Computer Science, Education, Engineering, Robotics, STEM, Technology, Uncategorized

Everyone Can Learn to Code Well


Apple picture of WWDC 2016 Scholars 

This week I journeyed coast to coast from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco driven by the belief that everyone can learn to code well.

Culturally Responsive Humanoid Robotics for Girls

This week I presented our culturally responsive humanoid robotics research at the 5th Anniversary of the National Robotics Initiative for the Congressional Robotics Caucus.  Then I traveled to attend Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.  PBS News Hour interviewed me (see 6:20 mark) on their Facebook Live stream to hear how we are using culturally responsive pedagogy to teach underrepresented girls collaborative humanoid robot (, or co-robot), programming.  This week we began a series of seven one-week workshops for Latina and African American middle school girls in Phoenix and Milwaukee to teach them how to program humanoid robots and to use this technology to address issues important to them in their communities.  I believe everyone can learn to code and design well.

New Testament Academy Middle School Girls Learn to Program Humanoid Robots

WWDC and Swift Playgrounds on the iPad

This morning I saw Tim Cook lead the Apple WWDC Keynote at the Bill Graham Civic Center.  There was plenty of new technology announced but hearing about Swift Playgrounds got me the most excited.  Last year, we heard how Apple was going to make Swift Open Source.  I thought that move would help to make programming iOS and other Apple platform applications (watchOS, tvOS, macOS) more accessible since it would not require an Apple computer to write Swift software and apps.  But today’s announcement that programming Swift on iPads will be allowed for K-12 student learning purposes was phenomenal.  The Swift Playground in Xcode allows interactive coding that instantaneously show the results of a student’s code.  The new Swift Playgrounds for the iPad make a less expensive alternative to a MacBook or iMac and many schools offer access to iPads, even on a one-to-one iPad to student ratio.  It is difficult to explain the richness of Swift Playgrounds until you have tried it.  I have taught programming for many years in several languages and by far Swift, along with the Playgrounds, is not only my favorite but possibly the most powerful and has the most potential of new programming languages.  With Swift Playgrounds for the iPad, Apple believes, and I believe as well, that anyone and everyone can learn to program well.


The Design of Ethical Social Robots in the HEIR Lab

Our HEIR Lab students at Marquette consists of students from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences (Computer Science), and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD)

The mission of the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab is to research and develop humanoid robots that socially interact with humans in an ethical manner. At Marquette, the HEIR Lab is working to develop socially intelligent humanoid health coaches, culturally responsive humanoid robotics curriculum and a social robot that helps kids learn STEM.  Thanks to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we have been able to make great strides on understanding and developing this new technology.  This summer, the HEIR Lab has been invited to present our research at the Congressional Robotics Caucus in Washington D.C. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the U.S. National Robotics Initative.  We were chosen by NSF as an example project that is “accelerating the research and use of robots that work in close cooperation with humans”.

So why ethical robots and what does that mean?  We have all seen our share of sci-fi movies that portray humanoid robots as exceeding humans in their intelligence and subsequently develop a desire to take over the world.  “I, Robot”, “The Matrix”, and “The Terminator” sequels are examples of humanoid robot technology gone wild that force humans to struggle for their survival.  Recently, the White House announced the “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI)” series of workshops and an interagency working group to address these issues.  Our society, laws, and policies are not ready for autonomous drones, humanoids, and driverless cars.  What will be the impacts of these intelligent agents on the elderly, children, and the disenfranchised?  There will even be an impact on healthcare as AI is used to learn how to diagnose and treat patients.   The challenges and the risks need to be mitigated by making sure the rights and dignity of every global human citizen are considered, valued, and respected.  These are the things we are seeking to address in the HEIR Lab as we develop AI and robotics technology to improve people’s lives.

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and the John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair and founding Director of the Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab at Marquette University.  He is currently the Principal Investigator on a NSF National Robotics Inititiative funded project and an NSF Innovation Corps for Learn
ing funded project.


