Mothers of Invention

Mothers of Invention Rock the Maker Movement

Becky Stern

Maker Faire celebrates and inspires the next generation of women inventors, maker movement leaders and mothers of invention.

With record attendance at Maker Faire New York this week and Maker Faires spreading faster than Moore’s law around the globe, a growing number of women are taking the main stage. These women are rocking the events, sharing their inventions with the world and inspiring others to follow suit.

Ten years in, it’s clear that the Maker Movement offers women and girls with an interest in technology a safe space to explore their inner nerd and prove to the masses that they can be every bit as inventive as guys.

At Maker Faire New York, meet four mothers of invention who are stealing the show.

Bethany Koby

Bethany Koby

Bethany Koby is a mom, designer and co-founder of Technology Will Save Us, a company that makes DIY gadget kits that offer children, families and educators new opportunities to learn and create using technology.

Often, the perception of young people is that “technology is just a screen,” Koby said in an interview at Maker Faire Bay Area earlier this year. “But the world of tech is so much bigger than a screen.”

Koby’s goal: to help children use technology to become creators instead of just consumers.

When someone has the opportunity to make something using tech tools, they not only learn through the process, they also get jazzed about the process of creating. This changes their relationship to the object as well as to others involved in the process.

They get hooked. Or, as Koby puts it, they go from “zero to maker.”

Technology Will Save Us kits are designed based on teen input and reflect the interests of kids, including such subjects as gaming, cycling and music.

For Koby, the 12-year-old mentality is always top of mind.

“We don’t want to put a green circuit board in front of a 12-year-old girl and say, ’Here. Get excited about programming. Get excited about sensors,’” she said.

Instead, Koby gives that 12-year-old girl the opportunity to create something “awesome” — something versatile or something she can wear. Whatever it is, it should be something that will make her want to create again.

“Because we really do want to inspire a generation,” said Koby.

Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir refused to accept that electronic circuits, what she calls “the building blocks of our time,” were available only to experts, so this engineer, inventor and interactive artist did something to change that. She developed littleBits, an open source system of pre-assembled, modular circuits that snap together with magnets to bring the power of invention to the masses.

“My goal is to democratize the hardware Industry, to revolutionize it and make it accessible,” said Bdeir this month in the Forbes Middle East cover story interview.

As a result, users don’t need to be engineers, nor do they need experience with programming, wiring or soldering. Instead of spending time trying to figure out and build circuits, they can spend time using circuits to create virtually anything.

In addition to providing modules with lights, sounds, motors and sensors, Bdeir informed MakerFaire 2014 participants that Arduino software was being added to the mix to enable users to create even more complex devices. This year at New York MakerCon, she introduced the bitLab, an app store for hardware.

To date, littleBits has been used to create such things as remote-controlled robots, musical instruments and even an animatronic hand that plays rock-paper-scissors.

Additionally, just this year, two presenters at TEDWomen 2015 shared their own litteBit-based inventions.

Inventor Christina Mercando used littleBits to prototype a smart ring that connects to the Internet and shares information with its wearer, such as when an important call is coming through or when a meeting is about to begin. Guitarist Kaki King created a multimedia show by using a littleBits synth kit to turn her guitar into a display surface for video projection.

Bdeir, who has a master’s degree from the MIT Media Lab and has taught graduate classes at NYU and Parsons, also gives her time to teach non-engineers — particularly young girls — about science and technology.

“We want to encourage a world of creators, of inventors, of contributors,” said Bdeir.

Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk Wipprecht says the world of fashion is missing one important detail: microcontrollers.

To combat this oversight, the designer has combined fashion, art and technology to create a new brand of robotic couture. In the fashion world, Anouk is breaking new ground for stylish, robotic wearable tech. She has created smart dresses and designs with Intel, Audi and others, all within the last few years.

Her work regularly appears in Make magazine, the ultimate monthly page turner documenting the maker revulsion. She is slated to grace the November cover of MAKE magazine, the e-zine gospel for all things maker.

Intrigued by the idea of incorporating artificial intelligence into clothing, Wipprecht designs and engineers dresses that are not only visually stunning, but serve the wearer in unexpected ways.

There’s the brainwave-monitoring Synapse Dress, which senses and communicates the emotional state of the wearer; Smoke Dress, which emits artificial smoke when sensors detect someone moving into the wearer’s personal space; and Intimacy 2.0 which becomes more or less opaque based on bio feedback from the wearer.

Wipprecht created a mind-blowing electrical storm with her Faraday Dress at Bay Area Maker Faire 2014, and wowed crowds at CES 2015 with her spectacular Spider Dress, featuring animatronic limbs that respond to the wearer’s biometrics, as well as external stimuli, to visually communicate the wearer’s emotional state.

She recently completed a project for automaker Audio, where she explored the future intersection of smart car and smart fashion.

Many of her creations are powered by Intel Edison, a microcontroller the size of a postage stamp that feature wireless connectivity for interacting with other devices.

As Wipprecht said in a recent Maker Faire presentation, “My dresses have microcontroller heartbeats and eat batteries for dinner.”

Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Want to keep up with the latest in the world of wearable tech? Be sure to check out the live YouTube show, Wearable Electronics with Becky Stern.

Stern is Director of Wearable Electronics with Adafruit, an open-source hardware company that designs and sells electronic products and accessories. It also produces educational resources, including Stern’s weekly vlogs.

Stern, who has a degree in design and technology from Parsons, combines textiles with electronics to create unique and cool wearables. She then shares do-it-yourself tutorials for budding makers who want to replicate her design or use her project as a starting point for something uniquely theirs.

“Ideas for new wearables can come from concepts like protection, expression, mischief, curiosity, observation and activism,” Stern said in a recent iQ article.

“[These wearables] are meant to inspire others to learn a new skill, such as programming or sewing with conductive thread. If you want one, you’ve got to build it yourself.”

A sampling of the company’s projects includes smartphone mittens, a NeoGeo watch (with GPS module), a finger-drumming glove (that sounds like a synthesizer) and the imaginative, if silly, “compubody” sock (a sweater that fits you and your laptop, offering privacy and warmth on a cold day).

In a recent interview, Stern said her goal is to teach people how to harness the power of technology to create unique wearables.

“It makes me really happy to hear stories of parents making light-up princess tiaras with their daughters, who will grow up with the confidence to make technology of their own,” she said.

With role models like these…

With powerhouse women sharing their ideas, inspiration and inventions with the world, the future looks bright for the next generation of female makers. And as Wipprecht puts it, “There’s nothing like being a young girl with your eyes wide open, mind filled with questions and the desire to find answers.”

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