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Black Makers Month: Chad Jenkins

Robotics Science
Black Makers Month: Chad Jenkins


Odest Chadwicke Jenkins is my friend and neighbor. If I really wanted to split hairs, Chad is more a scientist than a maker. I will overlook that small technicality because the work that Chad does is profoundly awesome and has mega impact in the world of robotics, which affects every maker working with robots. Chad and I share many interests including video games and robots and I find it interesting that he runs the lab previously occupied by Leslie Kaelbling, one of my former mentors, who is now at MIT. Chad played rugby in college, so you don’t want to mess with him! Chad is so cool, he was recently named as one of the “Brilliant 10” by Popular Science.

BlackMakerMonth_BadgeI’ll let Chad speak for himself:

I am an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Brown University. My research group, Robotics, Learning and Autonomy at Brown (RLAB), explores topics related to human-robot interaction and robot learning, with a specific focus on robot learning from human demonstration and robot software systems. My work strives towards realizing robots and autonomous systems as effective collaborators for humans in real-world tasks. Reproducibility and interoperability is a critical facet of my research and development work, such as from my group’s ROS repository.

My research into robot learning from demonstration, or robot LfD, centers on the automated discovery of processes underlying human movement and decision making. In recent years, robot LfD has emerged as a compelling alternative, where robots are programmed implicitly from a user’s demonstration rather than explicitly coding through a computer programming language. Robot LfD allows users and developers focus on usage and applications of robots without the burden of acquiring task-unrelated technical skills. My research focuses on developing algorithms and software capable of estimating and autonomously executing a human user’s intended robot behavior from demonstrated examples.

My group’s recent work has explored web-scale robot learning, where simple algorithms are used with large collections of demonstration data. To permit large-scale data collection, my group has developed rosbridge to enable robots to be accessed and programmed purely from common web browsers using JavaScript. Data at this scale poses new computational problems, including estimation of controllers from multivalued demonstrations. More generally, my group aims to cast robots as web services to broaden public accessibility to state-of-the-art robots, such as with the PR2 Remote Lab.

Earlier work from my dissertation work studied robot LfD from the perspective of imitation learning for humanoid robots, with an emphasis on manifold learning from time-series data for estimating dynamical motion primitives. My work has also ventured into computer vision for projects involving physics-based motion tracking using motion primitives and volumetric markerless motion capture., and computer animation for real-time control of physically simulated humanoids.

70 thoughts on “Black Makers Month: Chad Jenkins

  1. Politically says:

    Is there going to be a Hispanic Makers month? a Caucasian makers month? …just sayin’

    1. mexoplex says:

      Why not? I dont have a problem with that. SO if they do, are you going to complain about those months too?

      1. chikinpotpi says:

        I will. People should be judged solely based on the things they make or do never based on what they look like. Things like this serve only to create a divided society. This effectively insinuates that because someone’s skin is a different color they could never have made things as good as their paler counterparts and require a special month otherwise we would never talk about them.

        I see plenty of articles from makers from all around the world, I routinely have to use google translate to read them, but this is the first time someone has ever brought race or physical appearance into the mix, and it is the exact opposite of what making is supposed to be about.

        1. mexoplex says:

          Well then youre not really the problem. It SHOULDNT be about color. But because you have people that will not hire a contractor to build something because of his skin color, because you have people that doubt other races ingenuity. You have to have programs like Affirmative Action, and TOTALLY VOLUNTARY observances like Black History Month.
          You dont see me celebrating Columbus Day, but do you really think I’m taking the time out of my life to write in complaining someone is making you READ something? WTF Dude?

    2. Nick Normal says:

      I’ll totally discuss this topic with you, and have a dialectical discussion about both of our concerns. What’s your name and email? Oh wait, nevermind. Just sayin’.

  2. Danielle says:

    This is really weird to me… Does this mean black makers don’t feature any other time of the year? Not sure I understand the purpose of the exercise, it doesn’t sit well with me at all.

    1. mexoplex says:

      can you name one Black Maker featured any other time?
      Get over yourself.

      1. Starry says:

        That’s exactly my point. It shouldn’t be just a month of featuring minority makers it should be a usual occurrence!

        1. mexoplex says:

          It should be, but it’s not. It’s kind of like when all those people were mad about Rue Being African-American in the ‘Hunger Games’.
          One of the tweets: “why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie”
          because of people like that is why we have Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, LGBT etc etc. because if you dont have the recognition, who is going to do it/ know?

  3. ameyring says:

    It’s Black History Month in the US, so that’s why black makers are being featured, Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept 15-Oct 15, so let’s hope Make will feature hispanics.