Why I’m Still Wearing My Apple Watch One Year Later

I didn’t realize that it’s been a year since I had an Apple Watch until I saw a news headline about it.  Since I wrote more than one blog post a year ago about it, I thought I should do a quick follow-up on what I think about it after more than 365 days of having one.  I like it very much and use it practically every day.  Here’s why:

Excellent Daily Time and “More” Piece

I really enjoy being able to quickly look at my watch to not only see the time but also the current weather, the forecast, my physical activity levels and more just at a quick glance.  I can also keep track of my watches battey levels, although the battery normally easily makes it past a day.  I still regulary charge it at night.  On occassion, my wife will forget her watch and ask to wear mine.  When that happens, I recall how much I don’t like having to dig in my pocket to check the weather and other quick information that I usually just have to raise my wrist for.

Siri on My Wrist is Great…when it works!

The other day, a friend asked me about my Apple Watch.  They wanted to get one but wanted to wait until version 2.  When I talked to them about how I liked being able to use Siri with it, they were amazed.  It surprized me to know that many people don’t realize that you can raise your wrist, talk into the Apple Watch, and it will translate your voice into text in order to perform the Siri command.  I can request Siri to make phone calls, create reminders, schedule meetings, and check on basketball scores.  I probably use it the most to send texts to my family using my voice when my hands are full by just saying “Tell Honey that I’m coming home soon”.  This works, 99% of the time.  It’s a little frustrating when I used to raise my wrist and Siri wouldn’t start up or wouldn’t be able to send my text.  I think someone must have been paying attention to my comments, because an Apple WatchOS update fixed the problem of trying to send a text but then having to physically press a button to send it. Now, you only have to press a button if you DON’T want to send it.  Bravo, Apple!

It Keeps on Tracking my Fitness…even when I don’t 

Well, my Apple Watch, and the little “trainer” inside of it, kept going back and forth on how high I should set my physical activity goals.  Sadly, to be honest, I haven’t been as attentive to it as I should be.  It still gives me reminders to stand up and records how many calories I’ve burned or steps I’ve walked.  When I do workout, I like being able to launch the workout app with my voice and keep more detailed account of my workout.  I guess I wish I had a personal trainer that came with the watch, but that’s out of Apple’s domain.

I’ve Worn This Watch Longer Than Any Other Wearable except…

Besides my Citizen Eco-Drive watch (that has never needed a watch battery since my wife gave it to me years ago), I’ve probably worn this watch longer than any other wearable.  Well, maybe my Timex Iron Man watch I wore just as long but I would usually switch out watches when I wanted a “dress” watch versus a “sports” watch.  But with my entry level Apple Watch, I usually just change bands if I want to look a little more professional but I equally wear it during “dress” situations and sports activities.  Keep in mind, I’ve owned the Pebble Watch, Nike Fuel Band, and even a Garmin golf watch.  But none of those wearables have kept me wearing them as long as I’ve worned my Apple Watch.

The “Killer Apps” that Do and Don’t Exist

When I’m traveling, the “killer app” for me is being able to have my airplane ticket on my wrist instead of having to carry around a paper ticket or even pull out my smartphone.  It’s always worked even though sometimes I find that I am challenged to turn my arm and wrist to fit under the scanner.  Since there really is no standard scanner for plane ticket bar codes.  Some are flat and I have to turn my wrist all the way down.  Some scanners are hanging and I have to figure out how far away I have to hold my Apple Watch away before it will successfully scan.  Along with the airplane ticket bar codes, the Apple Pay using my Apple Watch is another “killer app”.  And when a place, like Starbucks, doesn’t take Apple Pay, I can still use Apple Wallet to let them scan my Starbucks card.    I just discovered that I can put my Walgreen’s Balance Rewards card in my Apple Wallet and use it instead of having to punch in my telephone number before I make a purchase.  I guess it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be able to withdraw cash from an ATM with my watch too.  With that said, I usually don’t use many third party apps because they are too slow.  Hurray for Apple for making developers (like me) make all apps native apps, or apps that run on the Apple Watch itself and not subject to having to constantly transmit data between the phone and the watch.

Checking Texts and Mail in Meetings

Isn’t annoying when people check their phones for text and mail messsages during meetings?  For me, I can easily receive my messages during meetings and subtly respond to them.  

Apple Watch Bands are More Interchangeable than We Knew

Just last week, someone just pointed out that the Apple Watch Sport bands are interchangeable with the Apple Watch bands (the more expensive version).  I won’t get into that except to say I think there was some confusion about this.  Not a deal breaker but just good to know.

Apple Watch Meets Detective Tracy?

