Longform

From the Society for Creative Anachronism to Self-Propelled Electronic Armored Racks, Simon Rohrich is a True Renaissance Man

Simon Rohrich stands in his laboratory in east Mesa, talking about his latest invention: a 700-pound, 27-inch-wide blue aluminum box with blinking lights called the S.P.E.A.R.

He's excited. Rohrich walks around the machine, opening and closing panels to show the features — here's the hookup for cellular phones, here are the plugs for multiple computers, here are the power outlets, equipped for both U.S. and European electrical currents. This sleek, silvery-blue metal on the outer shell is "the threat level one aluminum armor plating."

Rohrich opens the main panel of the box to show all the shelf space inside. A Kryptonite-green glow illuminates his face as he bends down. "The S.P.E.A.R. also has electromagnetic shielding," he says proudly.

S.P.E.A.R. stands for Self-Propelled Electronic Armored Rack and, very simply put, it's a compact data center on wheels, capable of storing up to 1,000 pounds of computer equipment and built to withstand the worst weather — from floods to fires — as well as "a 70,000-pound crush," Rohrich says. "You could drop it off a two-story building."

So, the inventor continues, if a hurricane hits the Gulf Coast and knocks out all the power in the region (including external power for emergency buildings and data centers), you could theoretically wheel the S.P.E.A.R. into the heart of the storm and, all the while, the computers and communications equipment will be safe and running on their own power conductors inside the hermetically sealed box.

The box, not quite five feet tall, is completely mobile. There's a steering wheel on the top with a red button that propels the S.P.E.A.R. when pressed. "Yeah, you basically drive it," Rohrich says, "and anyone can transport it. It's got automatic regenerative breaking, so it stops when you take your hand off the button."

S.P.E.A.R. made its public debut last year on an episode of the Discovery Channel show Smash Lab. It also earned accolades from the prestigious Uptime Institute in New York, and the City of Avondale in Maricopa County recently bought one for its emergency operations center. The idea is that it will be the breakthrough invention for Elliptical Mobile Solutions, the Mesa-based technology inventions company where Rohrich works.

Rohrich talks like a nerdy Ph.D. candidate, or one of those pencil-necked geeks from Silicon Valley, but really, only the nerdy part is accurate. And if you think his day job is geeky, check out the guy's hobby.

Among the stacks of circuit boards, rolls of blueprints, and bundles of electrical wires laying about the lab, there's a pile of medieval body armor, complete with a five-pound, brass and steel carbon bronze helmet. Rohrich picks up the archaic-looking armor. He made that, too, and in a few hours, he'll be wearing it and thumping on other people in armor with a big stick, as a member of the Phoenix branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

By day, Rohrich is a self-professed "mad scientist," inventing futuristic data centers and computer accessories. It's a cerebral job, to put it mildly, so Rohrich says he offsets the stress by becoming a battling baron from the 15th century at night.

"I get into fights with armored baseball bats for fun," he says. "At the end of a long day in the lab, nothing beats a melee."

At 6-foot-3 and nearly 300 pounds, Simon Rohrich is (literally) a big nerd. He's proud of being the prototypical geek — digs the SCA and Renaissance Faire, loves science and computers, wears glasses, grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. But he has tons of friends — and girlfriends. Some might call him an example of the new "geek chic."

"I feel like I'm changing the paradigm of what it is to be nerdy," Rohrich says. "From a lifestyle standpoint, I exist in a very un-nerdy way. I have no problem finding female companionship. That's not very nerdy. Being popular is not very nerdy."

"But I've never really changed," he adds. "I've stayed geeky, and I'm watching the world change around me, to where being nerdy is cool, which is very Ayn Rand-ian, you know — being the perfect man and seeing the whole planet align with you, rather than the other way around. It's been very satisfying."


Every Wednesday night, the Society for Creative Anachronism has a war in central Phoenix. The battlefield is Encanto Park, off 15th Avenue, and the warriors are everyday Phoenicians with an obsession for the history and culture of pre-17th-century Europe. Their "swords" are blunted rattan sticks, similar to those used for the Filipino martial art of escrima (stick fighting). Those swords can leave two-foot-long crimson bruises, especially when wielded by Rohrich, a.k.a. "Baron Josef Donnerbauch."

Rohrich, 34, has been active in the SCA since he was 19. With his helmet (complete with imposing face grille and horsehair ponytail), layers of red leather and bronze buckles, and five-foot-long stick sword, he strikes an intimidating figure on the battlefield.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea