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20 Inspiring Women (and Girls) Changing the World of Robotics

Robotics is defined as the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots. Whether it’s self-driving cars, assistants for household chores or medical devices that improve healthcare outcomes, robots are changing our everyday life.

The following women are leaders in the robotics field. These females are revolutionizing the way we view and use robots, and inspiring young girls around the world to join them.

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal

As Founder and Chief Scientist of Jibo, Inc., Dr. Breazeal focuses on intelligent personal robots that interact and communicate with people. Lately, she has been working on the impact that social robots can have on helping people of all ages to achieve personal goals and contribute to quality of life.

The world’s first family robot, Jibo, is designed to help busy families communicate, coordinate, and connect with one another with greater ease and delight. He is powered by voice recognition technology, so he remembers people and builds relationships with everyone he meets.  

Dr. Fei-Fei Li

Computer vision expert and Director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence and Vision Lab, Dr. Fei-Fei Li is working towards training computers in image recognition. In a 2015 TED talk, Li gave examples of how smart vision can greatly improve our already advanced machines and computers.

“We have prototype cars that can drive by themselves, but without smart vision, they cannot tell the difference between a crumpled up paper bag on the road, which can be run over, and a rock of that size, which should be avoided. Security cameras are everywhere, but they do not alert us when a child is drowning in a swimming pool.”

Marita Cheng

Honored as Young Australian of the Year in 2012, Marita Cheng is an entrepreneur on a mission to inspire students to pursue engineering. In 2008, she launched Robogals. Robogals is a student-run global organization with the mission to inspire, engage, and empower young women in engineering and related fields.

She is currently working on 2Mar Robotics, which are robots that assist in our everyday lives. These include robotic arms that attach to wheelchairs for people with disabilities and telepresence robots that allow more human-like communication across distances.

Julie Schoenfeld

In 2014 Julie Schoenfeld founded Strobe, Inc, a manufacturing LiDAR technology company focused on the tech that develops laser-imaging for self-driving cars.This technology is critical to the success of automation because LiDAR creates a 3D map of the vehicle’s operating environment, allowing the car to “see” far better than a human can.

Schoenfeld recently sold her company to GM, and is continuing her work on LiDAR technology and its uses.

Melonee Wise

For the past 17 years, Melonee Wise has been designing, building and programming robotic hardware. Melonee is the CEO of Fetch Robotics, a company that provides reliable and safe collaborative Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) for two commercial applications: material handling and data collection.

She has developed algorithms, libraries, and hardware for an autonomous boat, car, personal robot platforms, and more.

Louise Poubel

Louise Poubel is a software engineer at Open Source Robotics Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open software and hardware for use in robotics research, education, and product development. She is also working with Gazebo, a robot simulator, on GUI (graphical user interface) tools.

Louise believes that machines are here to make life easier for everyone around the world, and she would know it! She grew up in Brazil, did her undergrad in Japan, and received her master’s in robotics in Europe!

Tessa Lau

CTO and Chief Robot Whisperer at Savioke, Tessa Lau was honored as 2017’s Silicon Valley Woman of Influence. Savioke is a company committed to improving people’s lives by creating and deploying simple, sophisticated, and friendly service robots.

Tessa’s research is focused on the area of intelligent user interfaces: combining techniques from artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction to create systems that enhance human productivity and creativity.

Dr. Jeannette Bohg

Assistant Professor of Robotics at Stanford University, Dr. Jeannette Bohg’s research focuses on perception for autonomous robotic manipulation and grasping. She is also a guest researcher for the Autonomous Motion Department of MPI and was recently included in Robohub’s annual list of “25 women in robotics you need to know about.”

Jeannette is interested in developing methods that are goal-directed, real-time, and multi-modal such that they can provide meaningful feedback for execution and learning.

Dr. Maria Chiara Carrozza

Dr. Maria Chiara Carrozza is an engineer and member of the Italian Parliament. Her research interests are wearable robotics, cybernetic hands, and robotic devices for upper and lower limb functional replacement. As the Minister of Education, she’s aiming to bring dignity and vision back to the whole world of education.

“My scientific activity has aimed at improving the conditions for the weakest social categories: rehabilitation bioengineering, artificial cybernetic hands, systems for the recovery and restoration of sensory-motor skills, and sensorized artificial skin.”

Dr. Carrozza currently has 15 national and international patents.

Dr. Catherine Ball

Entrepreneur and drone expert Dr. Catherine Ball believes that teaching girls about science and technology is important and is the critical gap to equality in how we view girls and how we think about ourselves as humanity. She co-founded She Flies with Dr. Karen Joyce. She Flies is a camp for women and girls in Australia who are interested in learning to fly and operate drones.

“I’m most passionate about projects where technology meets humanitarian and environmental issues; from protecting our planet, through helping people in need. Drones are becoming more prevalent across our day to day lives, and I would like to help people feel more confident with this technology.”