Well, the rumors are that the Apple Watch in the near future will be able to connect to cellular networks without having to have the iPhone near.  We have iPhone calls and FaceTime Audio on the Apple Watch.  So, if you every read the Dick Tracy comic strip, you know that the next step must be FaceTime Video on the Apple Watch.  Won’t that be grand?

About the Author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., likes Apple gear, blogs about innovation, technology, and social justice and designs iOS Swift apps.  In his real job, he works with students to create socially intelligent humanoid robots that help kids learn STEM and improve their health. 


What Would Dr. King Do (WWDKD) to Broaden Participation in Science, Engineering and Computing?

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In January 2008, as a Computer Science Professor at Spelman College and Founder of the HBCU ARTSI Alliance for broadening participation in computing,  I gave a keynote speech at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.  Here is my speech with words to honor Dr. King and demonstrate what his teaching means for equity and diversity in technology today.  My speech could be updated to incorporate the Black Lives Matter movement and new technology but I believe the essence of these words ring true today.

If Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, how would he evaluate where our nation’s African Americans are in their lives? Depending on who you talk to African Americans have made tremendous strides in the areas of education, government, and industry. However, at the same time we face challenges still in the areas of poverty, disease, incarceration, families, and education. The lynchings that occurred in the twentieth century and were chronicled in the recent Denzel Washington movie, the Great Debaters, occur less frequently and as one researcher has stated may occur still in prisons today where African Americans make up an disproportionate percentage of occupants. Because of Dr. King and others who fought for Civil Rights in America, we no longer have the Jim Crow south. Bus boycotts and restaurant sit-ins are no longer required to bring attention to social injustices. Marches on Washington D.C. are not required to bring about laws to insure the right to vote although some may dispute that in some states African Americans need more encouragement to exercise the basic right to vote. Thousands of African Americans lose their right to vote by becoming incarcerated in an “injustice” system that provides longer than needed prison sentences and a prison industry that fuels local economies and “feeds” on our men and women.

Many would point to new levels of wealth and professional status of African Americans and say that justice and fairness in economic settings have been achieved. However we see that African Americans although we make up 13% of the population only represent 7% in high tech jobs and positions. One would ask, why is that? As the Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College, points out in her book,”Can We Talk About Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation” we are moving back to an era of segregated schools with minority schools being less equipped with technology and facilities than affluent, predominately white schools have. We see many historically black colleges lack the teaching and research facilities needed to prepare science students for the new high tech industries being created and to compete in a globally flat economic world.

In the past, if a group that was in power and privileged wanted to discriminate against someone they just had to look at the color of their skin, the ghetto they lived in, or their lack of education. In today’s society, discrimination can take the form of recognizing an “ethnic” name of a child, or looking at their lack of educational pedigree. The disparaties today in education and industry are created not by the old forms of discrimination but the new forms of bias based on a more sophisticated system of educational status, technical knowledge and pedigree. However, with the Civil Rights that Dr. King and others have fought for comes a new “Civil Responsibility”. No longer can we blame outright racism and we can barely point the finger at subtle racism and bias. Today, people can say, well you didn’t graduate from the “right college” or you don’t know and understand technology. We can not blame others if we lack that knowledge just was we can not blame others and violate the law and have to go to prison. And to a large degree we can not blame others if we do not receive a college degree or a graduate degree and lack the necessary qualifications, knowledge, and experience to obtain a high-paying job. Or we can not blame others if we do not take the initiative and don’t seek the know how to create technology, license it, and form a company.

We live in an age of insurmountable technical opportunities today. Even in low-income areas, families own enough computing power in an X-Box, Nintendo Wii, or Playstation that could have easily taken our astronauts to the moon while running multi-billion dollar companies in the 1960s when you look at the speed of the CPUs, the amount RAM, and hard disk storage space today’s gaming devices have compared to the vacuum tube mainframe computers available during the civil rights era. Even in low-income families who own a cell phone, the global communication capabilities that we have in the palm of our hand could have provided telecommunications that put efforts to communicate nationally and internationally in the early 1900’s to shame. The music and video devices a high school student has today represents technology that can contain libraries of educational material to fill up libraries of the past. Our ancestors fought even for the right to learn to read as slaves and former slaves yet our students of today would rather fill their minds with sometimes derogatory music (not my Spelman students) using an iPod rather than using it to fill their minds with the thousand of educational podCasts or downloadable books that are available today. For a few hundred dollars, a person today can buy a terabyte of information and data storage. This would easily contain the data and information that a company like IBM possessed in all of its mainframe computers that ran its company just 20 years ago.

