Every Kid Gets a Robot
One-line solution summary:
Increasing technical educational accessibility for youth with an affordable robotics kit.
Pitch your solution.
Problem: Many Indigenous youths struggle to access quality technical education and to in turn later pursue technical careers. Technical skills are becoming increasingly more important, but our youth are getting left behind. When not exposed to essential educational programming focused on robotics, digital design, and coding, it is near impossible to break into the most influential fields and also to progress as a professional in nearly every industry.
Solution: Every Kid Gets a Robot (EKGAR), a robot that costs less than 20 USD to manufacture and is sent to youth for free to teach key technical skills with a culturally competent curriculum.
Scale: Our robots have reached tens of thousands of youth worldwide and have drastically improved users' technical skills in electrical and mechanical engineering and computer science. We want to enable Native youth to not only exist in the technical space but to thrive in it.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Many Indigenous youths struggle to access quality technical education. There are many contributing factors to this, from a lack of resources, to "STEM Deserts", to a lack of representation in technical fields. The American Indian Policy Institute (ASU) found that "18 percent of tribal reservation residents have no internet access at home, wireless or land-based."
This contributes to the fact that Indigenous peoples are also grossly underrepresented in technical careers. In fact, according to Intel and their racial breakdown in the “Overview of Diversity in the U.S. Technical Workforce”, we don’t even have our own category, we are placed in the “Other” category. This category is only 1%. According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly three out of every ten Native students drop out before graduating from high school in both reservations and cities, furthering the disparity of Indigenous peoples within technology-centered careers.
Our youth need a simple and active technical educational solution that is provided by Indigenous designers and educators that is accessible and easy to use. The solution must be simple to scale to a diverse range of applications, from short-term to long-term use, and is taught with a culturally competent curriculum.
What is your solution?
The technical educational gap is becoming a pervasive problem for Native youth, and this is where Every Kid Gets a Robot (EKGAR) comes in, bridging the void for children through affordable, scalable, accessible, and diverse means to target key academic, cognitive thinking, and motor skills. Educational robotics strengthen and support students' skills in developing their knowledge through the creation, design, assembly, and operation of robots.
EKGAR is a scalable solution enabling children to access key technical educational opportunities, no matter what. EKGAR is an app-controlled robot that costs $18.95 USD to manufacture and goes to kids for free. I invented EKGAR in 2019. It is simple to manufacture and assemble, consisting of four one-of-a-kind 3D printed components and low-cost ESP32 technology.
We have currently distributed 4,500+ EKGAR kits, not including robots made through our virtual Make-A-Robot platform, a resource available to educators and students alike to make their own robots. EKGAR has reached tens of thousands of youth and educators worldwide.
Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit?
Native-Led: Our solution is Native-led. The STEAM Connection is based out of Troy, Michigan USA, where I am from. Our team and board members work together virtually from across the United States. We are all minorities, youth, and volunteers. Half of our board is Indigenous, including me.
Our Communities: Our work currently runs on a virtual distribution model. We supply individual robots for our youth programming for Native youth and also class sets to Native organizations, tribal schools, and nonprofits.
We run youth programming that serves Indigenous youth such as our Technical Drop-In Sessions for Native Youth. We supply robots in a Business to Business distribution model to Native organizations such as tribal schools (example: Lummi Nation School), Native-led organizations and nonprofits such as AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) Chapters and at AISES Events (example: Phoenix AISES Chapter, Boeing STEM Day at the AISES National Conference).
Which dimension of the Fellowship does your solution most closely address?Support language and cultural revitalization, quality K-12 education, and support for first-generation college students
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
Utilizing educational robotics, we are working to make quality K-12 technical (and beyond) education accessible and affordable for Indigenous youth, all while using our culturally competent curriculum such as our Virtual Make-A-Platform and STEAM Activity Flashcards that we are currently testing to support Indigenous language revitalization for our students. We are working to provide key technical resources for students so that students will be more equipped to pursue technical careers and to also increase Indigenous representation in technology and science through our robotics youth programming.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Troy, MI, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency.
Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.
Scaling Stage of Development: At The STEAM Connection, we have brought our educational solutions to hundreds of thousands of youth. Through EKGAR, we have reached tens of thousands of youth through our Virtual Make-A-Robot Platform and through individual robot distribution for our youth programming (4,500+ robots). EKGAR has reached students in 12 countries grades K-12 and tribal schools too.