Dr. Wendy Ju

Dr. Wendy Ju is an Assistant professor of Information Science at Cornell Tech and also an author. From 1999 to 2000, she worked on a project called CounterActive, which was the predecessor to Microsoft’s “kitchen of the future” console.  CounterActive is a kitchen counter that provides instructions and pictures to show people how to cook a variety of recipes. It also has the capability to play music, movies, and help videos on demand.

Dr. Angelica Lim

Assistant professor of Professional Practice in Computing Science at Simon Fraser University and A.I. roboticist Dr. Angelica Lim focuses her research on making robots more compassionate. Her work has included a search and rescue robot called Caprica, a robot that speaks and gestures with emotion called NAO, and a robot that recognizes emotion in dynamics.

“The ultimate goal is not necessarily to create robots that can fall in love or fulfill all our human emotional needs, but to build machines that can interact with us in a more human way, rather than requiring us to behave more like machines,” Lim explains.

Erin Rapacki

Erin Rapacki, aka the Robot Diva, has worked in robotics for 10 years in various positions including business, research, and marketing roles. She currently works at Machine Inbound in product strategy consulting and marketing. Rapacki takes a vested interest in finding ways to catalyze the robotics market by identifying unique value propositions for new robotic products, and by creating community and cooperation between companies and thought leaders.

Understanding industrial automation and robotics are essential to creating an operationally efficient work environment. I promote that tomorrow’s workforce is educated in design thinking and technology.”

Carol E. Reiley

Carol Reiley is the co-Founder and President of Drive.ai, an artificial intelligence self-driving vehicle startup. Her research interests include developing intelligent robotic systems that can aid humans in performing skillful tasks more effectively and evaluating performance in dextrous tool manipulation. Reiley’s previous work includes underwater and industrial robots at Santa Clara University, space satellites at Lockheed Martin, people detection at GE Research and clinical development engineering at Intuitive Surgical.

Hanna Wallach

Hanna Wallach is Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research NYC and Adjunct Associate Professor at UMass Amherst. Wallach’s research is in the interdisciplinary field of computational social science. She collaborates with political scientists, sociologists, journalists, and others to understand how organizations function by analyzing publicly available interaction data, including email networks, document collections, press releases, meeting transcripts, and news articles.

“I am committed to increasing diversity and have worked for over a decade to address the underrepresentation of women in computing. To this end, I’ve co-founded several organizations, including the annual Women in Machine Learning Workshop and two organizations—the Debian Women Project and the GNOME Outreach Program for Women—that focus on increasing women’s participation in free and open source software development.”

Dr. Rosalie Wang

Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at University of Toronto Dr. Rosalie Wang’s focus is on developing and clinically evaluating intelligent systems for rehabilitation to enhance the quality of life for older adults. Her projects include: developing a posture and upper limb position monitoring tool, developign Smart Wheelchairs for Assessment and Training of older adults (SWAT), developing and clinically evaluating personal robots in a robot-smart home platform to support aging-in-place, and more.

Linda Pouliot

Linda Pouliot is the Co-Founder/CEO of Dishcraft Robotics, a company that builds and designs robots for commercial kitchens. In 2004, Pouliot co-founded Neato Robotics with the idea that robots can perform household chores as intelligently as humans.

Robotics are Linda’s passion. She champions empowerment for all, whether it’s helping young professionals achieve their own goals through mentorship and advocacy, by creating highly functioning, open and flexible teams and work environments to see projects through to completion, or in developing technologies, and appreciation for technologies, that empower the future!”

Gabby Frierson

12-year-old Gabby Frierson is on a mission to inspire young girls to get interested in STEM. She has created her own YouTube channel, RoboGabby, where she gives tutorials on VEX IQ, Python, ROBOTC, Robot Virtual Worlds, and more. Frierson’s love for STEM started at the young age of 8, when her software engineer father taught her to program using Python.

“I constantly asked my parents why was there not more girls involved in STEM, and my dad suggested that I try to inspire other girls to get involved. I wanted to inspire more than just girls in my hometown, so my dad suggested that I make videos and post them on YouTube.”

Nerdy Girls (Parker & Greta Mayer)

Sisters Parker and Greta Mayer are focused on reshaping the future of robotics competitions. Together, they created the non-profit organization Nerdy Girls to get more girls interested in robotics. “We are convinced that girls aren’t going into tech because it’s generally not on their radar, they don’t see other girls going into tech, and there’s no girl culture to support it.”

The Nerdy Girls program is designed to feel like a real-life video game with different levels of difficulty. Once a girl levels up, she will work her way through more complicated robot kits until she is eventually programming her own robots. They also have scheduled meetups in secret locations every Friday.

Dr. Anjali Jaiprakash

Anjali Jaiprakash is a robobiologist working to develop medical devices that translate robotic vision into affordable systems that can be used to improve healthcare outcomes. She is working as the Advance QLD Research Fellow at the Medical and Healthcare Robotics Group at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Robotic Vision.

“Technology is constantly redefining how we learn, play, and interact with this beautiful world around us, but also poses challenges in a way that we never imagined,” Dr Jaiprakash said.

Images: Courtesy of Parker & Greta Mayer, Image Credit: Engineers Australia, Courtesy of Dr. Catherine Ball