurricane to hit the US in terms of wind speed, and the third strongest in terms of pressure. The storm was so strong that it was still a Category 3 hurricane when it reached Georgia. 

Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe suffered huge losses as the storm surge completely destroyed many beachfront structures, including many homes and businesses blocks from the beaches. Large areas of Panama City, Lynn Haven, and Callaway received heavy damage as well. In contrast, Panama City Beach received far less damage as it was just far enough West of the storm’s center and high winds. 

Despite the best efforts of recovery workers, life is still difficult for many residents who are still struggling to get power, water, phone & Internet service, and in many cases a new place to call home. Fallen trees, collapsed houses, crashed utilities poles, and flipped cars and trucks are everywhere.  


Pictured: Georgia Power working with Gulf Power to restore service. Photo courtesy of Gulf Power. 

The utility companies, particularly Gulf Power, are to be commended for their enormous effort to restore power throughout the region. In the days and weeks after the storm, thousands of utility trucks and personnel were everywhere. Gulf Power helped coordinate a massive response that included power company resources from 15 states including Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, with some as far Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Ohio. The rate at which power is being restored is truly remarkable given the extent of the damage. As of October 23rd, Gulf Power estimates that it has restored power to 95% of all customers who were able to safely take power. 

Perhaps more than anything, communications have been a major challenge. Cell and Internet service has been nonexistent for more than half the population and is only recently coming back online. Verizon towers suffered what representatives are now calling “unprecedented” damage as virtually all of the fiber to their towers resided on power poles that were fallen by the storm. However, AT&T’s cellular service suffered only minor damage since they had fortunately buried the fiber to their towers. For this reason, AT&T has been one of the real heroes for many. Customers and their loved ones were left frustrated by a lack of cell service which proved dangerous for people who needed to call for help and check on family members. Verizon eventually brought in mobile hotspots and has since provided 3-months of free service to its customers throughout the region. 

Hurricane Michael helped all of us realized how technology has become such an essential part of our daily lives. Without cell and Internet service many of us are unable to function and feel completely cutoff and isolated from our world. Although TechFarms received only minor damage, our fiber connection was disrupted and we were forced to piece together a combination of Internet alternatives including cable and personal cellular hotspots. We have been receiving calls from businesses that need temporary offices with phone and Internet access and we are accommodating as many of them as we can.  

There are still many months of hard work to rebuild our communities. The good news is that everyone is working together and most have a positive outlook. We will get through this together.

TechFarms Tenant, Branch Networks, “Branches” Into Something New


TechFarms tenant, Branch Networks, has been providing fiber-powered Internet access to businesses across NW Florida now for several years. Recently, the company announced that it is now offering professional quality video surveillance systems that allow businesses to easily monitor their HD cameras on their PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Branch was founded (and named) on the premise that it would eventually “branch” into other Internet related segments that would allow its customers to leverage the company’s expanding fiber network. In particular, high definition video surveillance cameras consume lots of upload bandwidth when viewed remotely. Unlike cable Internet connections, fiber’s symmetrical upload and download speeds makes it an ideal choice for large installations such as condos, hotels, apartments, warehouses, office buildings, shopping centers, and schools.

Branch’s expansion comes at a time when physical security is on everyone’s mind. Nationwide school shootings and increasing burglary rates are two factors driving the need for improved security. Businesses know that without high- resolution video they stand little or no chance of identifying and catching criminals. Fortunately, today’s HD video cameras and Network Video Recorders (NVR’s) allow business owners and security personnel to easily and quickly review video clips – even in total darkness thanks to improved infrared camera technology.

Once prospective customers experience the image quality and ease of use of Branch’s new video surveillance systems, many are immediately sold. “As an experienced salesman I have not seen many products that are easier to sell than these camera systems”, says Bryan Joy, Branch’s Director of New Business Development. “Businesses are tired of the cheaper, low quality cameras and want to upgrade to these new systems that allow HD camera video to be viewed on their smartphones from anywhere in the world.”

