Ada Lovelace Day: Women in robotics

Maykah team at Maker Faire: Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen, Jennifer Kessler who make ‘Roominate’ the DIY electrical dollhouse.

Celebrate women in science and technology today, in honor of Ada Lovelace, world’s first computer programmer. Ada Lovelace Day was started by Suw Charman-Anderson in 2009 in recognition that good role models are crucial to engaging and retaining women in STEM.

I’m going to celebrate Ada Lovelace day by recognizing the awesome things that people are doing to encourage girls to become engineers. Robotics is an exciting area with many amazing and influential women. It’s proven to be an enticing entry point for K-12 students into STEM career choices. I was going to post a list of great women in robotics but an article crossed my desk today talking about one of the subtler difficulties of attracting girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering & math).

Girls decide what they AREN’T going to study much earlier than they decide what they will study (and much sooner than boys do). So, girls are far more likely to limit their possible career choices before they are actually ready to make them. Intervention at college level, or even high school level comes far too late according to Stephen Cooper, associate professor of computer science at Stanford University and chairman of the board of the Computer Science Teachers Association for US K-12 educators.

There is a window of opportunity to excite and inspire girls that is wide open in elementary school and rapidly closing in the middle school years (11-14yrs). Programs such as the First Lego League can be critical interventions. So can after-school robotics clubs but not if  we don’t have proactive gender policies.

Two weeks ago, the robotics after-school program kicked off at my children’s middle school. It was advertized in the school newsletter and the gifted & talented program. The school has an approx equal ratio of boys/girls, around 800 in total. 66 students wanted to join the club. There were only 4 girls and they were all 6th graders (11yrs old) not 7th or 8th graders. This is in a supportive environment where the volunteer coach (me), the teacher and high school mentors are all female!

Based on my previous experience building female participation, I will take extra care to put the girls in a team with friends, to encourage them to bring friends along and to nip in the bud any undermining behaviors. But it still makes me sad.

That’s why I’m going to cheer myself up and celebrate Ada Lovelace day by recognizing some of the awesome things that people are doing to encourage girls to become engineers.

Roominate: A toy that inspires girls (or anyone who likes building houses) to build circuits and make their house come to life! Roominate was started by 3 young women at Stanford and thoroughly tested on children at the Exploratorium.

 

Goldieblox: A construction toy and book series, Goldieblox might be for young girls but there still aren’t enough interesting girl toys out there according to founder Debbie Sterling and Riley.

 

Lilypad Arduino: Microcontroller board designed for wearables and e-textiles by Leah Buechley and Sparkfun. It can be sewn to sensors, power supplies and actuators with conductive thread.

 

Cubelets: A modular construction toy, and CMU spinoff, that appeals to both young and old with their very tangible interface.

Scratch: A programming language and education community designed at MIT to encourage everyone to create and share interactive stuff. Scratch can be used with game controllers and sensors and can also be used to program motors, including Lego.

 

Minecraft: A virtual building game, you can build anything you can imagine. At night monsters come out. My middle school girls love it.

 

I also hope that initiatives like Robot Garden - our soon to open robot hackerspace – will appeal to a wide range of the community. We have carefully selected the name and our ‘brand’ to be as inclusive and inspiring as possible.

Lean methodology and technology

Lean startup methodology is the most interesting methodological shift in transferring technology to use of the century, in combination with changes in the technological scaffold that make this possible.

outline what this means?

And of course, it’s simply a combination of scientific method, sociology, or design, in business language.

SciFi, Design and Technology

Make It So: What Interaction Designers can Learn from Science
Fiction Interfaces
Presentation Notes, Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel
4 September 2009, dConstruct 09 Conference, Brighton, UK

(also SXSW 2012?)

Image

This is the first presentation of only a portion of the material we’ve found in our analysis of Science Fiction films and television series. Weʼre also looking a industry future films (like Apple’s Knowledge Navigator) as well as existing products and research projects. Our analysis includes properties (films and TV), themes (different issues in interface design), as well as the historical context of the work (such as the current technology of the time of the propertyʼs release). In addition, weʼre interviewing developers (including production designers from  films) but this material isnʼt presented in this talk. For this presentation, weʼve focused on the major issues, part academic and theoretical, and part lessons (more practical) weʼve uncovered.

How design influences SciFi and how SciFi influences design:

We’ve chosen to focus on interface and interaction design (and not technology or engineering). Some visual design issues relate but, mostly, in this talk, weʼre not approaching issues of styling. Weʼve chosen the media of SciFi (TV and films) because a thorough analysis of interaction design in SciFi requires that the example be visual so interfaces are completely and concretely represented, include motion that describe the interaction, and (sometimes) has been seen by a wide audience.

