#7 – Lisa Winter, Engineering Project Manager at Mattel

Lisa Winter, Engineering Project Manager at Mattel & Builder of Robots

Lisa Winter, roboticist and Engineering Project Manager at MattelLisa Winter is a roboticist, rapid prototyper and an Engineering Project Manager at Mattel.

Selected Topics: Battle robots, being a maker, and asserting your authority as a woman in tech.

About Lisa: A roboticist since childhood, Lisa has 20 years of experience designing and building robots. She has competed in all U.S. Robot Wars and BattleBots competitions since 1996, including ABC’s BattleBots. Lisa was recently named one of the Top 25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About by Robohub. She has been inventing and rapid prototyping connected devices since the beginning of the IoT movement. She’s currently an Engineering Project Manager at Mattel, developing a smart wearable baby monitor. At night she builds robots, and dreams of ways to help animals and the environment.


(WITtalks will receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the affiliate links on this page. Thanks!)

Fast Company Magazine

Wired Magazine

Books by Ray Kurzweil


Note: The text below reflects constructive editing of the published audio for clarity and flow. Time stamps indicate a change of topic.

Erin Allard: In today’s episode, we’re in the Berkeley, CA workshop of Lisa Winter, Engineering Project Manager at Mattel and BattleBots competitor. Don’t miss this episode if you’re interested in building battle robots, nurturing your maker mindset, and why we don’t need to fear a robot uprising.

Erin: Thanks for joining us for another episode of the WITtalks podcast, I’m Erin Allard your producer and co-host.

Tammy Sanders: I’m Tammy Sanders, your co-host.

Lisa Winter: And I’m Lisa Winter.

Erin: We’re here in Berkeley with Lisa Winter, a lifetime roboticist. She’s going to spend some time with us telling us about how she got into robotics.

Tammy: And why we need more women in tech!

Erin: Yep.

[1:05] Tammy: We’re going to start off pretty straightforward and just give some context to listeners about who you are and how you came to be, just a bit about your life story that you think is relevant.

Lisa: I’m from Wisconsin, so very midwestern. Think lots of snow, dark winters where everyone’s staying inside. It gives you a lot of time to create stuff and to build. My parents are both artists so I have a lot of artistic background.

Tammy: What kind of artists were your parents?

Lisa: My mom’s a graphic designer and then my dad did mainly computers. He also did jewelry back in college and they both painted, so it’s really everything.

Erin: It seems like they’re not limited to any one medium, they’re just creators in the true sense of the word.

Lisa: Exactly, and before the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement, true hippies I may say.

[1:54] Tammy: Right on. You said growing up there were cold, dark winters, a lot of time inside to create, so what kind of things did you create when you were a kid?

Lisa: For example, as a kid I would say, “Hey, I want to play a game.” And my dad would say, “Well, why would we go out and buy one if we can create one?” So we had a whole day of, “Let’s invent something. Let’s invent the story, let’s do the art, let’s make it.”

Erin: That’s pretty amazing.

Tammy: Wow, it sounds like that creative spirit was totally nurtured in you by your parents.

Lisa: Oh yes, oh yes.

Tammy: That’s great.

Lisa: I remember, and it may sound like torture to some people, I remember growing up when my dad gave me a 2×4 section that had holes drilled into it, with bolts and a nut on the other side. He gave me a ratchet wrench and I loved it. I would go into the garage, which was always freezing but I was told that’s where you build stuff, and I’d just ratchet the nut on and off because I thought that tool was so cool.

Erin: [Laughter] Well it makes a cool sound.

Tammy: Is that the one where it’s long and tubular and it goes, “ee ew ee ew ee?”

Lisa: It’s like a wrench but when you go in reverse it doesn’t undo.

Tammy: Exactly, you tighten and then you just turn it back and then you tighten it and turn it back.

Lisa: Exactly, I thought that was so cool.

Tammy: Was that the right sound effect?

Lisa: [Laughter] Yes.

[3:06] Tammy: Ok, got it, just wanted to make sure. [Laughter] Tell us a little bit about where you went to school, what you decided to study, and why you decided to study the things you did.

Lisa: I had the normal schooling and when I was ten I started doing the robots for fun. By the time I was 14-ish, BattleBots was over. We moved out to California for my dad’s job. He started a company out here. It was perfect timing because then I could start high-school and college. I have a degree in art from UC Santa Cruz.

