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Young Women in STEAM Grant Recipient – Selin Alara Ornek

Coding | Robotics

Meet 15-year-old Selin Alara Ornek from Turkey, who loves coding and robotics, animals (especially dogs, which inspired one of her first robots), travelling and trying out new sports.

2021 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Selin Alara Ornek

Describe yourself in your own words and your STEAM projects/interests.

I am 15 years old, I live in Istanbul, Turkey, and I am a 10th grade student. I love coding and robotics, I also love animals especially dogs, travelling and trying out new sports. I started coding when I was 8 years old and building robots when I was 10.  I have built 6 robots; ic4u and ic4u2 are guide dog robots for blind people, BB4All is a school assistant robot that’s main goal is to prevent bullying. Both robots are voice controlled and can interact with people. They have face recognition, object detection, and various sensory capabilities so that they act and learn artificially and autonomously. I am upgrading ic4u and BB4All as I learn new things. My other robots are “Hashmet the Android”, the one wheeled Star Wars droid “DO” and “Kimberlina” the battlebot, as I love Androids and Starwars.

IC4U (ver1 & 2) – Guide Dog Robot for Visually Impaired People

  • IC4U can move by voice command via a mobile application, and it stops when it sees an obstacle.  It warns the visually impaired person via telephone notifications and through a buzzer when it detects fire, gas, and rain.
  • iC4U2 can be controlled directly via voice control and can also detect; sit, down and up commands.
  • iC4U2 can process images by using a Raspberry Pi Camera, TensorFlow and OpenCV. For example, iC4U2 stops when it sees a stop sign and tells the visually impaired person why it is stopping.
  • iC4U2 can make conversation with the visually impaired person and others, I used Dialogflow for this feature.
  • I am working on autonomous navigation and also going to add a lidar so that it can do 3d mapping of its surroundings.

BB4All School Assistant Robot

  • BB4All is a social robot that can help students, teachers, and staff.
  • BB4All, can recognize the kids in the school corridors via image processing and face recognition, it can greet them by their name and ask them how they are. According to their response BB4All makes suggestions to the student, such as asking them if they would like to talk to someone.
  • It can give out homework and make announcements via schools learning platforms such as Google classroom.
  • The students can ask the robot questions and the robot will answer these by using Google Assistant API, of course I have added filters.
  • The main feature of BB4All is to prevent bullying. I have designed a smart watch for each student. The smart watch is equipped with a panic button, a pulse sensor, and an i-beacon. If a student’s heart rate suddenly increases or they press the panic button the i-beacon will activate, and the robot will find the kid via the gateways placed in each room and following the lines using a line sensor.
  • I am working on connecting BB4All to school databases so that students can get grade information etc. and make appointments with teachers/staff directly via BB4All.  
  • I am hoping to learn indoor positioning to replace the line following system.

HASHMET THE ANDROID (Android) – Google Android Robot

I made it for fun as I love Androids.

  • I can control Hashmet by a mobile application.
  • My robot can recognize people via facial recognition and give them a personalized message.

DO Star Wars One Wheeled Droid

  • DO – Is one of the droids in the Star Wars film. I am a big Star Wars fan, so I made DO for fun

Kimberlina – the Battlebot

  • Kimberlina is a tournament battlebot inspired by Starwars IG-227 Hailfire – Class Droid.

What/Who inspired you to get into STEAM?

When I was 8 years old my dog Korsan died, I was really upset and wanted to bring him back to life. I had to do a math’s project for school, and I had to interview a technical professional, so I asked my dad’s friend a mechanical engineer lots of questions then I showed him a drawing of a robot that I wanted to make to bring Korsan back to life. He told me that I should learn coding and robotics. My English teacher was also using MIT Scratch in class to make the lessons more fun. I asked him how he made the games as I loved playing Minecraft at that time. He encouraged me to try and make games myself using Scratch, so I did. I also started to learn how to code from books and the internet. I started to code simple games and slowly went onto more advanced coding. Then we went on holiday to France, and there I saw a guide dog with its visually impaired owner. It really made me think of Korsan and how sad I was when he died. I began to think that if I had been so upset how would a blind person feel? Not only would they lose their best friend, but they would also lose their eyes again. So, I decided to build ic4u, my robot guide dog.

