Robogal: introducing STEMpreneur ambassador, Marita Cheng

To help mentor students participating in our latest STEM in schools program, we’ve called on tech entrepreneur and women in tech advocate, Marita Cheng.

Once upon a time, sending a robot in to do a human’s work would be like something from science fiction. Think R2D2 from Star Wars, Rosie from The Jetsons, and Optimus Prime from Transformers.

But, not anymore. And definitely not for Marita Cheng.

The well-known technology entrepreneur from Cairns – and 2012 Young Australian of the Year – has long been tinkering with robots, with a special focus on innovations that help and empower society.

And that’s why she makes the perfect ambassador for our latest STEM in schools program.

The nbn™ STEMpreneur initiative

Designed to help young Australian students prepare for the new world of work, the nbn™ STEMpreneur initiative sees eight schools from across Australia participate in workshops and 12 weeks of virtual learning.

Students then have two months, as a team, to develop an idea for a social enterprise that’s enabled by technology and will benefit their community.

That’s where Cheng comes in.

As STEMpreneur ambassador, Cheng will act as mentor to the schools as they prepare their STEM-related ideas.

Students from Larapinta Primary School in Alice Springs.

For the brains behind Robogals – which aims to inspire and empower young women to consider studying engineering and related fields – it was a collaboration that was, really, a no-brainer.

Says Cheng, “With my robots and what they allow people to do around Australia, it’s such a good fit with the nbn™ access network.

“Having high-quality access to the internet supports a high-quality experience through our robots, and I’m excited to get behind this and show my support.”

You could say, it’s the bridging of a divide – whether digital or distance – where Cheng and the nbn™ access network really connect.

More about Marita

Since 2013, Cheng and her business, aubot, have been making robotic arms and telepresence robots that let users be anywhere, from anywhere.

For example, children with long-term illnesses can go to school from hospital or home, or employees can go to work remotely, all with the help of a ‘Teleport’.

It’s an innovation that has also proven popular with the likes of museums and co-working spaces, and for offices.

For Cheng, it all started when she was asked to build a robot for remote working to beat a three-hour commute.

“I just had all these people ask me for this type of robot and so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll build you this robot’.”

It’s opportunities like these that Cheng encourages students wanting to follow in her footsteps to look out for: “I’d advise them to look around for opportunities, start on a project that helps other people, and develop your skills and confidence.”

The future of work

As for what’s in store for the future of work, Cheng sees acceleration ahead.

“I think more and more jobs will be created that require STEM skills and entrepreneurial skills. Where you will look for opportunities and have to be creative in terms of how you solve problems that we don’t even know about yet.”

That’s why, Cheng says, it’s so important for students to learn skills in STEM and entrepreneurialism.

“With STEM and entrepreneurial skills, it means your opportunities are not just limited to Australia – your skills can be used around the world using the internet. You’re not just limited to selling things in Australia, you can sell things around the world.

“And using internet, using services over the nbn™ access network, you’ll be able to access a global market and leverage your skills through the digital platform.”*

Students from Para Hills Primary School in Adelaide with Head of nbn™ local SA and NT, Tim Saul.

Up next for Cheng as STEMpreneur ambassador – once mentoring duties are complete – is joining the judging panel to decide the winner of this year’s program.

And on the work front, Cheng and her aubot crew will be working on selling their robots and developing new robots to launch later this year.

Really, what better role model and STEMpreneur ambassador could we ask for?

* nbn provides services to our wholesale customers (phone and internet providers). nbn™ wholesale speed tiers available to your phone and internet provider vary depending on the access technology in your area. Your experience, including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ network, depends on the nbn™ access network technology and configuration over which services are delivered to your premises, whether you are using the internet during the busy period, and some factors outside our control (like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans, signal reception and how your service provider designs its network). Speeds may be impacted by the number of concurrent users on nbn’s Fixed Wireless network, including during busy periods. Satellite users may experience latency.
Marita Cheng was paid a small fee for her time and involvement in the nbn™ STEMpreneur initiative.