*FREE RESOURCE* 6 Asian American and Pacific Islander Pioneers

Article and FREE RESOURCE by Samantha Reichard

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Recently there have been many instances of unprovoked violence against people of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) descent. We stand united with all API communities in and outside of the US. Some ways to disband disempowering misconceptions about a group of people and their culture is through education. May marks the official celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage and culture in the United States. But we can see their contributions in our everyday lives.

Even though May is normally designated to celebrate those in the United States of AAPI descent, we will also explore breakthroughs in robotics from other underrepresented countries in Asia or the Pacific Islands. People of all API descent have changed our lives worldwide through their contributions.

Representation Matters

While studies show that Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Island peoples are well represented in the field of Science and Engineering, they are not, however, equally represented in the United States media.

AAPI in media are dismally under-represented. A 2017 study on AAPI representation in the media found stark disparities. Less than 7% of characters on TV are portrayed by Filipino actors, and less than 1% by Vietnamese actors. This is a gross underrepresentation for both communities. This distinctly contrasts with the 70% of Whites represented in television series. The study, “Tokens on the Small Screen”, found virtually no representation by Pacific Islander peoples present in mainstream media.

Based on this data, this blog will lift up the voice of those statistically underrepresented communities such as women, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Pacific Island peoples and the impact they are having on the robotics industry.

Pioneers in Robotics

Let’s take a look at the following 5 impact statements showcasing pioneers in the robotics field and what their contributions mean for our future:

Image of Tessa LauTessa Lau; United States

Tessa Lau is one of the only female Asian American CEO’s of a robotics company. She has been an integral part of two startup companies and currently serves as the Founder and CEO of Dusty Robotics. Tessa researched needs in the construction industry before Dusty Robotics even developed their robot. They found that one of the biggest struggles in constructing buildings is the ability to have accurate layout plans from which laborers can accurately build.

Dusty Robotics then created a brand new type of robotic technology called FieldPrinter to fill this need. The FieldPrinter is an autonomous robot that prints out accurate and permanent construction plans right onto the ground so workers can use them as a guide while they build. The use of printing this way in construction had never been done before.

Construction companies that have used FieldPrinter robots have cut down on the time it takes to build while preventing human error. This has improved the productivity of workers and their companies and has paved the way for unique uses of 3D printing in robotics.

Rodrigo Rimando; United States Rodrigo Rimando

Rodrigo Rimando is the Senior Site/Field Liaison for the Office of Environmental Management (EM) in the Department of Energy. As a proud Filipino American, Mr. Rimando has used the problem of nuclear cleanup and waste management as a way to utilize robotic technology to prevent hazardous injury to humans.

Rodrigo’s and his team’s innovations, such as RadPiper, a robot that measures uranium deposit levels, have kept workers safe by reducing exposure to radiation and preventing injuries. These robots have also improved the process of handling nuclear waste.

Through his work at EM, he has helped begin the conversation on ways to creatively use robots in waste management systems. Before, discussions of robotic technology-focused mostly on improvements in the manufacturing and military fields. His dedication allows robots to be an integral part of saving our planet by providing ways to clean up disastrous areas.

Tri Nhan RobotTri Nhan, AI Robot; Social Republic of Vietnam

In 2016, Vietnam began to invest in digital transformation in an effort to improve its economy. In just three years, Vietnam has become one of the leaders in robotic tech, with Tri Nhan at the forefront.

Tri Nhan is Vietnam’s first AI robot that already has a job: teacher assistant. This robot was created through 3D printing by lead scientist Pham Thanh Nhan and has many innovative features to simulate human interaction. It is able to complete computations, tell jokes, and respond to student learning in real-time.

This robot’s 5 “senses” all tie back to google search. So whenever it is exposed to a stimulus, it is able to search an unending database to find ways to help students evolve their learning. Tri Nhan is a tool that can help students learn in a variety of ways that benefit different learning styles, and fills the need of hiring qualified teaching assistants.

Taylor University; Malaysia Taylor University

Up until 2020, there were no options for students to study robotic design or development through higher education in Malaysia. Taylor University, located in Selangor, Malaysia, changed that. In 2020, they launched the first-ever robotics degree program in Malaysia.

Taylor University now has a Bachelor of Science in Robotic Design program that students can take to study robotic technology. This degree will provide students with exposure to many different levels of learning in robotics, engineering, and computer science. This program allows Malaysia to invest in their own youth to be the innovators of their future.

Malaysian graduates can now compete in the robotics field. Rather than importing qualified candidates from other countries, they can hire those who already live there. Students of this degree will be able to create new uses for robots just like in other countries. Students will be able to use their knowledge and passion for their country’s strengths to help build up the next generation of robotic technology.

Yap Catholic High SchoolYap Catholic Highschool and Yap SDA School; Federated States of Micronesia

Yap Catholic High School and Yap SDA School are two private schools in Yap, Federation of Micronesia. Through grants from partnerships in the US, they established the first robotics program “west of Hawaii and east of the Philippines”.

Yap Catholic High School journeyed to Washington DC to represent Micronesia in 2017. The successful implementation of the robotics program led to other states within the Federated States of Micronesia, as well as Republic of the Marshall Islands, to offer after school robotics programs for high school students.

Students from over 23 high schools have had the opportunity to learn about robotics and build robots of their own. As they work collaboratively through competition, they strengthen their technical skills. Being in the robotics club has had a huge impact, with more students entering STEM fields. Their impact on universities and the robotic industry can already be seen, bringing innovation and new ideas.

Unseen Innovators

In the United States, over 17% of college educated STEM workers are of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent. However, we don’t see them represented they way they should be. The professional expertise in the robotics field have resulted in advancements and innovations we never imagined possible.

Through automation, artificial intelligence, and education these pioneers have made a direct impact on our future. We look up to them for inspiration and mentorship for the next field of robotic engineers.


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Meet our Writer Author image

Samantha Reichard has worked with underserved schools for over 14 years. Starting as a teacher in the classroom, to instructional coach, she now supports 29 schools in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She currently serves as a teacher coach train-the-trainer for school-based staff with a passion for bringing unjust and oppressive practices to the surface so that stakeholders can discuss, unpack, and work to create more empowering structures for student success. She creates spaces for conversation around equity and inclusivity for all of our students, especially those consistently underserved.