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It is a woman's world

 “Technology solves problems, it makes life easier and it is a great way to become creative”, says Pinja, one of the participants in the Grlbotics vs Google project. She is 16 years old and she hasn’t decided yet what she wants to become when she grows up, but she is fascinated by robotic science when faced with the challenge to programme behaviour and skills in robots.
“What I find special in this project is the opportunity to collaborate with the Google team. I like challenges and I think that the future is in computer science and technology. I want to study technology and microeconomics” says Lena Gerdes, while pulling out of her bag a business card with her name on it. “Technology is such a big part of our generation’s life that we need to learn how to use it without fear. It also affects human interaction and the most important lesson I’ve learned in this project is how to work in a team”, adds another Grlbotics member, Marieke.
This is the second year for the Grlbotics and Google Zurich project. The participants are from the International School Winterthur (ISW) and Zurich International School (ZIS). The winners this year were the Zigzaggers from ZIS: Mikaela, Alex, Roos and Ema. The school teams were competing in programming a robot to move in a straight line, to turn left or right reading black borders with sensors (what counts is time and precision). Last year the task was not easier: create fighting sumo robots and programme them behavioural habits. Looking at the end results you might forget that robots have no brain to process a task, even the simplest one: “Bring me the cup of tea”. This is why they need literal tasks with exact and specific instructions. “Communicating with a robot means being creative without any limits and rules, it means asking lots of open questions, and finding an answer to why the robot does not respond to your commands,” says Jonathan who teaches social studies and technology at ISW and who is one of the driving forces behind this project. Three years ago his school won a contest “Googler for a day” and some boys and girls had the opportunity to visit Google and spend a whole day there, interacting with part of the Google Zurich team. What Jonathan noticed is that boys were showing their interest in technology without fear: they were asking the questions and offering ideas, while girls, on the other hand, were in a way held back. It made him think why would such smart and outgoing girls behave this way. That is how the school staff saw an opportunity. “Women are underrepresented in the engineering and computer science (CS) community and girlsoften have a negative stereotype of what CS is. By supporting aprogramme that is for girls only, Google sees an opportunity to engage and expose them to the possibilities by showing positive female role models. WE want to show that CS means being collaborative, social and working as part of a team, it is about creativity and innovation”, says Alison Cutler who has been working with Google Zurich for four years and leads Pre-university Education Outreach across Europe. 
This year the role models were Carolyn O’Brien, Mechatronic Engineer at VirtaMed AG, who talks about Robots teaching surgeons and Ana Soric, IT Program Manager, records management at UBS. They are representatives of “the real world robotics” people. Later on the girls had the chance to participate in a video-conference with one of the Munich Googlers, Damon Kohler, who talked about cloud robotics, an idea which may allow robots to offload compute-intensive tasks like image processing and voice recognition and download new skills instantly, matrix-style. For us humansthe possibility of acquiring new skills by connecting our heads to a computer network is still science fiction. Not so for robots. Imagine a robot that finds an object that it's never seen or used before—say, a plastic cup. The robot could simply send an image of the cup to the cloud and receive back the object’s name, a 3-D model, and instructions on how to use it, suggest the Google specialists. Robots cooking pancakes, folding towels, vacuum designing maps by calculating distance measurements will soon be parts of our every day life. The best part according to Damon Kohler is that designing robots to solve particular problems does not necessarily mean creating already known and logical features, where the robot has wheels and head. The girls now are really excited and most of all they understand there are no rules when designing a new robot or developing a programme. And if you still wonder what could be the connection between robotics and the Google searching machine here is what Alison told me:
“Google believes that all students should have the opportunity to become active creators of tomorrow's technology.  We have a diverse set of education efforts, through which we invest in the next generation of computer scientists and engineers. We support many programmes that expose youngsters to the concept of programming and engineering - robotics is a great place to start as programming a robot can show instant tangible results”.
Tsitaliya: What about the future of this project?
Alison:  Support for this project is through our RISE funding scheme: RISE stands for Roots in Science and Engineering. Awards are designed to promote and support Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and Computer Science (CS) education initiatives. We provide awards to organizations working with primary & secondary schools to provide enrichment programs in these fields with an emphasis on engaging under-represented groups in STEM. Read about the programme here
Tsitaliya Mircheva

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