+Research & Development
A Wearable Language Revitalization Robot for Indigenous Youths
The first cultural robot... designed entirely by Indigenous leaders.
A personalized, wearable, and interactive Indigenous language revitalization robot that senses motion and speaks our languages. The students build the robots themselves. Built to take tech learning out of the classroom, the robots were made to supplement community language learning for free. It has been a success in enabling our youth to bring the robots home to learn with their families and in creating learning tools they resonate with.
Get A SkoBot: Waitlist Open
Our Virtual SkoBots Shop for Indigenous high school students waitlist is now open. Get added to our waitlist today. Our new programs begin in January, 2022.
Language is vital to preserving Indigenous cultures and identities—but resources are dwindling and hard to access. Indigenous languages are extinct in the United States, and estimates suggest that only 20 Indigenous languages will remain by 2050. Our founders own language, Ojibwemowin, is considered an endangered language. Hundreds of Indigenous languages are extinct in the United States, and estimates suggest that only 20 Indigenous languages will remain by 2050.
SkoBots is an interactive and wearable educational robot that sits on your shoulder to teach our youths their traditional languages. The 3D printed robot incorporates traditional and personal elements into the unique design and responds to being approached with speech and a flashing light.
The robot costs $100 USD to make and is sent to Tribal schools and Indigenous educational institutions for free, alongside mentorship and leadership programs for their students. The robot was created to be a community learning tool, something to foster community ties and learning together. The robot has two different models, one that is simplistic and costs $100 to make - an unintelligent motion sensing model that responds to movement and an AI model that responds to vocal commands with language instruction. The SkoBot uses language recordings from Elders and language experts.
First released at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society 2021 Powwow garnered surprising and exciting results: children responded to the robot. Babies would look up at the face of the robot and children asked to dance to the music it was playing. It was engaging and fun and spoke Taino, Ojibwemowin, and some Dine Bizaad. This created an opportunity to continue to build a fun resource that the kids can make their own and use to supplement Tribal educational programs.
The robots were conceptualized by Danielle Boyer Ojibwe (Inventor), Dr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank Diné & Acoma Pueblo (Speech-Language Pathologist, Mentor), Robert Maldonado Taino (Design Mentor), and has been informed by students and community members for The STEAM Connection.
Here at The STEAM Connection we are a charity and all of our robots are charitable initiatives that go to our youth completely for free. We distribute our robots and curriculum through our own classes and also provide them to Tribal schools and Indigenous organizations. We do not sell robots or make money off of them but rather take on our youth initiatives on a need and case-by-case basis, often self-funding these efforts. We created the SkoBot to revitalize our languages in a fun and approachable way for our youth and have seen how well it has been received by our communities. Since then, we've been hard at work to scale manufacturing and technical development to get even more robots into our youths hands.
So for now, SkoBot is a research initiative focused on scaling beyond its first few hundred units and we are currently looking for funding to develop a PCB, implement injection molding, and bring more people onto our team for this initiative. We are looking for strategic partners who want to help make this a reality. You can reach out to our founder and project lead Danielle Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a school or organization who is interested in working with us long-term to implement a SkoBots program through our research initiative, please apply below and we will reach out to find out if we are the right fit. We review applications from organizations and schools every quarter and have a significant lead time due to the volume of our requests and the time that it takes to make a single robot. We will not be reviewing applications from individuals - something that will only be made possible with our goals for scale. We are open for requests for EKGAR (Every Kid Gets a Robot) workshops and workshops for all ages on Indigenous technology, SkoBots, and designing for good.
Our communities have been taken advantage of by language organizations: we have had our languages copyrighted behind our back, have had our resources misused, and we haven't been listened to regarding our own information. Because of things like this, the development of the SkoBots follows the lead of the communities that we work with regarding their own language information. We will never own recordings, we will never publish them, we will never profit off of them. It will always be up to the discretion of the communities we work with and we always defer to them.
In the summer of 2020, Dr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank and our founder Danielle Boyer created the fundraiser Books for Diné Bikéyah to bring Diné books to Diné youth living in Navajo Nation during the pandemic. The fundraiser brought in over $40,000 in donations and was created to provide access to our education no matter what.
Dr. Allison-Burbank is a Developmental Scientist at Johns Hopkins University, a Speech-Language Pathologist, founder of Little Moccasins Educational Services, Author, and Educator. Dr. Allison Burbank and Boyer connected over their love of books. After learning of our founders learning disability, he approached her about pursuing a fellowship in 2020 at the University in Vermont on neurodevelopmental disabilities and mentored her.
Combining Dr. Allison-Burbank's expertise, our mentor Rob Maldonado's design mentorship, and Boyer's work as a robotics inventor, educational activist, and as someone who is working to learn her own language, SkoBots was created for The STEAM Connection! Dr. Allison-Burbank came up with the name SkoBot after skoden and helped come up with uses and applications for the robot. Boyer came up with the cat-like droid design, the wearable interactions, designed the electrical system, and programmed the robot. Maldonado and Boyer created the mechanical design.
Not all of the creators are presently working on the project due to life circumstances and time. Please reach out to The STEAM Connection for official statements, updates, and questions.