Unlike older coax cable camera systems, these new systems are installed with Ethernet cable that also provides power to the camera, thereby eliminating the need for an electrical outlet at the camera’s location. This Power over Ethernet (PoE) feature makes installations much simpler and allows cameras to be placed in locations that were previously not possible due to the lack of electrical outlets.

A locally owned and operated company, Branch seeks to grow slowly rather than quickly – a calculated move that it feels better serves its current and future customers. By focusing on the quality of service, rather than the quantity of customers, Branch feels that it is building a loyal customer base that it can provide more innovative products and services to in the years to come.

Who is RoboNation?

robonation logo

written by: Gina Abbas

TechFarms has been working closely with RoboNation for several years now, but not everyone has heard of them and knows what they do. Here’s some background.

­­­Though interest in STEM careers in the U.S. has increased from dismal numbers in the ’90s, it is still a sorely overlooked career path. The trouble, in part, starts with the lack of focus STEM education receives in middle school. Studies show that the subjects and extracurriculars offered and encouraged during middle school are critical in a child’s chosen career path — and in the U.S., STEM doesn’t appear to be as highly encouraged as in other nations. In 2016, for example, China and India led the U.S. in STEM graduates with 4.7 million and 2.6 million respectively, while the U.S. had only 568,000.1

Enter RoboNation, a non-profit organization focused on stimulating interest among students of all ages in science, technology, engineering and math in hopes of convincing more of them to pursue STEM career paths. According to RoboNation, 80 percent of jobs require math and science skills, a number that proves the importance of piquing an interest in STEM from an early age.

But how does RoboNation redirect kids away from popular pastimes like video games in favor of math and science?

Well, they don’t exactly.

RoboNation believes they can mold a child’s fascination with video games into something exponentially more productive — hands-on robotics skills. By harnessing a child’s inherent imagination with robotics, RoboNation not only enhances their existing education, but provides them with a foundation for a future in STEM.

Formerly known as AUVSI Foundation Inc. (the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), RoboNation says it aims to create “an open community of tech gurus, pacesetters, inventors and visionaries laying the groundwork to be on the cutting-edge of the technology and engineering world.” This dedication led to the start of a series of educational programs and robotics competitions that give students an outlet outside of the classroom to apply their STEM smarts.

Among the most popular of these programs is SeaPerch, a global outreach program and competition that teaches K-12 students robotics, engineering, science and math in the form of building an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The competition began as a project in a children’s book over 10 years ago, but has far surpassed its original concept and become a beloved event with international participation.

Other RoboNation programs include SeaGlide and RoboTour, which is a one-day free event for students in grades 5-12 to attend AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL conference – the world’s largest community of leaders in drones, intelligent robotics and unmanned systems.

Along with these educational programs, RoboNation also conducts numerous international competitions by land, air and sea:

  • Land: Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC)
  • Air: Student Unmanned Air Systems (SUAS) and International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC)
  • Maritime: RoboBoat, RoboSub, Maritime RobotX, and the SeaPerch Challenge

These programs and competitions not only capture students’ interest, but are already opening doors in future STEM careers; participation has often been rewarded with internships and employment opportunities for students while still in school.

The influence RoboNation has had on young minds around the world will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on the way STEM is viewed by not only children, but parents who might not understand the importance of how STEM careers will shape our future. As RoboNation’s ecosystem continues to grow, we can be hopeful that the lives they are changing through STEM will translate into a greater STEM ecosystem for our country, made up of the rising numbers of students choosing these careers.


1 “The Countries With The Most STEM Graduates”, Forbes

Inside the World of 3D Printing

3d printer build Eiffel Tower Model

Written by: Gina Abbas

In a world where instant gratification and technology have taken over, it’s no surprise that 3D printers have seen a surge in sales. 3D printing is no longer a concept of the future; these machines are now mass-produced and a basic model can be purchased for $200 or less. To some, this is still a thing of disbelief: the idea that a gear or an action figure or even a circuit board can be mimicked or designed and printed all from one machine certainly seems like a faraway concept; one that is still reserved solely for commercial labs or research.

