Founding members of Black in Robotics Monroe Kennedy III and Ayanna Howard with a robot.
Ayanna Howard, chair of the School of Interactive Computing with the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, and Monroe Kennedy III, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, are founding members of Black in Robotics (BiR), and members of the organization's leadership team. On Nov. 14, BiR and Amazon Robotics will announce they're collaborating to create a regional BiR chapter in Boston. It is the first of what BiR hopes will be many chapters established across the US.
Credit: Glynnis Condon, Georgia Tech, Stanford

Amazon Robotics is primary sponsor of new Black in Robotics Boston chapter

Recently formed organization advocates for more diversity, inclusion, and equity within robotics field.

At a virtual student event connected to the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), Amazon Robotics and the recently established Black in Robotics (BiR) organization will announce tomorrow they’re collaborating to create BiR’s first regional chapter, the first of what BiR hopes will be many chapters established across the US.  

Amazon Robotics’ sponsorship includes financial support for events and other activities in the Boston area, as well as providing meeting and event space in Amazon's offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Boston chapter will help create opportunities for up-and-coming roboticists, and help enrich the company’s talent pipeline, says Tye Brady, Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer. Amazon Robotics’ headquarters is located in North Reading, Massachusetts, just north of Boston.  The Boston chapter will help Black engineering and science students at Boston-area colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, the University of Massachusetts, Tufts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Olin College, and Brown University, network and obtain mentoring and internship  opportunities from area academic and industry professionals.

“Black in Robotics is really about building community and advocating for diversity, and encouraging accountability,” said Ayanna Howard, chair of the School of Interactive Computing within the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, one of BiR’s founders, and a member of its leadership team. “We feel it makes sense to start in Boston because of the large robotics community that exists there, and because there are a large number of students there attending regional universities. It’s an ideal location to start because we can reach out to the students and reach engineers there, and establish a presence, and a blueprint for how we can build communities elsewhere.”

“If you’re an underrepresented minority student at one of the area colleges and universities, you might be only one of two or three people who look like you in your classes, and if you’re a professional working in industry, you might also be only one of two or three roboticists who look like you in your organization,” Howard added. “So this chapter is about building community, and helping students and professionals develop a network, and avoid the isolation they might otherwise feel.”

“We are really driven by the fact that we need to be the change we want to see,” added Monroe Kennedy III, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University who is also a founding member of BiR, and a member of its leadership team. “African Americans especially, but minorities in general, are underrepresented in STEM, and in robotics. As members of the robotics community, we recognize how valuable being a member of the community is to every aspect of our lives. So our objective is to make that opportunity available to more underrepresented minorities.”

Issues of diversity are on the agenda at AfroTech World

We asked some Black scientists to discuss the issues limiting underrepresented minorities’ involvement in the technology industry, and to share their own experiences. See what they had to say.

“The current and pervasive lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the technology ecosystem presents a significant national challenge,” says a report on women and girls of color in computing from the Kapor Center, and other contributors.

Brady says Amazon Robotics is excited to support BiR’s mission of bringing together researchers, industry professionals, and students in robotics to support one another, and help navigate academic, industry, and entrepreneurial paths. When Howard talked with Brady recently about how to address systemic inequities in robotics and the role Amazon Robotics could play in supporting the Boston BiR chapter, he didn’t hesitate.

“Ayanna is an amazing individual with deep technical chops.  Whenever she gets behind something, I pay attention,” Brady said. “I’m excited to support her and the organization’s mission.”

Brady believes it’s important to define the future of robotics with a mindset of diversity and inclusion.

Tye Brady
Tye Brady, Amazon Robotics' chief technology officer, says the Boston chapter of Black in Robotics will help create opportunities for up-and-coming roboticists, and help enrich the company's talent pipeline.

“Why do I say that?  Three reasons,” Brady said. “First, we become more creative with diverse viewpoints and perspectives, which ultimately leads to better robotics. Second, diversity is the answer to adversity. By that I mean, teams become stronger when they’re diverse; they bring more opportunities, more experience, and more viewpoints to the challenge of tackling hard problems. And third, we can source talent from a much larger pool of talent. We’re constantly seeking the best and the brightest to help us reimagine the future, and that means including others than yourself. We really need to grow the talent pipeline in computer engineering generally, and robotics more specifically, and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

The importance of mentoring

Kennedy says the new BiR Boston chapter represents the deep commitment industry and academia have to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities within STEM professions.  He’s excited about the forthcoming opportunities for students, faculty, and industry professionals to learn from each other, and collaborate on projects together.

