After missing her train and showing up fashionably late, Youtube sensation and self proclaimed robotics comedian Simone Giertz recently spoke to students at Brown University about the importance of building useless things. Held by Brown's Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, Simone's lecture spoke in a humorous way to the initiative's goal of addressing social problems through developing robots that coexist harmoniously with humans. An inventor from Stockholm, Sweden, Simone bridges the gaps between robotics, comedy and various internet communities.
Photo Source: Brown's Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative via Twitter
Unlike the creations by the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, most of Simone's work is not intended to be useful. In response to inquiries as to why she spends so much time designing useless things, she says "'Why?' is potentially the biggest party pooper ever." While she understands that people question the sanity behind spending hours and hours building something you're obviously never going to seriously use, what Simone questions is why nobody questions the uselessness and banality of alternatively spending the night scrolling through Facebook and social media feeds. But if you spend your evenings building robots that are meant to fail, "Suddenly people are going to ask you why and suddenly you have to have a reason."
Notes from Simone's talk about developing ideas from building useless things
Photo Source: Jason Alderman via Twitter
With almost 300,000 subscribers and with some videos that have been viewed over 1 million times, Simone's work has become a pop culture sensation. Though she is known for "silly" projects, such as useless robots, Google Chrome Click Roulette, Tweelium and Soundstagram, her robotics hobby has translated easily to a full time career. As a previous Creative Technologist for engineering consultancy Punch Through, Simone directed a Kickstarter campaign for their Light Blue Bean+. In addition to producing and directing the video, she built all example projects featured in the campaign, which reached its goal of $165,000 on the first day. Simone also co-initiated a collaboration between the creative schools Hyper Island and Kaospilot. The collaboration resulted in fifty students participating in a forty-two hour long hackathon, sponsored by LEGO, that examined the future of play.
Currently Simone continues making her robots as a full time job while traveling for various speaking engagements, such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and co-hosting Tested with Norm Chan and former MythBuster Adam Savage.
Photo Source: Mike Mongo via Twitter
Check out three tips from Simone that will help you get started in pursuing your ideas:
"Ideas first, tools later."
Photo Source: Simone Giertz
Want to make something, but don't know where to start? Think of an idea, and learn the tools later. This approach led Simone to her first step into hardware: Chordio. The idea for Chordio was born in 2014 from a mindless strumming motion Simone found herself making on her headphone cords. This mindless motion translated in an iPhone case with retractable guitar strings that hook on to the user's belt and measure capacitive touch to transmit the data to Arduino Adafruit's Bluefruit LE through Bluetooth Low Energy that, in conjunction with an iOS app, allow users to play guitar wherever they go.
Photo Source: Chordio
Regarding Chordio, Simone says "Ignorance is truly bliss, because if I would have understood how complicated building this project would be, then I probably would have never done it." But along the way, she learned 3D modeling, soldering, hardware programming, capacitive touch, bluetooth and iOS programming. So have the idea, and learn the skills by pursuing it. Fun fact: One skill Simone did learn was how to actually play the guitar.
"Enthusiasm is a much better fuel than duty."
Though Simone left college after only one year of studying physics, she was an excellent and duty-driven student. Like many of us, she worked hard not because she enjoyed it, but because that is what she thought she was supposed to do. However, despite the guilt that accompanies following your passions when they're divergent from your studies, she quickly realized that she is much better at doing the things she actually enjoys. "It's not that I regret spending a lot of time in school," says Simone, "It's just that I regret not spending more time on the things I was actually really enthusiastic about." The take away? Pursue what you're enthusiastic about and your work will be much more productive (and interesting.)
A nifty flow chart by Simone to help you decide if you should pursue an idea
"Your ideas might be smarter than you."
"What I mean by that is that good ideas might to turn out to be bad or bad ideas might turn out to be good, but you won't know unless you actually build them." The first "shitty robot" Simone ever built was the Toothbrush Machine: a robotic helmet that uses a MeArm to move the attached toothbrush that crudely moves the brush back and forth along the wearer's teeth.
Made as a joke for a pilot episode of a children's show about electronics, Simone never intended this helmet to be taken seriously. However, shortly after posting a video of her helmet on reddit, over 500,000 people had seen it and her inbox was flooded with comments telling her that even though the idea was intended to be a joke, the concept could be a game changer for those with mobility issues.
"It just blew my mind, because here I am making a silly robot and other people can find seeds in that and it can be a platform for other ideas."
Still can't decide if you should go ahead and pursue the ideas that have been lurking in the back of your mind or sitting dormant in your sketchbook? "If you find the things you do interesting there are probably other people who do too." Case in point: everything Simone has ever made. Still wondering what the point of actualizing the ideas would even be? Remember: "Creating things is a purpose in itself." Start making.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Camilla Perkins. Title image courtesy of Susan Lin via Twitter.