But the future is here. And at TechFarms, we are living it.

The true birth of 3D printing first began in 1981, when a Japanese scientist applied for a patent, but was denied after failing to file the patent requirements before the deadline. At that time, the concept was known as rapid prototyping, and would not be widely referred to as 3D printing until around 1986. It was then that the first successful patent was secured by an American inventor named Chuck Hull and in 1987, his first 3D printing machine was developed.

TechFarms tenant, Sean Hoffman, has been evaluating our newest printer – the Ultimaker 3 Extended addition which features dual print heads that allow simultaneous printing of two different types of materials. Sean and other tenants have been printing a wide variety of items using various filaments and have been impressed with the results.

“The basic idea is that you’re printing things in 3 dimensions instead of 2,” he answered when asked how he would describe 3D printing to a novice. “Regular printers print on a flat sheet of paper. 3D printers would print that sheet of paper from plastic, but add sides.”

So how does 3D printing actually work?

According to Sean, it’s rather simple.

“First, you start with a 3D model, which serves as the “blueprint” for the design. Next, you feed the model to the software, which uses “Slicing” to convert the model into something the printer can read. The printer then uses melted plastic to build the object.”

“Slicing is basically the industry term for the way the software takes the object you want to create and vertically “slices” it into thin sheets so the printer can understand how to print it one layer at a time. The printer itself cannot understand what to do until the object is sliced by the software. Most 3D printers come with their own software, but there are other free programs out there that work just the same, if not even better.”

While TechFarms’ 3D printers can only print using plastic, more advanced machines exist, though they are far more expensive. Some can print with metals and even have bigger print beds, making them capable of printing much larger objects.

Though 3D printing has become a household concept, the potential for what it could be used for is growing. Some companies hope to be able to expand the ability to print custom parts for outdated technology held onto by consumers (laptops, cameras, cars), while others are working to use this technology to successfully print human organs. Over the next several years, it is expected that rapid prototyping will continue to rapidly change the world we live in today.


3D Insider: A Detailed History of 3D Printing

Sean Hoffman, Software Developer

Meet Branch Networks, A TechFarms Tenant


by: TechFarms, LLC

TechFarms tenant, Branch Networks, is an Internet provider that specializes in delivering fiber-powered Internet service to large businesses, condos, and hotels that want their employees and guests to have the fastest Wi-Fi service available. The company’s founder, Nicholas Casassa, says guests arriving at local condos and hotels often arrive with multiple smartphones, laptops, and tablets only to find that their Wi-Fi connections are too slow. Streaming video from YouTube and Netflix can quickly overwhelm the bandwidth available from cable Internet connections, whereas a fiber connection can provide virtually unlimited bandwidth. In today’s connected world, unhappy customers complaining on social media is not something that any business wants.

Previously to starting Branch, Nicholas helped deploy a wide area wireless Internet network stretching over 220 miles from Panama City to Pensacola. The network at one point served over 23,000 subscribers making it one of the largest wireless networks in the nation.   

What’s in the name “Branch Networks”? Nicholas wanted to convey the company’s goal to be more than just a high-speed Internet provider. The company’s plans are to “branch out” into other communication segments such as video surveillance and the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT) market which encompasses a range of new opportunities in home automation, access control, and remote video monitoring. 

Remote monitoring of high-resolution video cameras requires several megabits of bandwidth at each camera location and is a perfect match for Branch’s highly reliable fiber connections that have symmetrical upload and download speeds. Branch is currently installing high-definition cameras, high-density Wi-Fi systems, and 150Mbps fiber connections for businesses that want to remotely monitor their surveillance cameras, run point of sale software, and other bandwidth intensive applications.  

Nicholas says that one of the biggest challenges he and other IT entrepreneurs face is on the business development side, namely, trying to find time for sales and marketing efforts while deploying and managing customer’s networks. Nevertheless, the company is enjoying steady growth from referrals as more businesses discover the benefits of fiber.  