[03:37] Tammy: Oh ok. Now, you mentioned BattleBots just very briefly and then you moved on. Can you talk a little bit about what that is for folks who might not know?

Lisa: Should I go back to how it all began with the robots?

Tammy: Yeah absolutely.

Lisa: Back in 1994 there was a little ad in Wired magazine and my dad saw it, and it was this little blurb that said, “I want to make a robot combat event in San Francisco. Make something and bring it out.” So my dad did that in 1994 and 1995 and he brought back VHS tapes to Wisconsin.

Erin: Back when those were a thing.

Lisa: Oh yeah! I would watch and rewind and see what robots were there and they looked really cool. It was a hobby back then. Robots were not around, they weren’t popular, there weren’t stores to get parts for robots. It was off the shelf, weird hobby store stuff.

Erin: Kind of scrappy?

Lisa: Yeah. Really fun because everyone was just doing this because they had a few hours after dinner and they wanted to have fun. I really liked those tapes and I would watch them and see what robots worked and what didn’t and I started drawing my own designs.

Erin: That is precious. I imagine you were ten at the time, thereabouts, that’s really cool.

Lisa: Yeah, when I was ten I did my first competition. It was in 1996.

Tammy: Wow.

Lisa: That robot was Doughboy. It had a horizontal spinning lawnmower blade on top.

Erin: She says as she smiles very sweetly. [Laughter]

Lisa: It looked sweet. It was called Doughboy and it had a chef’s hat and it was dressed up.

[5:15] Tammy: I’m curious about a couple things. When you were watching the videos of these robot competitions did it look like any women or girls were involved? Or were you just looking at the robots?

Lisa: Honestly, I was just looking at the robots. It may have been my dad’s filming style, but I just remember seeing the robots and wondering, “Is it going get destroyed?”

Tammy: It sounds like you had your dad supporting you, so it didn’t really matter if there was a community you could recognize because your dad was into it and you were into it.

Lisa: I wasn’t thinking about it, and both my parents were really supportive. My mom did so much helping. She did all the graphic design for all the shirts, and we had stickers. It was cool, everyone gave each other stickers.

Erin: I love it.

Lisa: It was a very close community.

[6:03] Tammy: Talk to us a little bit more about how some of your robot activity then further evolves once you get into college.

Lisa: I did that for many years. After Doughboy I made Tentoumushi the ladybug lightweight, but BattleBots dropped off because Comedy Central didn’t want to renew. When I was in high-school and college I just focused on my education and had that little break, which was really good so I could focus. Then a little bit later I was called up by the founders of BattleBots and they said, “We’re pitching this out there to more networks and we’re trying to get BattleBots back, so are you in? We need to make sure there’s people ready to build again.”

Tammy: And you said?

Erin: How did you feel?

Lisa: I told them, “I literally a week ago said ‘OK’ to this huge full time job that’s gonna take all my time and you guys are pitching this idea that sounds amazing, but it’s scary.” And I thought to myself, “If I say no, what would happen?” I thought, “I cannot say no. I would not be able to live with myself if I watched the first season and I wasn’t a part of it.”

Erin: Did you end up balancing the job and the build?

Lisa: I don’t know if it was balanced, but I did it.

[7:17] Tammy: Can you talk about what the job was? What were you doing at the time?

Lisa: It was when I first got promoted to project manager at a startup in San Francisco. It was full time and it was managing a whole build and I had to go to China. During the build, I was in China for two weeks.

Tammy: It’s interesting because it sounds like if you really are passionate about something and you love something you just figure out how to do it. You figure out how to find the time, how to find the energy. It sounds like that’s what happened with you.

Lisa: That’s true, and I think it works for anything in your life. That’s why if you have a startup and you’re trying to hire people, it works for that too. You want to find people that are passionate. If you have that passion there you can really do anything.

I learned so much more being hands-on building robots and personally, physically creating this company, almost. I had an idea, I needed to make the design, come up with the business model, know how I’m gonna pay for this thing, build it myself, try and find teammates so it’s easier, drive this thing, look for sponsors, look for transportation, do all the interviews, do social media. It’s a whole company. Hands-on experience is a really good way to get an education.

