Robotics for the Streets: From Outreach to Education to Research
Engineering has a diversity problem. It has for a really long time. Despite many years of programs and interventions, the number of Black and Brown people pursuing degrees in engineering has remained relatively flat. It is more than just a broken pipeline, it is an obstacle course with pitfalls, daggers, darts, and detours that lead to dead ends. People are lost at every step of the journey due to lack of a sense of belonging, no mentors and role models, not being able to see the relevance of the work they will do, and how to relate it to real world applications. My purpose here is to propose we devise more novel and innovative approaches to get more minds, hands, and eyes on STEM.
Engineers solve the problems of a global and diverse community so they must reflect that community to come up with the best and most unique solutions. When this doesn’t happen, there is the potential for bias, discrimination, and injustice to creep into our technological solutions. In recent years, we have seen artificial intelligence technology used to falsely identify the perpetrator of a crime, eliminate women candidates for job interviews and inaccurately identify individuals most likely to reoffend.
As an Open Hardware Trailblazer fellow, my approach for doing this is to remove the barrier to knowledge and resources for all ages. I want to be for others what I did not have as an engineering student. Show them that they can be what they can or cannot see with a bit of diligence, dedication, and discipline. Remove the barrier that keeps some individuals from ever seeing themselves in this field and make it more accessible.
A robot is a mechanical system that uses electronics and software to achieve missions and tasks in the world, it connects several disciplines. Therefore, one of the greatest benefits in using robots for open-source hardware development is the fact that it is used for multidisciplinary collaboration. The documentation of robotics projects can be generalized to academics in engineering, computer science, human computer interaction, informatics, sociology, psychology, and cognitive science. Since my area of research focuses on controls, software development, kinematics, as well on electronics it touches on many such fields. In the past, academics have used robotics to teach design, controls, physics, mathematics, mechatronics, and programming so the opportunities are endless. In addition, since robotics is taught in so many different ways with no standardized curriculum, this is one way to unify the community around best practices. By having a shared repository online, users will be encouraged to not only consume content but also contribute their innovations.
This multi-pronged approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in STEM technology will meet people where they are. Through a repository of social media posts, videos, lectures, assignments, labs, code, workshops, and curricula, it lowers the barrier for educators and users. By documenting and disseminating the use of open-source platforms for research, it will illustrate to academics that it is not necessary to raise massive amounts of money, purchase expensive hardware or get patents to make an impact.
In conclusion, my work as an open hardware trailblazer fellow will illustrate to universities and academics that there is more than one way to produce and share intellectual property. It will cause a paradigm shift that illustrates that there is just as much intellectual merit in producing open source hardware as there is in getting patents or publishing in journals, conferences, or technical magazines. In addition, using open source hardware will produce greater visibility for universities as well as yield broader impacts for the STEM community. By exploiting these non-traditional avenues for disseminated projects, it will enable a more diverse segment of the population to engage. In this way, open source hardware creates more diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion in STEM. For example, individuals who cannot afford a college education, will now benefit from some of the knowledge garnered from engaging in open source hardware projects that would have previously only been accessible to the university community. It is my hope that by promoting and using STEM to make connections with various communities and bring more people to STEM, we will change the face of STEM and diversify the profession.