“This is really a great opportunity for academia and industry to come together, put everything aside, and really come together as roboticists who care about each other, and want to help one another.  This first chapter can really facilitate that vision,” Kennedy said.

The mentorship component of BiR’s vision resonated with Brady.

“I just think about my own experiences when it comes to having mentors, having people help you when you have an interest in something, but no experience,” Brady said. “I’m thankful to those people who extended a helping hand to me. I’m thankful to those companies who said, ‘I can help you; I can give you a chance.’ I’ve lived that, and it’s important to pass that experience on to others. This initiative provides a great opportunity to do that.  Not just for myself, but for our entire Amazon Robotics team.”

Kennedy says he, too, has benefited from many mentors in his career journey, and he’s pulled together different attributes from each to help guide his career and lifestyle choices.

“One thing that was lacking is there wasn’t necessarily one place I could go where these examples came together in a nice, cohesive way,” Kennedy says. “This is something Black in Robotics has to offer. We want to bring these individuals, these examples, together in a cohesive way, so students don’t have to look all over the place to get exposed to these positive examples, to find their heroes.”

Mentorship is a critical component of Howard’s role as a professor at Georgia Tech.

“My group at Tech is very diverse; it’s representative of the world and I hope all of them pursue a career in robotics,” Howard said. “I mentor them, not just academically, but socially as well. I introduce them to people, and I work to push them out front and promote them. And we just need more of that. That’s what resonates for me with this Boston chapter; it’s that ability to network with others that doesn’t happen naturally without this kind of organization. We’re creating the water cooler where people can come together, and networking will be a natural byproduct of that.”

Education and community outreach

Education and community outreach is another component of BiR’s mission.  This, too, speaks to Brady, who’s concerned not only by the lack of underrepresented minorities within the tech industry overall, and the robotics field more specifically, but with declining college enrollments in STEM-related courses.

“We have to get to the K through 12 kids sooner, and engage them in computer science, and science-related topics sooner,” Brady said. “That’s one of the things we hope to enable with this chapter. We want to create robotics ambassadors who can get engaged with K through 12 kids, and share their experiences and their passion for robotics. “Our entire community needs to get involved because we need more college graduates with computer science degrees, engineering degrees, and graduates who are STEM minded.  So that’s another aspect of this initiative that we’re really excited about.”

"Outreach at every level of a student’s education is required"

Four economists from diverse backgrounds shared how economics can address its diversity problem and talked about how their lives have shaped their work as economists.

Howard agrees, though she emphasizes that the burden shouldn’t solely rest with Black roboticists to help drive change within the field.

“There has been a lot of progress; the needle has moved,” she says. “It just hasn’t moved at the rate is has in other fields like medicine or law. The way we’ve established this organization from the outset is that allies are a pillar. Our mission isn’t just to connect Black roboticists with other Black roboticists. We don’t believe that will move the needle. People like myself, who have been in this field for a while, shouldn’t bear the burden of fixing robotics.  That’s why our approach has been to bring in allies from the beginning; we’ve created an ally steering committee because this isn’t a Black or Brown problem, this is a robotics problem.”

Those of us who have more senior roles in our field have helped knock down some of the walls, but we need to make sure that even though we’ve knocked down some walls, the road for future roboticists is more comfortable to travel on.
Ayanna Howard

“Some of this is also about calling ourselves out,” Howard continues, “to say ‘Look, this is as much our fault as it is society’s fault, and therefore we need to play a role in fixing it. Those of us who have more senior roles in our field have helped knock down some of the walls, but we need to make sure that even though we’ve knocked down some walls, the road for future roboticists is more comfortable to travel on.”

In addition to Howard and Kennedy, other members of BiR’s leadership team include Carlotta Berry, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Edward  Tunstel, group leader, and associate director of robotics at Raytheon Technologies’ Research Center; Quincy Kissiedu-Brown, cofounder of blackcomputerHER; Maynard Holliday, senior engineer, Rand Corporation; Yves Nazon II, a graduate research assistant at the University of Michigan; and Kwesi Rutledge, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Howard says the Boston chapter’s first event is scheduled for January. Individuals interested in becoming a BiR member can visit the organization’s website.