Individuals apply online for access to our robots virtually, and we’ve seen a 40% increase in Indigenous-based organizations apply for our robots over the past two months. We are looking to significantly scale our operation so that we can provide even more youth programming for Indigenous youth and expand manufacturing to meet robot demand to reach even more children at an affordable cost.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Danielle Boyer (Ojibwe), Founder & CEO
Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your primary delegate.
Ojibwe (Citizen of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)
Is your primary delegate a member of the community in which your project is based?Yes
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative?
There is no organization or project currently doing what we do: bringing free robots to Indigenous youth to increase their technical competency.
Education: EKGAR teaches advanced technical skills in robotics, digital design, coding, and more in an approachable, accessible, and culturally competent way for youth who may not have exposure to these resources otherwise. These skills are all key for an ever-improving future that can be difficult to teach without significant funding, which is why this solution is so unique. We have implemented a model of hybrid hands-on and virtual learning to reach both the student and educator.
Cost: EKGAR is affordable, costing less than $20 USD to make, and is sent to youth for free. This cost includes the power supply, mechanical and electrical components, 3D prints, traction, fasteners, and connectors. The robot is WiFi and Bluetooth compatible.
Design: EKGAR allows children to assemble, wire, and program their own robots in an intuitive way. The simple and unique 3D printed pieces allow components to easily fit on the robot body. The design is durable, easily replicable on multiple 3D printers (and a new mold that we are developing for classrooms without printers), cost-effective, and unique. The electrical circuits and mechanical designs are editable by students, ensuring continuous learning for students.
Sustainable: The EKGAR kits that we manufacture are made out of recycled plastic and are biodegradable, within certain parameters. We offer a Return-A-Robot Program to allow students to return their robots to be reused and recycled.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
All About Robots: Our solution is centered around educational robotics. Our robots are powered by the ESP32 Development Board, our most key technology component. We also utilize motors, a motor controller, and other technology in our robots.
More about the ESP32 Development Board: "The ESP32 is a very versatile System On a Chip (SoC) that can be used as a general purpose microcontroller with quite an extensive set of peripherals, including wireless capabilities. Discover why it’s popular with the maker community, and how it can be implemented as a great low-cost solution for mass production." -Introduction to the ESP32
The ESP32 Development Board is a low-cost and low-power system with integrated WiFi and dual-mode Bluetooth. It has less than 10 external components. It is a well-rounded chip for the development of loT projects and embedded systems in general. The ESP32 integrates the antenna switch, RF balun, power amplifier, low noise receive amplifier, filters, and power management modules. It truly is the brain behind our robot.
Provide evidence that this technology works. Please cite your sources.
Robots in Action: Read all about our work and see videos of the robots in action.
Our Robots Live: Watch me in Women of Worth, an NBC Special that can be found on Hulu and Peacock. See examples of the robots in action from the lens of the NBC and L'Oreal Paris team.
The Robot "Guts": The electronics that we utilize in our robots are popular, simple, and widely used. Why? To keep costs down, keeping the robots as simple as possible with editable features is best. We are currently innovating and creating new technology to be used on our robots to keep difficult to control variables such as cost, shipping times, and if the plastic that our components are made out of was recycled or not down.
See the ESP32 in Action: Watch and learn more about the development board that we use.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Does this technology introduce any risks? How are you addressing or mitigating these risks in your solution?
Ownership: We own our robot design and electrical diagrams. We wrote our code through the open-source Arduino IDE. We utilize open-source and commercial electronics and are looking to create our motor gearboxes ourselves instead of purchasing them.
Safety: When creating educational solutions for children, safety is always something that has to be prioritized. With our helpful safety guide for educators and students on our virtual learning platform, students safely learn how to wire and power their robot. Students should build their robots with a responsible adult present. To this date, EKGAR has had no safety concerns or reports.
Biggest Risks: Our biggest risks are running out of inventory due to increased interest in EKGAR and being able to keep up with the rising cost of electronics worldwide. We are hoping within five years to design and manufacture our own microcontroller and motor controller to help us bring in more funding and to also help us reduce variables for increased robot cost.
What is your theory of change?