It just fell into my lap after college, this role of doing rapid prototyping for people. If a CEO had an idea, they would come up to me and say, “I’m busy, but I have this really good idea and I would like you to build it. Design it, create the hardware, the software, and give me a working model. I know you can do it because I’ve seen you on TV.”

[9:00] Erin: So that’s how you’ve found these gigs, your reputation preceded you.

Lisa: I’ve never actually had to show a resumé. I’m continually updating it, so it stays nice, though.

Erin: Your work is really the embodiment of your resumé.

Lisa: Yeah.

Tammy: What I hear you saying is that your work really reflects who you are and what you care about, and if people understand your work then they understand you.

Lisa: That is it.

[9:29] Tammy: If there are women out there who want to get into robotics, what suggestions would you have for them? Not all of them are going to be able to get on TV, so what other suggestions would you have for how women can get into robotics if they think it’s something that they want to explore? How would you recommend they explore it?

Lisa: The TV thing doesn’t matter, honestly. The little underground competitions are a lot more fun. You talk to each other in the pits and you always help each other. But in terms of getting more information… Well, I started before the Internet was really a thing.

Tammy: Which is actually super interesting, because I think people wonder how anyone did anything before the Internet. I think your advice for how to move yourself forward in robotics, having that experience that precedes the internet, that’s really helpful.

Lisa: That’s why my advice might be a bit different from other people’s, because I would go ask people and see how they did something, and look at their robot. It’s really about going to a competition and looking at people’s’ robots and asking things like, “Why did they use that motor?” Looking at their wiring and seeing their examples.

Tammy: Essentially go talk to people and learn from people directly.

Lisa: Yeah, this is a thing where it’s your physical experience. I go to hardware stores all the time and just walk the aisles and look at stuff. The more you take things apart, the more you take apart your blender or whatever and see how something’s made, that’s where you really learn.

Erin: Really interesting.

Tammy: It’s interesting, this notion that one of the ways you stoke your curiosity and creativity is to start fiddling with things, start taking common things apart and putting them back together to see what happens.

Lisa: You can read, you can take a course, you can know how electricity fundamentally works, or physics or velocity, but it’s not always how it is in a book. Things are going to mess up, it’s always different.

[11:39] Tammy: Something interesting you said was to get out there to the competitions and connect and talk with people. You also mentioned that some of them are underground competitions, so how do you find these competitions? How do you get yourself plugged in?

Lisa: Networking and the Internet are good ways. Robogames is good but it serves people who can go to that competition’s location. I’ve heard that a lot more robotics teams are sprouting up, which is really good.

[12:07] Erin: Are there any myths about robotics or being a robot maker that you would like to dispel?

Lisa: A lot of the work is not even mentioned and it’s a bit boring. The fact that we can do something from 9pm to 2am and on the weekends. The hard part is everything you don’t see.

Erin. So it’s not all glamor.

Lisa: Oh no.

[12:33] Tammy: We want to get to the work you do now, but I am really curious, as you’re getting your feet under you and starting to get more involved in robotics, are you seeing other girls and young women involved in robotics? Does it seem like there aren’t enough girls and women involved?

Lisa: When I was doing this originally in my beginning years, I had a friend named Cassidy. We met in 1997 and were the only two girls at the time. She’s the daughter of Will Wright, the inventor of The Sims and SimCity. He had his own robot and Cassidy had the same story as me where she thought it was really cool. We were pit-mates, we’d run around and look at the robots and it was really great to have a friend. There was another lady who had a fire truck robot. There were a lot of artistic robots back then which was really fun. Speaking of artistic, Cassidy’s robot was a big bush called Chiabot with all these leaves.

[13:43] Tammy: You made a super-naughty robot, we remember seeing the video.

Erin: Moonbot!ray

Lisa: Oh yes!

Tammy: She’s quite naughty.

Erin: It was quite a kick watching that video of her going into the liquor store and trying to pick up a guy.

Lisa: She wants to take men to the moon. Who wouldn’t want to do that?! [Laughter]

Erin: That was pretty brilliant.

What have you gotten from WITtalks? Inspiration? Advice? A feeling of belonging? It feels good to receive and to give back. WITtalks is a listener supported platform where amazing women in tech can share their stories. We hope you’ll consider supporting the show with an amount that works for you, that reflects the value that you derive from listening to these stories. Taking the leap from being a listener to becoming a listener supporter is an easy process that just takes a few minutes on our website wittalks.co. Thanks so much for believing in what we do.