Why is it that any person, including women and African Americans, who are users of this superior computing, telecommunication, internet, and electromechanical technology able to use this technology to improve their own economic and job condition? Why is it that you look at jobs and companies today in the high tech industry you see so few African Americans and women in engineering positions?

In order to answer that question, Iʼd like to share a couple interesting experiences I had this year. This summer I had the unique privilege to meet and talk to some of our leaders in the information technology industry, Serge Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google and Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. I was invited to the Google Faculty Summit and during the question and answer session I asked Serge this question: “How can a company, such as Google, say that diversity is important and needed, if it is already successful without a lot of diversity?”. He acknowledged that Google was not where they should be in the areas of hiring women and African Americans in engineering. He said that they realized from the beginning that if they did not make a concerted effort they were in danger of not having a diverse company because when they started their company, they had around 20 white, males. If you visit the main campus you will see it has not changed much although Google is making some efforts to recruit women and African Americans to Google. However, if you ever talk to a student that has been interviewed by Google, they would tell you that the technical questions that are asked can be extremely challenging, even to a college professor, and its easy to see why African Americans and women can be excluded legally. I heard one of our HBCU professors recall how their students weren’t hired for permanent positions because it was reported that they weren’t “Googly” enough.

Apple is a supporter and sponsor of our Spelman College all-women, African American, Robocup robotics team, the SpelBots and through that support also supports our ARTSI Alliance which we will talk about in our next session. Our SpelBots were invited this past November to do a presentation at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute. While we were in the Bay area we got to visit Apple. This was the second time during one of my visits to Apple someone pointed out Steve Jobs walking in the cafeteria during lunch. The first time, out of respect to my host, I resisted the urge to try to meet Steve. The second time was too much of a temptation for me to resist. But this second time, my host pointed out that he was walking with Jony Ives. Does anyone know who he is? I didn’t either. But my host explained that Jony Ives was his right hand man industrial designer who designed some little known devices called iPods, iMacs, and iPhones. So I used a strategy that I had learned from a buddy when he was trying to meet Tiger Woods. If you have ever been at a golf tournament with Tiger playing it’s almost impossible to get his autograph. But my buddy decided he would try to go talk to and get the autograph of his Caddy, Steve Williams. And before you know it, Tiger came up and granted the autograph. So I decided to use the same strategy and went up to Jony Ives and told him how much I admired his work (honestly, who doesn’t admire his work with the iPhone?). Then, as I strategically hoped, Steve Jobs came up to me. I told him I was telling Jony how much I admired his work. I told him I was visiting Apple because Apple supported our robotics team at Spelman College in Atlanta, a historically black college for women. Steve asked me, “Do you have engineering there?”. I explained to him that we have a dual engineering program with universities such as Georgia Tech and University of Michigan. He said, “Can you help us get black engineers? You know how many he have?”. Since Apple is one of our supporters I won’t say his answer out loud but in so many short but intense words Steve let me know that there was much room for improvement. He then gave me his email address and told me to let him know if I had any ideas. One thing that I have found with Apple is that once they learned about our robotics team, they sought us out to get to know about our students, supported us, and sought to build genuine academic-industry relationships with our faculty and students and continue to do so. I’m proud to say that one of our Spelman students, the captain of our SpelBots team will be working with them this summer. This to me is very positive example of how a company can stem the tide against subtle racism and discrimination in the high tech industry. Companies such as Apple, Seagate, and iRobot, are supporting our efforts to broaden participation in computing in our new ARTSI alliance we are announcing today.

So what lessons can we learn from Dr. King in this new age of disparity in the high tech age. How did Dr. King unite African Americans and many white americans to fight for Civil Rights of African American individuals? How can we use those same lessons to fight for a broader participation of African Americans in the high tech age of information and robotics. To determine this, I’d like to turn our attention to Dr. King’s involvement in the Birmingham bus boycott and his non-violent campaign that is spoken about in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Dr. King was a young Baptist minister who first acknowledged his call to the ministry while he was a student at Morehouse College. He went to a seminary in Ohio and then went on to earn his doctorate from Boston University. In those days, seminaries in the south did not welcome blacks to study about Moses or Jesus in their classrooms. It’s ironic that those who taught about the Greatest Lover of Mankind that ever lived would not extend that same love to their own Christian brother.