    1. mexoplex says:

      You really shouldnt have to explain this to people ameyring, its sad that you do.
      I hope they DO have a MAKE Hispanic Heritage month- ” Show ’em what you got”

      1. JGM says:

        Morgan Freeman 100% right about this, racism begets racism. Calling out one group or another because of race, whether for good is still racism and reinforces racism. How does a person’s race affect what they make? It doesn’t so, why draw attention to it? Let’s draw attention to what was made, based on the merits of the creation not the race of the creator.

      2. mexoplex says:

        And who the hell appointed Morgan Freeman African-American Spokesman Grand High Poohbah?
        Should I post some thoughts and beliefs of Rush Limbaugh and tie them to all of one race?

        1. davidcdean says:

          Nobody, of course. He’s just making the same point those other folks were.

          Look, it’s no skin off my nose if someone wants a special attention month that specifically marginalizes them. It just seems odd to me that anyone would actually want that. I certainly don’t want one for a race, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc. that I might identify with. But that’s just me… of course people are free to have their own opinion.

          More importantly, I rarely know, and have never cared, what the skin color is of any maker featured on this blog. I look at their project, bookmark it, ask questions, take notes, reference them later, etc. I have no idea what percentage of projects are made by people with various levels of melanin in their skin, and have no reason to care, regardless of whether it’s February or March.

          I think creating is one of those things where you’re most likely to be dealt with based on what you do, as just another person, with little regard for superfluous details of who you are. I guess I don’t understand why anyone would want to change that.

          And I’d be very surprised if other readers treat the content or people here any differently. If you think that’s wrong though, please feel free to say why… I’d be curious.

  4. Steve Olsen (@Beaverbeaver) says:

    It’s not always clear what color the people who made the s**t I look at are and now that I think about it I’ve always assumed they were white, so I support black maker month. Maybe other people who are puzzled by this should be reminded it’s black history month also.

  5. ka1axy says:

    The comments are interesting. I tend not to think about race, gender (personal characteristics in general) when I’m reading MAKE. The project’s the thing, the maker’s details are interesting, but secondary to the project. At least, that’s usually the case for me.

    To bring the personal characteristics of the makers to the forefront is unusual in this setting, so perhaps it has created some discomfort. But for minority makers, there’s benefit in finding the support of others who may have had similar personal experiences. And it’s good for us old white guys to be reminded that makers come in all shapes, sizes, genders and colors. And thanks for pointing out the Black History Month connection. I’d missed that. Which brings up the potentially interesting MAKE topic of “stuff we all take for granted that wasn’t invented by a white guy”…

    1. Kipp Bradford says:

      ka1aky, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You’ve basically nailed why we are running these posts. For most people I’ve talked to in the maker community, the project is the first thing that people care about. The maker’s details are a distant second. That has always been one of the great things about being a maker.
      To bring personal characteristics of the makers to the forefront is unusual, and was bound to cause discomfort (as has been shown from the comments). Despite this discomfort, I think this is valuable for two reasons. First, as you wisely point out, “there’s benefit in finding support of others who may have had similar experiences”. This is really key for kids who are excited about being makers, but might not have the resources or live in strong maker communities. Second, I think the more work we can do to strengthen, build, and grow the maker community, the more cool projects we will have to play with. That to me is a wonderful goal.
      Like you said, it is good for all of us to remember that makers come in many shapes, sizes, genders, and colors. I would add that it is crucial for the next generation of makers to know this as well!

      1. ka1axy says:

        Re: turning kids into makers — the elementary school in our town does a “Sciencefest” every year. One of the more popular activities is the “take apart” area, where kids don safety glasses and select a broken piece of equipment from a large pile of donated VCRs, computers, toaster ovens, etc. They are provided with pliers, screwdrivers and adult supervision. Other than that, they’re left to themselves. It’s great to watch them, and their intense concentration, as they dig into the guts of stuff they’re not allowed to mess with at home!

        I’m a firm believer that taking things apart should be a key part of a child’s education. What better outreach activity for a makerspace than to gather some donated techno-junk and host a “take apart day” for the neighborhood kids (especially those who aren’t likely to wander into a makerspace by themselves)?

    2. Alexander Declama says:

      Nail on the head. If I may just add something. My personal interest in MAKE is purely the project. As a minority, seeing a face that looks like mine adds to my comfort level in all things in life. Virtually everything in this country has a white face attached to it. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. But being non white, it is a 100% reminder of my “otherness” and and adds a very real sting to talk of traditional America or real Americans.