An Educational Focus On Output
Immediate Output After Use: Our focus is on increasing students' learning that will, in-turn, improve technical skills. Our robots primarily reach organizations and schools. Students who utilize EKGAR in a classroom setting are asked to take an assessment (verbal options offered) which we developed to measure students’ knowledge and application of mechanical, electrical, and coding skills. Of the 25 question assessment, students on average score a 20% before utilizing EKGAR and a 70% afterward. These results demonstrate a massive shift in learning.
Overview of mechanical skills measured: digital design (applying skills in 3D modelling), understanding of how additive manufacturing works, comprehension of how robots are utilized all around us in our world.
Overview of electrical skills measured: Ability to interpret a wiring diagram, ability to apply interpretation of basic wiring diagram, comprehension of how electricity works in the application of circuits.
Coding: Ability to write a program to make the robot move, ability to understand how the app and robot communicate, competency in navigating different softwares, basic ability to type and navigate a mouse.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which state(s) do you currently operate?
In which state(s) will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
The Present: Our solution has served over 10,000 students through our Virtual Make-A-Robot Platform, a learning resource. We have distributed over 4,500 robots in 12 countries. Our team operates out of Troy, MI USA, and has team members currently across the United States.
The Future: In one year, we are hoping to continue to invest in manufacturing, scaling, and sustainable manufacturing practices so that within five years we can distribute over 30,000 robots and bring in hundreds of thousands of educators and students to our virtual learning platform to make their own robots with EKGAR or with our other robots, like Twenty, an affordable robot that is made with a cereal box.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?
Within the Next Year: Implement our new invention EKGAR: BioBotz to increase environmental sustainability and ease in manufacturing. Continue to run free Native programming for youth and bring those youth onto a new leadership program to design our third robot at The STEAM Connection to apply their learning. Scale manufacturing to bring robots to more youth. We have already applied for funding.
Five Years: Manufacture and utilize our own PCB's, designed with students, instead of utilizing outside electronics. Bring in more young student leadership and increase team size to deliver our robots to youth and benefit students with our programming. We believe that youth-delivered resources is very important and want to provide leadership resources to make this happen and be effective. We have already written our teaching models to implement this.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
Our Assessment: Students who utilize EKGAR in a classroom setting are asked to take an assessment which we developed to measure students’ knowledge and application of mechanical, electrical, and coding skills. We consider verbal responses as well. Of the 25 question assessment, students on average score a 20% before utilizing EKGAR and a 70% afterward. These results demonstrate a massive shift in learning.
Impact: As we make progress toward achieving our goals, we will be assessing impact by collecting data on the number of robot kits manufactured, the number of applications received for EKGAR robots, the percentage of Native youth who are being impacted by our programs, the number of volunteer hours on the EKGAR initiative, how much more funding we have received, and how many curriculum resources are provided by us in Indigenous languages.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Biggest Barriers: Currently, we are working to meet our high demand for robots that will only continue to grow. The two biggest challenges we anticipate encountering or have encountered are related to manufacturing limitations and the number of volunteers on staff. We need to increase funding to buy the manufacturing machines to scale production, such as a wave soldering machine and industrial 3D printers. We don’t have enough volunteers on staff and during the pandemic, we can’t meet together. We need more manufacturing and assembly locations so that our spread-out team can still produce large amounts of kits.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
EKGAR: BioBotz: We are currently working on a new innovative manufacturing method that is based on plant material to replace plastic (chassis, wheels, motor gearbox) to not only decrease manufacturing cost and make it easier for those without 3D printers to make robots, but to benefit our Earth as well. My invention is called EKGAR: BioBotz and I am currently receiving funding to finish developing it as a winner of the Verizon and Clinton Foundation Social Innovation Challenge.
EKGAR Entreprenuership Network: We are creating an EKGAR Entrepreneurship Program to teach middle school students how to manufacture kits and teach younger students with them. Schools and organizations will be able to make the exact amount of kits they need and will be able to teach two different age groups at once with important technical skills. We need the funding to provide classroom grants (scholarship, CAD license, robot kits, equipment - soldering iron, solder, 3D printer, etc, and more). We have local schools in my area in Michigan lined up to make kits and ship them to Native schools to help meet robot demand, as found in our robot request form.