Scientifically determining “influence” in any context (whether from Design on SciFi or visa versa) is difficult, and much of what we illustrate is inference on the part of the authors.

Can Robots Inspire Us To Be Better Humans?

A wonderful TedX talk by Ken Goldberg, Berkeley 2012:

Melanie Hall: Science at the movies: Prometheus and artificial intelligence

search for the origins of humanity, meeting one’s maker, and discovering why we are here: Ridley Scott’s latest film Prometheus tackles some big themes. But arguably the most interesting one surrounds the issue of what it is to be human, raised in the form of the android David.

Both Alien and its sequel Aliens, which Prometheus is said to be a prequel to (although Ridley Scott has disputed this, only conceding that the films all inhabit the same universe), included androids in their crew.

But in Prometheus, the android’s story is shifted more to centre, focusing on what defines humanity, and whether a robot can ever hope to achieve it.

via Melanie Hall: Science at the movies: Prometheus and artificial intelligence.

Robot and Frank teaser

Robot And Frank

Finally, a robot film worth seeing for the reality and not the fantasy. Robot and Frank, one of the hits at the Sundance Film Festival will be the headline act at the Robot Film Festival 2012 July 14-15 in New York City. But even if you can’t be in New York, you’ll be able to see Robot and Frank around the country in August. The film is about the relationship between an ageing burglar dealing with dementia, his family, and the health care robot that his family force Frank to have. Frank puts up quite a fight. This crowd pleasing film by new director Jake Schreier has picked up a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The partnership bought U.S. and North American distibution rights for the film that stars Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon, with James Marsden, Liv Tyler and voice work by Peter Saarsgard. Sony also acquired distribution rights for Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, according to a company statement released Wednesday afternoon. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the deal is valued at just over $2 million. [1]

I can’t wait for Robot and Frank to be seen more widely. I saw the film recently at the San Francisco International Film Festival and I think it’s the first film to showcase plausible and pragmatic human-robot interaction. While the robot itself is unrealistic, the emotional interactions of the people around it are definitely real. Our future holds many devices dedicated to our wellbeing and what we choose to do with them will probably differ from the ‘instruction manual’.

A mesmerizing performance by the versatile theater veteran Frank Langella (as Frank) is ably supported by costars like Susan Sarandon (as a librarian Frank has a crush on), Liv Tyler and James Marsden (as Frank’s meddling children). The robot is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, although the voice was done completely separately to the rest of the acting, in order to achieve a ‘mechanical’ tone.

Initially director Jake Shreier wanted someone to read the robot dialogue during filming, to give Frank Langella something to work off, as the actress inside the robot suit couldn’t read lines on top of making the robot suit move properly. But Langella preferred to do the dialogue one sided. Shreier extols Langella’s incredible virtuosity as an actor, his ability to remember and build on every gesture in each take.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the movie was written for Frank Langella, but the writer, Christopher D. Ford  was a film school buddy of Shreier’s. Originally, the film was Ford’s graduation short almost 10 years ago, inspired by the initiatives in Japan to build elder care robots.

“Jake’s film shows us a future that is right around the corner, and I for one, can’t wait for my own robot,” said Sony official Joe Matukewicz, referring to first-time director Jake Schreier. Added Meyer Gottlieb, President of Samuel Goldwyn Films: “Our team fell in love with this clever, irreverent story anchored by Frank Langella’s indelible performance.

Langella’s performance is so terrific, in fact, that it’s easy to assume the role of Frank, a crusty, but charming former burgler, who calls himself a “second-story man” was written for Langella. Frank’s son presents him with a robot to serve as a health care aide. At first Frank is disgusted with himself for talking to “an appliance,” but soon begins to teach the robot how to pick locks.

The film began as a film-school short, inspired by an NPR radio report about a Japanese initiative to create robots that could care for the elderly, said screenwriter Christopher Ford. It was filmed in 20 days in upstate New York last summer. [2]

Perhaps the wonder is that no one has made a similar film yet. At the SFIF screening, Jake Schreier talked about the 10 years that it took to go from student film project to making a feature debut, and his fears that some one else would beat him to it.

Robot and Frank start a public discussion about human-robot interaction that is incredibly constructive and realistic. We are entering a future where, as Slate said, we may find it easier to love machines programmed to help us than our family who seem programmed to irritate. Not that Robot and Frank is a love story either! [3]

  1. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogssundanceblog/53377292-50/frank-film-robot-langella.html.csp
  2. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogssundanceblog/53377292-50/frank-film-robot-langella.html.csp
  3. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/01/24/robot_and_frank_a_great_sci_fi_buddy_heist_movie_about_old_age.html