Robotics inventor Danielle Boyer had a love of tinkering since she was a girl growing up in Michigan. But even as a youngster, she witnessed firsthand the lack of access to technology that would have enabled her to explore this passion. In high school, she was interested in joining the robotics team, but struggled to find the money required to participate in the costly club. But finances weren’t the only thing making her feel alienated.
“I found myself as the only Indigenous person and one of the few girls on the team,” she says. “I experienced severe bullying and felt like an outsider among my peers.”
It spurred her on. At 18, she created her own low-cost robot kits to help introduce kids like her to technology, the inspiration for which, she says, came from her own experience as an Anishinaabekwe (an Ojibwe woman) and enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
Today, Boyer is the founder and CEO of the tech education non-profit The STEAM Connection, which aims to bridge that divide she felt so acutely as a youth by addressing the ongoing marginalization, lack of representation, cultural barriers, and limited resources that too often hold Indigenous students back.
The Big Idea: Indigenous Robotics, a film presented by MIT Solve and made by the award-winning Redglass Pictures with support from HP, follows Boyer’s quest to scale her robot inventions and get them into the hands of Indigenous youth and other marginalized groups of students. Indigenous Robotics is one in a trio of short documentaries spotlighting three innovators who are brilliant, bold and united by the desire to use technology, science, and engineering to create radical change.