For more information about Branch Networks, visit 

NWFL SeaPerch Challenge 2018


What started out as a project in a children’s book over ten years ago has
transformed into an international event beloved by students and teachers
around the world. This initiative is fondly known as SeaPerch, and was initially
developed as a method of growing the Ocean Engineering Program at MIT.
After realizing the potential this program could have as a learning opportunity
for more than just college students and teachers, SeaPerch sought and
received funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and expanded into a
global outreach program within K-12 schools, teaching them robotics,
engineering, science, and math (STEM), all while building an underwater
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).

With a desire to help expand the SeaPerch program both in Northwest Florida
and nationwide, in 2015 TechFarms partnered with the AUVSI Foundation
(Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) to become the only
ONR-sponsored SeaPerch Authorized Engineering Center in the US.
TechFarms maintains a fleet of SeaPerch ROVs that are demonstrated at
nationwide tradeshows for teachers.

Each year in conjunction with local Navy personnel, TechFarms assists with the
construction of underwater obstacle courses for the annual Northwest Florida
Regional SeaPerch Challenge held at Gulf Coast State College. The event is
attended by hundreds of students who gather around the college’s indoor pool
and operate their self-built underwater robots through challenging obstacle
courses. This years’ competition will be held on March 9th at Gulf Coast State
College. Winning teams qualify to participate in the International SeaPerch
Challenge to be held this year on June 2nd at the University of Massachusetts


TechFarms Tenant Invents LED LightSuits, Performs in Shows All Over the World


by: TechFarms, LLC

In late 2012, innovator and entrepreneur Jeff Elkins became obsessed with the emerging hydro sport known as Flyboarding. The sport uses the thrust generated by a personal water craft, or Jet Ski, to propel the rider to heights approaching 50’ above the water. Not content to fly just during daylight hours, Jeff envisioned nighttime flights illuminated by high-powered LEDs attached to his clothing.

Shortly thereafter, Jeff began collaborating with Dr. Steve Dunnivant at Gulf Coast State College’s Advanced Technology Center in Panama City. Dr. Dunnivant provided early support for Jeff’s idea and suggested that he take his invention to TechFarms where he could get access to facilities, equipment, and additional mentoring.

Soon after arriving at TechFarms, Jeff expanded his LED suit concept by adding electronics that would enable remote control of the LED lights on his suit by means of a wireless connection to a DMX lighting panel. Using the panel, technicians could remotely control the colors and sequencing of the LEDs for all performers and, when set to music, the results were truly stunning.

The suits are fabricated using a Lycra-spandex material and each suit is equipped with a radio that wirelessly connects to the DMX panel and memory card which contains the programs for the LED lights. The biggest technical challenge, however, was figuring out how to make the LED suits durable, waterproof, and impervious to saltwater. Once the suits were perfected, hydro sport entertainment shows worldwide begin hiring Jeff and his team to perform spectacular nighttime shows. When the team, originally known as Elkins Entertainment, added water-powered jetpacks with ultra high powered LEDs to the shows, the audience as well as the demand for nighttime performances skyrocketed. The team has been invited to perform in dozens of venues at locations not just throughout the US, but around the world, including Istanbul, St. Martin, Dubai, Sharja, Tokyo, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and France.

In 2016, Jeff and his business partner, Ben Merrell, renamed the company Liquid Motion Lights and soon after landed a lucrative contract with SeaWorld in San Diego. For years, engineers at SeaWorld envisioned nighttime performances, but were never able to build waterproof suits – a skill that Jeff had perfected over the years. Liquid Motion Lights was hired by SeaWorld to build waterproof LED suits for all the performers in their new show entitled “Cirque Electrique”. The show debuted in the summer of 2017 and was an enormous success. To date, the company’s LED suits have been used in over 200 nighttime performances worldwide. Jeff and his team continue to innovate at TechFarms and several new exciting inventions will be unveiled in the coming months. Stay tuned!