Dr. King and his wife Coretta accepted a call to serve at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Jim Crow Montgomery, Alabama. It was there on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (for whom our youngest daughter is named after) decided not to move to the back of the bus in the reserved “white” section. From there E.D. Nixon along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy planned The Montgomery Bus Boycott that was designed to end segregated busing.

Dr. King later moved to Atlanta where his Civil Rights leadership continued. In 1963, he led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to protest Jim Crow in Birmingham. King writes, “In the entire country, there was no place to compare with Birmingham. The largest industrial city in the South, Birmingham…was a community in which human rights had been trampled on for so long that fear and oppression were as thick in its atmosphere as the smog from its factories… The challenge to nonviolent direct action could not have been staged in a more appropriate arena.

Eight of the local white ministers in Birmingham wrote to Dr. King calling for an end to the demonstrations. They called his actions “unwise and untimely”. Dr. King wrote a letter to them explaining what his actions were and why they were needed.

From the Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King writes, “Non-violent direct action seeks to creates such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored”. In other words, Dr. King was saying, create tension for attention.

Dr. King outlined the four steps in a nonviolent campaign for justice and peace:

Step 1. Collect facts on injustice.

Step 2. Negotiate with those committing the injustice to see if it can be ended.

Step 3. Self-Purification, or self-examination to see if one is ready to endure the ramifications of taking direct action to end the injustice (e.g beating or prison).

Step 4. Direct Action to bring the injustice to everyone’s attention.

King wrote: “So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through the process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “are you able to accept the blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?”

King also wrote, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of PREJUDICE and RACISM to the majestic heights of UNDERSTANDING and BROTHERHOOD.” How does this apply in the absence of a Jim Crow system. I would say, today our problems in education and economics are often LOW EXPECTATIONS and LACK OF OPPORTUNITY. We should want to change Low expectations to MOTIVATION and RECOGNIZED POTENTIAL. We want to change lack of opportunity to the presence of opportunity in education and economics. The illegal injustices of yesterday have turned into the legal disparities of today. THE ILLEGAL INJUSTICES OF YESTERDAY HAVE TURNED INTO THE LEGAL DISPARITIES OF TODAY.

Dr. King went through the four steps of a nonviolent campaign in Birmingham. He and his colleagues reviewed the facts and it was obvious that there was injustice in Birmingham. They met with the elders of the city to see if the problem could be resolved. They had a workshop to decide if they could withstand beatings without hitting back or go to prison for what they believed in. Then they took the direct action…they didn’t ride another city bus until the boycott ended. Sound simple? Could you live without your main source of transportation, for most of us it’s a car? Or looking at the other struggles during the civil rights movement. Could you allow yourself to be punched and kicked just because you were a certain race? Have you ever been punched in the face? Kicked? Beaten? Put in Jail? Probably did not feel too good. What about the others in the rest of the south that lived, bled and died for the Civil Rights Movement and the end to legalized injustice. For many, the fight is not over. But the fight that we are taking on is a fight against in education and more specifically in computer science and engineering:

1. Lack of opportunities to learn cutting edge technology through educational and research opportunities,

2. Lack of interest, encouragement, and motivation, and

3. Lack of role models and mentors.

We live in a world dominated by technology and most in our community are technology consumers but not technology producers. We want to be part of the process to produce technology producers who will get graduate degrees in computer science and engineering and robotics and then educate and train others to prepare them for educational opportunities, industry opportunities, and entrepreneurship opportunities which lead to economic opportunities. Implicit in this process is the character development of a student who needs to learn character qualities of integrity, perseverance, knowledge, wisdom, and ingenuity to succeed a rigorous academic program. We want to encourage our students to dream technology dreams that can improve society. We want them to see the value of science and mathematics and how it applies to discovering new theories that can lead to new applications of those theories to improve the human condition. We want to expose them to research that will whet their appetite to study at a graduate school like Glenn Nickens who did a summer NSF REU you this past summer with Professor David Touretzky at Carnegie Mellon in robotics and is now at graduate school at Norfolk State University. After all, research is the contribution to knowledge. And technology is the application of knowledge to improve the human condition. This is what we are seeking to do with the ARTSI Alliance. Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact. ARTSI involves Education and Research in robotics centered around improving our society in the areas of healthcare, the arts, and entreprenuership.