What are some advantages you think being a female brings to the STEAM field?

Women can have a different perspective so when working with diverse workforce females do suggest different approaches and bring a different way of thinking. Women’s viewpoints can have a huge impact in science and technology. In science and engineering there are needs specific to women, females being involved make it much easier to fulfill this requirement. STEAM fields can be open to everyone that is interested. A lot of females have made huge contributions and impact in STEAM fields, if females are encouraged, supported, and inspired to do so they can change the world to a better place. It is important that women are equally employed in STEAM careers as a diverse workforce has a positive impact on the society and economy. I believe that by being a female in STEAM fields sets an example to other young women and girls.

What would you tell young girls who are interested in STEAM, but too intimidated or discouraged to pursue it?

The first time I ever went to a coding class I saw that it was all boys and did not want to attend. I wanted to learn more, but I really wanted there to be at least one other girl. My parents immediately encouraged me to join in, my mom told me that interests are gender free and just because I was the only girl there was no reason for me to stay away. One thing you could do is ask a friend to go with you, they may not be interested at first, but they may find they enjoy themselves. Apply for courses and programs online, there are some awesome programs, where you get to meet others with the same interests as you, also you get to meet mentors that tell you about their experiences and who you can ask loads of questions. I know it can be difficult at first, beginning may be your first obstacle but not the last. Don’t let that get you down, be resilient, never give up always follow your dreams. Even if others don’t, please believe in yourself.   

What do you think is most exciting about the future of STEAM, and is there a specific advancement you’d like to see happen?

STEAM will make an immense impact on people’s lives even more in the future and it will make people’s lives easier and increase their quality of life. I believe that STEAM should be used for good to improve people’s lives, for example we should use STEAM to minimize the effects of disabilities for disabled people to help them overcome everyday obstacles.

I extremely enjoyed watching the advancement in space exploration over the summer and I’m excited for the future of space travel and exploration.

This summer I attended Stanford AI4All summer camp; I had a chance to work on a project on computational biology with an awesome group of people. On this AI and ML project we worked on cancer cells. The aim of this project was to help health professionals to be able to diagnose the illness faster and more accurately. I am so excited to see the current and potential impact AI has on finding solutions for a better and sustainable world.

Has the COVID pandemic reframed the way you think about STEAM and how it can be applicable on a global scale?

I believe the COVID pandemic has shown us people and organizations were not prepared for such an immense and rapid change such as a pandemic. For example, the education ecosystem was not prepared however with the help of technology the problem was solved. I believe that with the help of AI and ML, people shall be able to predict the patterns and find solutions in similar circumstances. AI and ML have also been used while making the covid vaccine.

At the beginning of the Covid pandemic health care workers urgently needed face shields, manufacturers were not able to keep up with the huge amount in demand, so a group of makers started a social movement and printed thousands of face shields with their 3D printers. I also helped to print and make face shields, then another group of volunteers helped deliver them to all the healthcare workers. With the help of technology small steps can make big things happen.

Who’s your favorite female icon and why?

I don’t have just one.

Firstly, my mom as I learned to be resilient from her, she encouraged me to always follow my dreams.

Julie Cattiau- I watched a documentary and loved how determined she is. She is so inspiring the way she uses technology for good to increase people’s quality of life especially disabled people. I got in touch with her via email and she is so amazing she even arranged a conference call for us to “meet” and tell me all about her work and answer all my questions.

Lady AdaI love how she expresses herself and that she is an inventor that she always creates things.

Dr. Fei Fei LingI recently attended Stanford’s AI4ALL summer camp. I had an amazing time and met some amazing people. I loved hearing about Dr. Fei Fei Ling’s career and achievements, I really admire how hard she had to work to pursue her dream.

2021 Young Women in STEAM grant recipient, Selin Alara Ornek