[14:43] Tammy: I’m really curious, what are guys’ reactions to you and to your interest in robots? And to your robots in particular? Especially when you’re creating these robots that have “girl flavor” to them, if you will. What kind of reactions do you get?

Lisa: The first thing that came to mind is I have no clue, because I always have my head down thinking about the work. I say, “I can’t talk to you I’m trying to fix my robot!” I don’t get any negative feedback, like, “You can’t do this because you’re a girl.” It’s very functional feedback, like, “Your robot should’ve done this or that.” But we all get that kind of feedback.

[15:17] Tammy: I also thought it was really interesting, too, that you said you had CEOs reaching out to you asking you to do rapid prototypes for them. Going back to what you said earlier, it really does seem like the work speaks for itself and that perhaps gender doesn’t figure into the conversation as much. What’s your perspective on that?

Lisa: It’s tricky because just saying, “I was on BattleBots, here’s video footage”, really helps my resumé. But then there’s still a bias in the workplace. I’m a female with pink hair who looks younger than my age and oftentimes I get a lot of people looking at the person next to me and asking them questions instead of me.

Erin: Oh man, I would not do well with that.

Lisa: Not usually people who we hire, but people who we’re interviewing and we say, “Well, OK, they did not pass the test because they’re expecting the man to know the answers.” Sometimes it’s difficult for people to feel that authority because to them I’m some young punk and I dress the way I want to dress and not always how people think a professional would dress.

Tammy: I hear this confluence of issues. I hear gender, age, presentation, style. You have this credibility from being on BattleBots but all of these things get in the way of that credibility. That’s what I’m hearing.

Lisa: I do feel that way and I’ve talked to many people who feel that way.

Tammy: Male and female?

Lisa: Female, who have way higher academic degrees than I do, and they feel that a lot.

[16:55] Tammy: What do you do in those situations? I’ve heard other women talk about this too. Can you talk a little about how you’ve responded to some of those situations?

Lisa: I feel angry inside when I sense something like that. Normally I would try to just be assertive and try to sound as intelligent as possible and not give in to what they are creating in their mind.

Tammy: I was reading this blurb on LinkedIn from a woman in law about to work on a big case as the head of a legal team. The client walked into the room and she happened to be the first one there, and the client asked her to get some coffee while they were waiting on the rest of the team. She went off and got the coffee and didn’t say anything. Everyone came in and they all sat down and started talking. She didn’t say anything for a good 15 minutes into the meeting. At one point someone asked a hard question and the team lead turned to her for her opinion because she was the head of the entire team. At that moment the person who asked her to “go get coffee” understood that she was the one in charge.

Erin: And hopefully understood their faux pas.

Tammy: People still don’t take women’s authority seriously. They don’t assume female authority, they assume male authority.

Lisa: I do have to say within the BattleBots and robot building communities, we’re all respectful of each other.

Tammy: That’s refreshing to hear. If you’re passionate about something and you love it, you want to be doing it. If you have to be struggling against this all the time it can chip away at your passion.

Lisa: Part of it may be because we see the robots. We’ve all followed each other throughout the years. We see how their driving is, we’re all asking each other for help during competitions. We know everyone’s super competent because you have to work your ass off to get there.

[18:50] Erin: I’m listening between the lines and it sounds like—and please correct me if I’m wrong—the BattleBots community is actually more welcoming than the corporate community, where the corporate community doesn’t have as much exposure to either good robots or talented roboticists of all stripes.

Lisa: I wouldn’t say robotics as one category, but in general, yes. Probably because within the BattleBots community we’re very close. We know what everyone else can do. If someone comes into where I work and I’m interviewing them, they don’t really know much about me. It’s easy to make judgments about people you don’t know.

Tammy: It’s unfortunate because if they did the tiniest bit of Internet research, they would understand. If they Googled you it would not be hard.

Lisa: Yeah that’s good advice for someone being interviewed.

[19:50] Tammy: [Laughter] If you are going to be interviewing with someone, just Google them first. Speaking of work, do you want to talk a little bit about what you do now and where you officially work?