So how can we use Dr. King’s model for a non-violent campaign to bring about social change in the area of technology education and economics?

Step 1: Collect facts about injustice, or disparities.

You see now we are not fighting prejudice as much as we are fighting low expectations. We are not fighting racism so much as we are fighting lack of opportunity. While our forefathers were fighting with MLK to combat prejudice and racism to lead to understanding and brotherhood, we can fight low expectations and lack of opportunity so that we can produce students with recognized potential and educational opportunity. How can a person learn about robotics if they do not have access to a robot and a robotics lab equipped with relevant software on their computers, wireless network, robotics curriculum, technical support, and a knowledgeable instructor? I don’t need to cite statistics for you and I to know that the average African American does not have access to this kind of learning and technology today.

Step 2: Negotiate.

We can seek to negotiate with companies, industry, and foundations as well as research centers to help us in providing the resources to make this happen. I’m happy to report that companies like Seagate, iRobot, and Apple are partnering with us in this effort. But to provide these opportunities at more of the over 100 HBCUs we need more companies and organizations to join in.

Step 3: Self-Purification

Self-purification means different things for different people:

  • Industry – realize talent can come from anywhere (like Spike Lee says) and educational pedigree is not necessarily the determining factor for success. Their are other indicators of success.
  • Faculty – We have to look at ourselves, and see if we can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I wasn’t initially trained to be a robotics expert. I had to use what all of us are born with, the ability to learn, to acquire new knowledge or invent new technology. Maybe to some of you I am a robotics expert but compared to half of this faculty in the ARTSI Alliance, I know very little although my area of expertise is in the area of artificial intelligence. Each of us may look at ourselves and see where we lack the expertise or the motivation to learn new things and make changes in this situation. But this is the self-purification process that our faculty have to face. But for most HBCU computer science faculty, robotics, for example is a new area. An even robotics faculty that know robotics only know a few areas in robotics extremely well. So it’s a team problem. We all have to work together. We all have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable as we go through the group learning process together.

Step 4: Direct Action

We need to take direct action. We can not be passive and expect a change in our country’s condition. This is not just a black-white issue. This is an issue of our countryʼs global economic survival. People, in our country, are our nation’s greatest resource. This human resource is going to waste if we do not invest in every aspect of human capital in our country including African Americans and women. The direct action our alliance is taking includes P.E.E.R. Team projects, Developing curriculum materials, training faculty in robotics, reaching out to our communities to expose them to robotics, creating innovative projects the involve using robots for healthcare, the arts, and entrepreneurship.

As a united community, we can help more African Americans to value and use computer science and engineering, in general, and robotics, specifically, as a means to contribute to knowledge (research), heal people (medicine), create inventions (arts and sciences), and generate wealth (economics). I confess, I am a dreamer…Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to be a dreamer. With the ARTSI Alliance we have some ambitious goals to increase the number of students who pursue computer science and robotics education and research training to improve society using robotics in healthcare, the arts, and entrepreneurship. But like Dr. Benjamin Mays, the former President of Morehouse College said, “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy of life lies in having no goal to reach.” I leave you with this last question: What Would Dr. King Do (WWDKD)?


Computer Science, Design Thinking, Education, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Robotics, STEM

Hologram Classes and Other Social Innovations from Latina Girls



Alondra, Diana, and Wendy’s Design Thinking poster for Hologram Classes for Social Innovation.

This past Fall, our middle school girls built low-cost robots we designed using Intel Galileo microcontrollers and also did some forward looking design thinking. One team of girls designed what they called, “Hologram Classes” complete with a working LED circuit and 3D model plastic prototype they made on their own (see picture above).  Their idea for their proposed invention was to create Hologram classes that would allow students to take classes from home that would be free, and wouldn’t require Bluetooth or Internet.  These girls believe this will be one way for more students from their community to graduate with bachelor degrees.

What a heartwarming breakthrough to see these girls believe that this was not only possible, but that they could begin to prototype the idea on their own.  Most of us would think that building a design that features holograms would not be possible for a Latina girl.  But that’s only because we have hidden biases that make us think that way.  Our five week session and this new one week session that was made possible by a grant from the Intel Foundation has given the tools for middle school girls to believe they they can help invent the future.  And more importantly they have a thirst for more STEM knowledge and demonstrated that they can “make” something to visualize their invention.


