Thinking Outside the Box – a Revolutionary Robotic Wheelchair

A 16 year old student from Hobart, Yaya Lu, has amazed some of the most advanced medical thinkers in the world with her concept of a robotic wheelchair, designed to respond to speech commands. Although this is not a new idea, the concept that really sets her wheelchair apart is its ability to respond to non-language-specific voice sounds – a combination of  the long and short sounds dah and dit – a concept which will give some independence back to complete paraplegics of any nationality.

Image courtesy of The Mercury Newspaper, front page, 28 July 2008.

Recently, after winning a CSIRO Science Award for her project, she was invited to present a research paper to the 5th Biomedical Engineering International Conference in Bangkok, a conference which normally only accepts papers from post-graduate students and university lecturers. (See Australian schoolgirl a science sensation)

While her wheelchair will benefit countless people in the future, Laya has been designing and playing with robots for a long time, all of which she has documented on her web pages since 2006:

This is a great example of someone who has created a positive online presence that will prove to prospective employers her ongoing passion for robotics and her commitment to innovation and creativity.


Collaborative Creativity

originality-demotivational-poster-1286743744For the past two days I have been re-charged and re-focused at the annual QSITE conference, where the presenters looked at a variety of ways in which teachers can engage students with ICTs, while at the same time meeting the demands of the school curriculum.

The keynote speaker this morning was Paul Holland, one of the first wave of teachers to introduce microcomputers into, and design software for Australian schools. He went on to pursue a very successful career in management and is currently completing a doctorate in Creative Industries at QUT.

Paul spoke about creativity – how the very young have it, but how it is often stifled within our schools – yet we desperately need to develop a culture where collaborative creativity can flouish and be valued. Albert Einstein’s words are as true today as when he wrote them: “Imagination is more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” An ‘insatiable curiousity’ is also the first of 7 Da Vincian Principles espoused by Michael Gelb and yet,

  • at age 5 children have 80%+ originality
  • at age 10 children have 20%+ originality
  • adults in general have 2% originality

What is causing this loss of creativity in our society? According to Sir Ken Robinson, “if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” Children are not afraid to be wrong, however their creativity is squashed as they grow older and are moulded to conform to the demands of our education systems. (See his TED talk  Do Schools Kill Creativity?)

Paul suggested that what the world needs is great managers and leaders who are not only convergent thinkers, but divergent thinkers, who can elaborate and think of original ideas with fluency and speed. As well as this, creativity which changes some aspect of culture never resides in the mind of only one person.  A ‘generosity of sharing’ is critically important in our culture for creativity to flourish, and this requires:

  • Intellectual hunger
  • Often a trigger event or challenge  (eg Apollo 13 in desperate circumstances)
  • No fear of failure
  • Respect for others’ ideas
  • Mutual trust
  • Dialogue which puts different ideas in context
  • Shared language
  • An ability to suppress egos for the common goal

John Cleese once said, “I have always worked with a writing partner because I am convinced I get better ideas than when I work on my own.”  Steve Jobs worked with Steve Wozniak and together they formed a hugely successful team.

So then, what are the implications for schools?   Firstly, we need to actively foster an insatiable curiousity in our students and encourage them to question understandings that others consider obvious; to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty;  to desire to test knowledge and to be willing to make mistakes. Secondly, we need to design tasks and craft opportunities which will enable connectivity, cooperation and collaboration to flourish in a culture of imagination and originaltiy.

Image from