      Many may not agree, but being black and of the type of mind that is drawn to the MAKE culture will lead to being outcast as “acting white.” Throw in the alienation that comes from being the only non white in your classes and dammit, its just nice to know I’m not the only one around. Perhaps changing the cultural attitudes that lead to World History textbooks being European History plus a chapter on China, Egypt and a paragraph on sub-Saharan Africa would do more to erase the need for a Black History Month than protesting reverse racism.

      TL;DR? It’s nice to know Makers come in all colors.

      1. mexoplex says:

        That’s what I am trying to say, but you just said it more eloquently.

  6. blondesareeasy says:

    ENOUGH of this already. Black this, black that. Again, I could bring up that there’s not Whitey or Honky History Month, and be countered with, “There’s already enough of that!” bulls**t.
    What about black seal month? He’s in the picture too.

    And another dirty black cop killed a black guy, and Asian, and two white cops in his vendetta gone bad. But they’re not hyping that crap during “Black History Month.” Black Crime Month would turn things around, for it is the actual truth here. Damn.

    1. mexoplex says:

      I dont get the black seal month. Are you talking about the singer Seal? wtf does he have to do with anything?
      and usually you celebrate the good of whatever you are honoring for a month. Kind of like thanksgiving. A time to reflect. You WANT to make this into more than it is.
      youre the reason there is Affirmative Action, the NAACP, and make Rev Al Sharpton relevant. Just blind ignorance. You dont want to hear about Black History month? Click to the next article. Get over yourself. Its the internet. You dont get to control what everyone ELSE is allowed to read.

    2. chuck says:

      Crime? Seriously, WTF are you on about? Crimes are committed by a rainbow of criminals. TV cop shows and the news media do not equal real life. Stop being scared. It’s OK.
      This is a place for creativity and sharing. The maker movement is about openness. Your comment is offensive, racist, divisive and ultimately destructive- pretty much the antithesis of what most of us are trying to do here.
      So do you make anything besides trouble?

  7. chuck says:

    I’d like to point out something that just occurred to me- we are 24 comments deep in this thread and not one has referenced Chad Jenkins work as a scientist and maker. Kipp’s other post was similar. The fact that this stupid debate is overshadowing these men’s accomplishments is proof that maybe we all still need to work on this issue on a personal level.
    Both of these men’s names are new to me. What if this was their introduction to our community? What would their take-away be? If you were them would you rush back and encourage others to get involved too? If I was a young minority kid interested in robots would this make me want to check out the next Maker Faire in my area or would it put me off?

    1. davidcdean says:

      Perhaps the take-away there is exactly that shoehorning people and their work into a race context is actually counterproductive. Just a thought, I could certainly be wrong.

  8. 0Troy says:

    This goes against everything I expected from MAKE.

    Judge each person by the creativity of their creation not the color of their skin.

    Race, creed, religion, boxer or briefs are all irrelevant and have no place where we celebrate the product of greatness not the melanin content of the skin housing the MAKEr…

  9. Lux Lee says:

    Hello Chad,

    Intresting projects you are working on. It is not the usual Make material. I would expect to see it in places like Gizmag or

    Would it possible for you to write an article about the PR2 Remote Lab keeping the spirit of the maker community in mind?

    Or perhaps there is a cool weekend project you are working on?


  10. Lux Lee says:

    Please delete this and my last comment because it is not relevant when you censor my other comments.

    1. mexoplex says:

      next time maybe you should email the person you are talking to directly and not in this section. You just want someone to care that your comments were possibly deleted. If they were deleted, maybe there was a very good reason. This ain’t or Reddit you know.

      1. Lux Lee says:

        Maybe you are right, but you can now check by yourself because the comments are now restored.

  11. terrefirma says:

    Wow, you guys are just as petty and self righteous as any other bunch of high school kids..

  12. makemama says:

    Thank you for this feature Make! For a lot of us Black History month means something and seeing someone who looks like us being recognized for doing great things in areas we care about does matter. If it doesn’t matter to you then keep it moving, no need to shoot it down. All these people commenting that color shouldn’t matter in the MAKE community are making only racial comments, nothing on the substance of this individual and his contributions completely discrediting their basic argument. Kudos to the great makers profiled this month, you make us proud:)

    1. Alexander Declama says:

      I see what you did there

  13. terrefirma says:

    If anyone wants to really rant about something, how about the fact that there is so little encouragement for ANYONE to step out of the pigeonhole that is standardized education. I would love to support makers and teachers, no matter what they look like as long as they get kids excited and interested and engaged.

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Kipp Bradford is a technology consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for making things. He is the Senior Design Engineer and Lecturer in Engineering at Brown University, where he teaches several engineering design and entrepreneurship courses. Kipp is also on the Technical Advisory Board for Make Magazine.

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