Papago Middle School Girls build and program low-cost robots from the HEIR Lab

In addition, these girls built low-cost robots that they programmed to operate autonomously using Intel Galileo arduinos, all in one week (see picture above). The low-cost robot kit that we designed for the students and this new one week curriculum was generously funded by the Intel Foundation.  Intel had provided me with Galileos for incorporation in my classes and they came in handy for this new design.  The robot design was completed by an African American student, Ronald Moore, from University of Pennsylvania that worked a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Marquette University HEIR Lab this past summer.  This robot design is informing our NSF I-Corps efforts to create low cost humanoid robots for girls and boys to teach STEM learning.

With the Intel Foundation funding, we were able to expand our efforts to include boys.  We ran two concurrent sessions: one with approximately twenty girls and the other with a group mixed with boys and girls all from a Hispanic background.  While we are still analyzing the data, the initial observations show that even some of the kids that are considered “at-risk” were able to successfully complete the workshop and some were motivated to continue learning.  We also observed that in some cases, in the mixed boy-girl group, the boys attempted to “take over” the robot building exercises, while the girls in that group stood back and just observed.  But in the girl-only group, the girl’s were actively involved.  However, some of the girls that had been in the five week program before the one week program, held their own quite nicely and demonstrated leadership and technical competency even in the mixed boy-girl group.  Hence, the Hologram Classes.


Dr. Andrew Williams, Robin Baskin McNulty, Dr. Kimberly Scott, Papago Principal Jeff Geyer, teachers and the Middle School girls at our NSF and Intel Foundation sponsored camp.

Our current culturally responsive humanoid robotics curriculum, both the five week and the one week programs, were co-designed with Dr. Kimberly Scott and her team at Arizona State University as part of our NSF National Robotics Initiative educational research effort and the additional funding from Intel.  Dr. Scott leads the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology at Arizona State University.  Our program coordinator, Robin Baskin McNulty, did an excellent job of coordinating the hiring of the teachers, near peer mentors, and instructors for the day to day operations for both of our workshops.  She has continued to provide encouragement and mentoring for these students in having them involved in Maker fairs and tours of places such as Intel.  Angelicque Tucker Blackmon continues to be an invaluable resource for our educational assessment of our curriculum which we hope to make available to the public.  We are excited that planning for culturally responsive humanoid robotics workshops are being planned with African American participants in the Milwaukee area.  Thanks to the National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative, I-Corps L, and Intel Foundation for making it possible for these boys and girls to become our next generation of technology social innovators.

About the author:

Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is Professor and John P. Raynor, S.J., Distinguished Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Marquette University and the Principal Investigator for NSF National Robotics Initiative funded program, Co-Robots for CompuGirls, and the NSF I-Corps L program searching for a repeatable and scalable business model for low-cost humanoid robots at the HEIR Lab.








“Mac iOS 1”: The iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard’s Melding of Mac OS X and iOS


My iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard using the Command Key + Tab to Select an Open App

My long awaited Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro finally came yesterday and after learning some new features, I realized the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard is just a precursor of a “blended” version of iOS and Mac OS X.  Before explaining what I mean, let me mention that I didn’t take the time to look at the directions and had a hard time figuring out how to put the Smart Keyboard on my iPad Pro and make it stand without looking at the pictures.  After looking at the diagrams in the directions, I saw that there are two configurations: one in which you use the keyboard and the other in which the keyboard is hidden away.  

I tested to see how strong the magnetic connection is between the iPad magnet and the Smart Keyboard magnet.  The connection is pretty strong but not strong enough to hold the Smart Keyboard up by itself.  The Smart Keyboard fell on the couch a couple times when I let it dangle from my iPad Pro to test the magnet strength.  That may explain why under close examination the Smart Keyboard had a slight tear and lump near the corner of the Smart Keyboard.  But just a drop on a soft couch couldn’t have done that.  Did I miss the imperfection when I unpacked the Keyboard?  I was delighted to see that one of our local Apple Retail stores had finally received a shipment of Smart Keyboards and they kindly replaced my slightly torn one.  Again, I was surprised because the material that makes up the Smart Keyboard seems very durable.  I have been happy to see how well the keys feel when I type and glad to see that I can put the Smart Keyboard on my lap and still use it successfully.