Lisa: Yeah, again, it really progressed organically. I was doing rapid prototyping for Sproutling, a startup in San Francisco. I was prototyping their second product and someone left the company. Sproutling knew what I could do and asked me if I wanted to take over the project management position. So I started doing project management. From there my title has progressed to Engineering Project Manager (EPM), and I’ve just kept learning new skills.

Tammy: That sounds pretty official.

Lisa: Yeah, it sounds pretty official, I like it. But it was scary, it was something I hadn’t done.

[20:37] Tammy: What scared you about it?

Lisa: Because it was new. I hadn’t done it before. I didn’t know what was involved. I let them teach me and I learned along the way. It was going back to BattleBots and having to manage that build, that gave me the skills to become an EPM.

Tammy: Did we mention that we’re in Lisa’s shop?

Erin: We did not. We are in a real, live robotics shop.

Tammy: Yes, with real live robotics shop things going on, to include the microwave. [Laughter]

Lisa: It’s just a robot making noise.

Erin: It adds to the scenery.

[21:15] Tammy: So what do you find challenging, invigorating, and interesting about your work right now?

Lisa: Going back a little bit, I was an EPM at Sproutling and then we got acquired about a year ago by Mattel. I’m technically a Mattel employee now. We’re making a wearable baby monitor. It’s like the electronics of a FitBit on a baby’s ankle. With a typical baby monitor camera you can’t see if a baby’s breathing and the image resolution is low. With this, it monitors heart rate and an accelerometer measures the motion of the baby, so we actually know how they’re doing.

Erin: Wow, that’s pretty cool.

Lisa: I grew some new responsibilities in the past week, actually. The challenging part is learning those new skills. Now, instead of only managing the hardware I’m also going to be managing the software timelines.

[22:09] Tammy: As I listen to you, one of the things that sounds joyful but that also inspires fear is that your career path does not sound planned at all. You’re open and things come through the door. And you say, “Ok, I’ll go in that direction.” Is that a fair assessment of how your professional life has evolved?

Lisa: That is fair. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad but that’s what’s been going on. I’m feeling happy with the current direction right now.

Tammy: I don’t know that everyone can tolerate that lack of planning or structure. Some people might get freaked out that they don’t know what they’re going to do next.

Erin: Like me, for example.

Tammy: I think that takes a bit of resilience and faith.

Lisa: The career path trajectory wasn’t planned, although now I’m feeling firm in the fact that this is a role that I enjoy. However, the EPM role itself is very controlled.

Tammy: So now that you’re in a role, you do have some real structure and organization in your professional life.

Lisa: It has to be structured. It’s the backbone.

[23:11] Tammy: Do you see yourself having a next step, somewhere you’d want to go?

Lisa: Again, I’m open. Presented with the right opportunity I can really go anywhere.

Tammy: See you’re right back to, “Wherever it serendipitously takes me.”

Lisa: Yeah, I just want to be open and available for anything that’s fun.

[23:34] Tammy: That’s a good place to talk about what you dreams are. What are your big dreams, your little dreams?

Lisa: I keep a huge to-do list. Let me open this up. I recently listed goals for myself.

Erin: Yay!

Lisa: I only had three. One was to build a killer robot.

Tammy: Wait, do you mean like a killer robot or a robot that’s awesome?

Lisa: So, I reworded it. I was like, “Maybe that could be misinterpreted.” Now there’s a goal to build a super-effective robot.

Erin: Cool.

Lisa: Write a book, apparently, I guess.

Erin: About?

Tammy: You seem confused. This is your goal!

Lisa: I wrote it down, I have to think about that one.

Erin: You could put together a PDF eBook and put it on your website.

Lisa: I want to get all these goals on my website too so people can push me along.

Tammy: Hold you accountable.

Lisa: I want to buy a house. It’s always been one of my goals.

Tammy: Why’s that? Especially in the Bay Area, where housing prices are like a gajillion dollars.

[24:36] Erin: For you, is it more because you think of a house as a place of stability and setting down roots, or do you want to buy a fixer-upper because you like to make things? What for you is the driver behind that goal?

Lisa: Either one. I want a house where half of it is a really cool shop, where it can all be in one area and I can make it my own. I can do whatever I want to do. That’s not something you can really do with a rental.