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
Solver Team: 1 (Me)
The STEAM Connection Team
Full-Time Volunteers: 5
Other (ambassadors, part-time teachers): 6
Mentors: 3 (Dr. Joshuaa Allison-Burbank, Robert Maldonado, and Christine Schindler)
How long have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
About Me: I am a young Indigenous (Ojibwe) and Queer robotics inventor, author, environmental activist, and advocate for youth who has been teaching kids since I was ten years old. I create innovative learning solutions utilizing robots that I invent and give to kids for free to make technical education accessible. Armed with a desire to make the technical space an equitable one, I created The STEAM Connection, a nonprofit that has helped us reach hundreds of thousands of children worldwide with life-changing education. Our affordable tools champion the educational space and cost less than 20 USD to manufacture. I have been named one of PEOPLE Magazine’s Girls Changing the World and a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth and currently mentor 35 youth robotics teams. I was also recently the cover story of Winds of Change by AISES and was featured in the Women of Worth NBC Special. I am currently studying Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering with the goal to discover how I can use technology to create positive change in the world and for our Earth.
Our Team: At The STEAM Connection, we are all youth, minorities, and volunteers. We are Science and Technology students who want to use our passions to make a difference for the child that we once were. Half of our board is Indigenous and we all come from very diverse backgrounds.
Part of our team here at The STEAM Connection.
What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?
What We Do: Here at The STEAM Connection, we build STEAM Superheros by creating diverse, accessible, and affordable Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math educational materials for youth by youth.
Our Goals: As all minorities and youth, we have a very unique approach to how we do our work and value all voices (no matter how young someone is) equally. Our board members help run day-to-day operations and make the big decisions for our organization. Together, we decide which causes matter the most to us and which educational resources we will invest in creating and why. Diversity, an equal voice, and creating a safe environment for our team and our students matter the most to us. We seek out the help of our mentors, professionals in their fields, to hold our team accountable and to help us learn and grow in everything from cultural competency to engineering.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
Why are you applying to Solve?
I am applying to Solve because I have a few big goals and I need support to make them a reality. Our goal is to expand our manufacturing capabilities to make more robotics kits, continue to develop educational activities to accompany the robot for educators and students, translate all of our educational materials into the four most common Native languages in North America: Navajo, Cree, Inuktitut, and Ojibwemown, and to expand our youth programming through our EKGAR Entrepreneurship Program, SkoBots Shop, SkoBots Farm, and more. We believe that with the right strategic partnerships and mentors, we can make these big goals a reality and invest in our Entrepreneurship Program as an umbrella project for our other youth programming to bring important skills to our youth.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
We are a small team of students and could use support to make our goals a reality by helping us expand our team, solidify our financial projections and models, help us file for patents, and monitor our growth and impact as we continue to quickly scale.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to officially partner with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to expand our youth programming at events and with AISES chapters. We would also like to partner with Microsoft to produce our third robot through one of their team Hackathons to support charity. We would also like to partner with youth Indigenous environmental activists from across North America to monitor our environmental impact initiatives and offer compensated feedback on development.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ASA Prize for Equitable Education to advance your solution?
Our goal with EKGAR is to make technical education accessible, affordable, and diverse. We think that robots are the best way of delivering it, but inexpensive and effective options are hard to come by. That's why I created one. As we've said before, advancement in technology is a pivotal element of our ever-evolving society. The needs of our evolving global workforce create an economic and social imperative to ensure students in lower socioeconomic brackets are equipped to engage in the STEM sector at parity with their peers. When not exposed to essential programming focused on robotics, digital design, and coding, it is near impossible to break into the most influential fields and also to progress as a professional in nearly every industry. We believe that robots can close this gap for Native youth, and we are the ones inventing them.
The technical educational gap is becoming a pervasive problem for underserved youth, and this is where Every Kid Gets a Robot (EKGAR) comes in, bridging the void for children through affordable, scalable, and most importantly, accessible means to target key academic, cognitive thinking, and motor skills. Educational robotics strengthen and support students' skills in developing their knowledge through the creation, design, assembly, and operation of robots.
EKGAR has reached tens of thousands of students and we believe that it has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands more in the next couple of years to ensure that all students have equal access to key technical learning.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution
Danielle Boyer Youth Founder & Activist, The STEAM Connection