Highlighting Black Innovators in AI, Robotics, and Technology | by Redete Nardos | Starship Technologies | Feb, 2023

Black innovators have a long and extensive history of making significant contributions to the development in the fields of AI, robotics, and technology. Despite facing obstacles such as discrimination and limited access to resources, these pioneers have played a key role in shaping our world today. Here, we would like to take a closer look at a few key contributors that played an instrumental role in bringing Starship into the future.

Dr. Gladys West

One of the most notable Black female innovators in technology who revolutionized the way we interact with the world, both humans and robots, is Dr. Gladys West. Her work changed the landscape of mapping technology and helped invent the Global Positioning System, more commonly known as GPS. In her published paper titled “Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter” (1986), she documented the calculations for making position identification with high accuracy using data collected from satellites. Just like how you and I may use our GPS on our phone or computer, our robots are able to use this same technology to collect information on where to correctly deliver each order. So when you see the little robot on its journey to deliver a hot meal or when it shows up at the exact location you entered every time, you know who to thank for that.

Dr. Mark Dean

Computer scientist and engineer, Dr. Mark Dean, worked with a team of people as a chief engineer for IBM in the early 1980s that would go on to create the first IBM PC, develop the color monitor and lead the team that developed the first gigahertz processor. This chip, built just on the verge of the new century, would allow for higher processing rates at faster speeds within PCs. But how does that affect us or the robots? Have you ever tried to look something up or load a page and it feels like it is taking forever? How about when you are trying to order a coffee before your class early in the morning because you’re in a rush and the app freezes? A phone/computer’s processor clock speed determines how quickly the central processing unit (CPU) can retrieve and interpret instructions. This helps your device complete more tasks by getting them done faster. Just like our phones and computers, our ever adapting robots can complete more deliveries by getting each order in your hands faster. So every street they cross or corner they turn, wouldn’t be possible without the invention of gigahertz processors and its contributions to our ever evolving development to get them to where they are now.

Garrett Morgan

Our robots navigate their way through 140,000 crossings every day but not a single one would have been possible without Garrett Morgan and his creation of the three position traffic signal. Morgan was not only a successful businessman and inventor, but also one of the first BIPoC to own a car in the city of Cleveland during the early 1900s when all modes of transportation could be seen on the streets at once. Horse drawn wagons, bicycles and street cars all meet on the same roads creating chaos and, inevitably, many accidents that Morgan witnessed. With the invention of the three position traffic signal, he was able to eradicate a major issue that we take for granted today, transportation safety. And now our robots are able to cross any street and deliver your food safely to your door.

Roy Clay Sr.

In the history of technology and changing the reality that we live in today, you don’t get nicknamed the Godfather of Silicon Valley for nothing. Roy Clay Sr. was an early adopter and leader at the beginning of the technology industry with code writing and working on computing languages long before Python and Javascript was even a thought. Without Clay, we would live in a world where computers took up entire rooms and crashed frequently. But with his brilliant ability to develop software, Clay and his team brought one of the first computers to market that not only reduced the size of the computer but also improved its reliability in 1966. From there was an industry boom where it found a home in northern California (aka Silicon Valley, and the home base for Starship). As the CEO of Rod-L Electronics, one of the first start-up companies in Silicon Valley, not only did Roy Clay Sr. provide each individual with a powerful and important tool but he also enshrined himself as a leading figure in the world of tech startups that many companies, including Starship, look to as an inspiration.

Clarence “Skip” Ellis

Here at Starship, one of our guiding values is “We work as one team,” and without Clarence Ellis, this would not be possible as we have 500+ employees across five countries working in vastly different time zones. As a pioneer of the field of operational transformation, our teams are able to function in collaborative systems built on the foundation of Ellis’ design that is now found in virtually every work space through computer applications including Apache Wave and Google Doc. We are able to work effectively with people from different corners of the world and bring the idea of food delivery robots to life while continuing to innovate these spaces thanks to Clarence.

These are just five examples of Black innovators, pioneers, and leaders throughout history who have had a profound impact on AI, robotics, and technology. Despite facing unimaginable challenges, their perseverance and contributions have paved the way for the development of new technologies that have improved our lives in more ways than we can even imagine and mostly take for granted. Impacting almost every industry known to date, all the way to the invention of food delivery robots, their innovations have, fundamentally, changed the world and continue to inspire new generations of innovators today. These leaders have been, and continue to be, essential to the advancement of technology and so many other necessary contributions to furthering the advancement of society. It is important as we come to the end of Black History Month, we continue to recognize their achievements and to encourage diversity and inclusivity in the field of technology.

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