[25:08] Tammy: So a place of stability and a home base that you can also unleash your creativity upon. Do you think that “maker” tendency is a particular gene? Because I’ll tell you—Erin has that tendency, she’s always making something. She’s a quilter and we had to give up the space that would be the dining area in our apartment so that she could have space to do sewing and quilting. She just got a RaspberryPi, which for those who don’t know is a mini computer, not something you eat.

She’s renovated houses and has this notion that she wants to build things. I do not have that. I told her if we ever do have a house it cannot be a project, it has to be done. I want to move into a place that is done. If she wants to get a fixer-upper elsewhere, she can work on it to her heart’s content. But I want to move into a place that is done because I don’t have a maker mentality. Do you feel that there’s such a thing as a maker mentality or am I just completely lacking in creativity?

Lisa: Yes, there is a maker mentality. I think when you want to make stuff you need that space. You need that sacred space to build.

Erin: Sacred space to build, I like that.

[26:21] Tammy: What I’m trying to get at, though, is do you think that motivation to build was nature or nurture for you?

Lisa: Probably both. It’s hard to say for me because I’m already pretty deep in it. My dad is very hardworking. He started a company in 2001 that I worked in over the summers. He would always say, “We need this prototype by tomorrow!” or “Let’s get the wiring done on this robot, we only have a few hours!” He was very hardworking. I got a lot of my fast, rapid prototyping skills from him.

Tammy: It sounds like it may be a little bit of both for you. I think with Erin’s family we have comparison points because you are really the maker of your three siblings.

Erin: I think I’ve always had that. I think I didn’t have the space to exercise that until I became older and could afford to fund my own tinkerings. I probably would have started making things a lot earlier but it didn’t happen that way. In a sense I’m making up for lost time and trying everything.

[27:25] Tammy: If you’re listening to the podcast and you have a sense that you want to make things then you really should try to pursue that as much as you can. Don’t set it to the side and say you’ll get to it later. Pay attention to it because there could be something really fundamental in there for you.

Lisa: Something that happens to me all the time is that I’ll have an idea for something I want to invent. I’ll write it down or just think of it. It can really float away or you eventually forget about it, but if you start that project you’ll get so happy. It’s really invigorating and once you just open one box of some part that you ordered for it, you’re all in and you’re not going to sleep for a week because it’s really fun when you actually get your hands on it.

Tammy: So if you have that impulse, just go with it.

Lisa: Go with it, yeah.

[28:09] Erin: Let’s get to our really super fun questions. Unless you have any more goals you’d like to share?

Lisa: Let me look through.

Tammy: Don’t oversell it. Super fun? Let’s not oversell these questions.

Lisa: I want fun questions!

Erin: These are some of my favorite questions. These are tough questions here at the end.

Tammy: OK, alright.

Lisa: Oh, one of them is to inspire more girls to go into STEM.

Erin: Yay.

[28:32] Tammy: Ok, well let’s talk about that a little bit. When we were getting set up here you mentioned that one of the reasons you wanted to do the podcast was because we really need more women in tech. Why do we need women in tech, from your perspective?

Lisa: I just want to get rid of the inequality. From a technical standpoint, everyone buys apps. Everyone buys hardware. Women should give their input so that the product is [both designed and] wanted by everyone. In terms of the workplace and hiring, I just don’t want it to be so biased. We all should start from the same place and get the same respect when we go into an interview.

Tammy: It sounds like there’s two things there. One is that the functionality of a product is improved if there is more than one viewpoint that goes into the design of it. Then the notion that the functionality of a business is made better if we all work here equally and we’re all equally capable.

Lisa: Exactly.

Tammy: Alright, I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss that.

[29:34] Erin: I guess this question is assuming that you have time to read: What books have you read recently that you would recommend?

Tammy: I feel that’s biased toward books. There are a lot of good things to read that aren’t books. Let’s open it up a little bit. Are there things that you read that you feel are good reads, that inspire you, books or otherwise?

Lisa: I’m actually forgetting the name of it right now, there’s that business magazine?

Erin: Fast Company?

Lisa: Fast Company! My parents read it so I get it second hand but it’s very good. That, with Wired as well. Sometimes I’m just a bit too busy. I usually put Science Friday podcasts on while I’m getting ready in the morning. All my books are like, “How to Start a Good Company” and ethical books about the animal industry because I’m really into veganism, ethically.

