This 22-year-old robotics inventor is on a mission to make technology more accessible to Indigenous youth.
Danielle Boyer, 22, is an Indigenous robotics inventor from the Ojibwe tribe. She started The Steam Connection with a mission to use robotics in order to make tech education accessible and safe for Indigenous youth.
DANIELLE BOYER: If people want to make change, I recommend that they start with what they know and that they begin within their own community. When we create solutions for communities that we don't understand, they're not going to work. So we need to be advocates for creating solutions by us for us. Boozho, hello. My name is Danielle Boyer. I'm Ojibwe from the Sioux tribe, which is in the upper Peninsula of Michigan. I'm 22 years old and I'm a youth robotics inventor.
I first got interested in robotics when I was 10 years old. My little sister Bree was really interested in robots, and science, and things like that. But in our community, we couldn't afford those programs. There are a lot of inequities in education but there's a lot of things that we can do about it to help our communities. I ended up founding my robotics organization for other girls and Indigenous peoples like me so that we could learn about STEM in a safe and loving space.
What I enjoy about robotics is being able to make my ideas come to life. That's really how I look at the world around me and how I solve problems is, like, I could make a robot for that. 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 is, like, the coolest thing about robotics is being able to hold that idea through engineering in your hand.
My first robot was Every Kid Gets A Robot, or EKGAR. It's a long name. Basically, it's a little remote control RC car. It's made out of recycled plastic, and the kids are able to assemble it, wire it, and then drive it around with an app on their phone. I've been able to distribute over 8,000 of these robots so far. 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. It's kind of like my mission and the robot kind of all wrapped into one.
So a couple of years ago, my mentors and I created a robot called SkoBot. And it's an Indigenous language learning robot that senses motion and speaks Indigenous languages. In our communities, our languages are at risk. My language, [? Ojibwe-Odawan, ?] is actually considered an endangered language. My mentors and I sought out to create a language learning robot that teaches and learns Indigenous languages in an intelligent way through cute robots that sit on your shoulder and are something that the kids can relate to, and decorate, and take home to their communities.
KEVIN: I met Danielle through this program called the Social Innovation Challenge about two years ago. I thought her ideas were really cool and the stuff she was working on. I think it's a pretty rare combination to be doing something so forward-thinking but directly positively impacting, you know, the community around her.
DANIELLE BOYER: Technical education and making it accessible and culturally representative matters a lot because in Indigenous communities, we don't have readily available access to it. It makes it very difficult for us to get into tech careers or to advocate for ourselves within tech, which is now integrated into everything in our lives. And so I think accessible robotics provides an opportunity to fill that gap for Indigenous youths so that our voices can be heard.
I've been able to see so many amazing results for my students. They've started their own nonprofits. They've founded their own art collectives. They've invented their own robots. They've been learning AI and designing things. And a lot of them are only in high school. And so seeing the results of that and the passion that the students have, I think that's a really beautiful thing.