The biggest surprise and revelation came when I learned that by holding down the Command Key, a legend showing the Mac OS X shortcuts for the Apple apps appeared on the screen.  Not iOS shortcuts but Mac OS X shortcuts!  If you hold down the Command Key and hit the Tab Key, a view of all the open Apps shows on the screen and let’s you choose which one you want to go into.  Just like in Mac OS X!  These shortcuts do not appear in iOS when you are just using the iPad Pro as a tablet without the keyboard.  This is what I mean when I stated in the title that iOS and Mac OS X are beginning to be melded, or blended, together.  I really like it.  It’s more fun using my iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard than it is using my MacBook Air.  When I use my MacBook Air it feels like I’m working.  When I use my iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard it feels like I’m doing something I enjoy.  Maybe that will wear off later.  But for now, I’m enjoying the preview of the blended version of “Mac iOS 1”!

P.S.  Apple, can you please put in a Settings Option to enable me to map my Caps Lock Key to be the Control Key like I can on my Mac so I can use the Emacs keyboard shortcuts in so many of your applications (e.g. Pages)?  Thanks!

Computer Science, Education

Should You Buy an iPad Pro?


My MacBook Air laptop (left) with my iPad Pro (right) connected as a second monitor using the Duet app.

It’s been about ten days since receiving my iPad Pro from my wife as a Christmas present and I’ve definitely formed some opinions on it.  The biggest question I received from someone was: why get one?  If you have the same question, I hope to answer it for you.

Between work and home, we have just about every Apple device from iPhone 6 Plus to MacBook to iMac to iPad mini, iPad Air 2, and now the iPad Pro.  I  recently learned from watching Phil Schiller, Marketing leader for Apple, discuss on 60 Minutes recently that the different products are designed to make them compete for your attention and ownership. In other words, not one product will meet all your needs and wishes.  That’s why many of us, rightly or wrongly, have more than one Apple product.  In deciding whether to get an iPad Pro you have to consider:

  • What do you plan on using it for?
  • What kind of connectivity you want?
  • How portable does it have to be?

You should ask yourself if you need to produce software code for Apple products, or apps, that require using their proprietary software development environment called Xcode.  If so, then you can not exist with just the iPad Pro.  You need at least a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro to code apps for the iOS or Mac OS products like the iPhone or the iMac and put them on the App Store. If you want even more processing power than you need a MacBook Pro or ultimately the Mac Pro.  But for my personal use and for iOS app development, I’ve been doing fine with my MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM.

As a side note, you can write computer applications in another language, like JavaScript, and run them on an iPad or iPhone using a web browser.  So, you can do some kind app development using just an iPad Pro.  Since Apple’s new development programming language, Swift,  is open source, you could also use a web browser to write Swift server side programs using IBM’s Swift Sandbox beta environment.  You just can’t use the Cocoa Touch frameworks to create the user interface components for an iPhone and put the resulting App on the App Store.

So far, I like the iPad Pro because its screen is about as big as my 13″ MacBook Air, it’s always connected to the Internet through a cellular data plan, and it works with the Apple Pencil.   An unexpected bonus is that it also works as a great companion monitor  for my MacBook Air laptop using the Duet App (see picture above).  Using Duet, my iPad Pro doubles as a second monitor for my laptop, which makes doing software development on my laptop, while having other applications open, makes things even nicer.

With the bigger screen comes a slightly heavier weight for the iPad Pro than the iPad Air 2. But when you add the Apple Cover and Case the iPad Pro feels heavy in comparison and makes it difficult to hold it while reading for long periods when lying down on a bed or couch.  It fits fine on the lap and I know will work well in meetings when I can be reviewing notes or presentations without it being a distraction to others.  Although my main job isn’t a graphic designer, I’ve been enjoying the “Lego like” graphic design app, Assembly, and the other design tools made by the same company.  I’m also looking forward to improving my creative drawing skills when my Apple Pencil finally arrives.  My Apple Smart Keyboard is still on the way so I’ll be able to write more about that at another time.

If I needed an Apple device for developing for iOS and it was my only device besides an iPhone, I would go for the MacBook laptop with as much as RAM as possible because of its slimness, size, weight, and portability.  But if I needed and wanted a very portable business machine that does Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that always needs to be connected to the Web, then it would be hard to beat the iPad Pro.