Robotics inventor Danielle Boyer (@danielleboyer), 22 and from the Ojibwe tribe in upper Michigan, uses her expertise to make technology education accessible and safe for Indigenous youth. Four years ago, she started The Steam Connection, a robotics organization aimed at providing an educational environment for young girls and Indigenous people.
“If people want to make change, I recommend that they start with what they know and that they begin within their own community,” Danielle says. “When we create solutions for communities that we don’t understand, they’re not going to work.”
Danielle first became interested in robotics when she was 10. However, educational programs were not affordable within her community growing up. “There are a lot of inequities in education, but there are a lot of things that we can do about it to help our communities,” she says.
Robotics allows Danielle’s ideas to come to life. She sees the field as an outlet for problem-solving — if there’s an issue in the world that needs to be addressed, a robot could be created to offer a solution.
“Being able to hold something in your hand that you created, that talks to you and lights up and looks at you and drives towards you, I think that that is the coolest thing about robotics — being able to hold that idea, through engineering, in your hand,” Danielle explains.
The first robot Danielle created was Every Kid Gets a Robot (EKGR), a remote-controlled car made from recycled plastic. Through the Steam Connection, Danielle has distributed over 8,000 of these robots for children to assemble and then control through an app.
“Every Kid Gets a Robot came from the overall goal and mission to provide accessible, technical education to every, overall BIPOC youths, and more specifically Indigenous youths,” she says.
One of Danielle’s more recent inventions is SkoBots, which she created alongside her mentors. An Indigenous-language-learning robot, SkoBots senses motion and speaks Indigenous languages. Danielle explains that in Indigenous communities, languages are at risk. SkoBots offer a solution to this risk, as it is capable of learning and teaching language in an intelligent way. They’re designed to look cute, so kids can wear them on their shoulders and interact with them.
Danielle explains that Indigenous communities don’t have accessible, culturally representative technical education. “It makes it very difficult for us to get into tech careers or advocate for ourselves within tech, which is now integrated into everything in our lives,” she says. “And so I think accessible robotics provides an opportunity to fill that gap for Indigenous youths so that our voices can be heard.”
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