Tammy: What are some books you’d recommend if people had those interests?

Lisa: What’s interesting is Ray Kurzweil. He talks about the singularity, robotics, getting robots to be so small that you put them in your body and they help heal your organs. Maybe we don’t all agree with everything—he’s a bit extreme—but he’s very interesting to read.

Tammy: Am I remembering him correctly, he’s connected with Singularity University?

Lisa: Yes, he started that.

Tammy: When he started talking about nanorobotics, and this notion that you can get down to robotics helping us at the cellular level, some people are freaked out about this. But I think it’s really compelling to think about how we could use technology to evolve humanity. Wouldn’t it be great if we could rewire our brains a little bit? I notice you have a “The Anatomy of the Brain” poster on your wall here. Are you thinking about robotics as a way to rewire the brain? Because that would be helpful.

Lisa: Nope, that’s actually because my dad is a mad scientist. He’s developing something for work. But don’t be afraid! Everyone talks about the “robot uprising” and I don’t think we should be scared, at least not right now.

[31:25] Tammy: Is there a point where you think we should be scared? And why don’t you think we should be scared right now?

Lisa: First of all, humanoid robots are just so not effective.

Tammy: It’s very doom and gloom. When you see film about it there’s always something we need to be afraid of. I don’t necessarily know that that’s the case so I’m interested in your view.
Lisa: AI, within its current definition, is programmed by humans. We are telling it, “If you see this from your sensor, do this action.”

Tammy: If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know the lingo, “AI” is:

Lisa: Artificial Intelligence. The next form of AI is having robots learn from themselves. Instead of me telling a robot A = A, this robot is going to be like a human baby and educate itself. That’s the sort of thing that we may have to worry about in the future, but I have not seen any good examples yet.

[32:25] Tammy: What are some of the programming tools or technology tools that you use when you’re working on robots?

Lisa: For combat robots, I don’t really need programming because it’s basically power source to speed control. The robot is basically using my brain. I’m telling the transmitter to tell the receiver to tell the robot how much power to put into the motors.

Erin: You have a YouTube video about that.

Lisa: I do!

Erin: I watched it. We’ll link to that for anyone who’s interested.

Lisa: Oh that’d be great. It’s a good primer for anyone getting into this.

Erin: We’ve got three “just for fun” questions for you.

Tammy: Are you ready?

Lisa: Yes.

[33:09] Erin: First one, Instagram or Twitter?

Lisa: Instagram.

Tammy: Why?

Lisa: Pictures and video are always way cooler.

Erin: I would agree.

Tammy: Have you spent time cultivating your Instagram following?

Lisa: It’s pretty decent.

Erin: What’s your handle for those who may want to follow you?

Lisa: @titanium_teeth

[33:35] Tammy: Glitter or rainbow?

Lisa: Glitter.

Erin: Yes! We were debating between ourselves. Tammy picked rainbow because glitter was too much for her. I picked glitter.

Tammy: I’m a German Virgo, I can’t take the mess and the vacuuming that’s necessary with glitter. I’m not surprised that the two makers pick glitter. Glitter is something you can do something with.

Erin: It just sends stuff over the edge. That’s what I like.

Tammy: Well and also you can manipulate it. Rainbows are just things you can take in, but glitter is something you can do stuff with.

Lisa: What I like recently, I haven’t purchased it yet, but I’ve seen all these Instagram photos of this edible glitter that you can put in food.

Erin: O.M.G.

Lisa: I know, right?! I just want to put it on everything, if I could find some.

Erin: I’m going to go home and Google that.

Tammy: Alright last one.

[34:16] Erin: Last one. Money or fame?

Lisa: I’m going to go with my previous goal: Money, so I can buy a house with a really awesome shop in it.

Tammy: Lisa Winter, thank you.

Lisa: Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

Erin: Thanks so much for being our first roboticist on the show!

Lisa: Yeah, no problem.

Erin: That was another episode of the WITtalks podcast, I’m Erin.

Tammy: And I’m Tammy.

Erin: And…

Lisa: Lisa Winter!

Erin: We’ll see you later!

Erin: You can connect with Lisa Winter on LinkedIn, tweet her @lisawinterx, or find her on Instagram @titanium_teeth.

Connect with WITtalks!

Leave a Reply