Research areas

Related content

US, WA, Seattle
Job description: We are reimagining Amazon Search with an interactive conversational experience that helps you find answers to product questions, perform product comparisons, receive personalized product suggestions, and so much more, to easily find the perfect product for your needs. We’re looking for the best and brightest across Amazon to help us realize and deliver this vision to our customers right away. This will be a once in a generation transformation for Search, just like the Mosaic browser made the Internet easier to engage with three decades ago. If you missed the 90s—WWW, Mosaic, and the founding of Amazon and Google—you don’t want to miss this opportunity.
US, WA, Bellevue
We are looking for detail-oriented, organized, and responsible individuals who are eager to learn how to work with large and complicated data sets. Knowledge of econometrics, (Bayesian) time series, macroeconomic, as well as basic familiarity with Matlab, R, or Python is necessary, and experience with SQL would be a plus. These are full-time positions at 40 hours per week, with compensation being awarded on an hourly basis. You will learn how to build data sets and perform applied econometric analysis at Internet speed collaborating with economists, scientists, and product managers. These skills will translate well into writing applied chapters in your dissertation and provide you with work experience that may help you with placement. Roughly 85% of previous cohorts have converted to full time economics employment at Amazon. If you are interested, please send your CV to our mailing list at
US, WA, Seattle
Do you want to join an innovative team of scientists who use machine learning to help Amazon provide the best experience to our Selling Partners by automatically understanding and addressing their challenges, needs and opportunities? Do you want to build advanced algorithmic systems that are powered by state-of-art ML, such as Natural Language Processing, Large Language Models, Deep Learning, Computer Vision and Causal Modeling, to seamlessly engage with Sellers? Are you excited by the prospect of analyzing and modeling terabytes of data and creating cutting edge algorithms to solve real world problems? Do you like to build end-to-end business solutions and directly impact the profitability of the company and experience of our customers? Do you like to innovate and simplify? If yes, then you may be a great fit to join the Selling Partner Experience Science team. Key job responsibilities Use statistical and machine learning techniques to create the next generation of the tools that empower Amazon's Selling Partners to succeed. Design, develop and deploy highly innovative models to interact with Sellers and delight them with solutions. Work closely with teams of scientists and software engineers to drive real-time model implementations and deliver novel and highly impactful features. Establish scalable, efficient, automated processes for large scale data analyses, model development, model validation and model implementation. Research and implement novel machine learning and statistical approaches. Lead strategic initiatives to employ the most recent advances in ML in a fast-paced, experimental environment. Drive the vision and roadmap for how ML can continually improve Selling Partner experience. About the team Selling Partner Experience Science (SPeXSci) is a growing team of scientists, engineers and product leaders engaged in the research and development of the next generation of ML-driven technology to empower Amazon's Selling Partners to succeed. We draw from many science domains, from Natural Language Processing to Computer Vision to Optimization to Economics, to create solutions that seamlessly and automatically engage with Sellers, solve their problems, and help them grow. Focused on collaboration, innovation and strategic impact, we work closely with other science and technology teams, product and operations organizations, and with senior leadership, to transform the Selling Partner experience.
US, WA, Seattle
The AWS AI Labs team has a world-leading team of researchers and academics, and we are looking for world-class colleagues to join us and make the AI revolution happen. Our team of scientists have developed the algorithms and models that power AWS computer vision services such as Amazon Rekognition and Amazon Textract. As part of the team, we expect that you will develop innovative solutions to hard problems, and publish your findings at peer reviewed conferences and workshops. AWS is the world-leading provider of cloud services, has fostered the creation and growth of countless new businesses, and is a positive force for good. Our customers bring problems which will give Applied Scientists like you endless opportunities to see your research have a positive and immediate impact in the world. You will have the opportunity to partner with technology and business teams to solve real-world problems, have access to virtually endless data and computational resources, and to world-class engineers and developers that can help bring your ideas into the world. Our research themes include, but are not limited to: few-shot learning, transfer learning, unsupervised and semi-supervised methods, active learning and semi-automated data annotation, large scale image and video detection and recognition, face detection and recognition, OCR and scene text recognition, document understanding, 3D scene and layout understanding, and geometric computer vision. For this role, we are looking for scientist who have experience working in the intersection of vision and language. We are located in Seattle, Pasadena, Palo Alto (USA) and in Haifa and Tel Aviv (Israel).
RO, Iasi
Amazon’s mission is to be earth’s most customer-centric company and our team is the guardian of our customer’s privacy. Amazon SDO Privacy engineering operates in Austin – TX, US and Iasi, Bucharest – Romania. Our mission is to develop services which will enable every Amazon service operating with personal data to satisfy the privacy rights of Amazon customers. We are working backwards from the customers and world-wide privacy regulations, think long term, and propose solutions which will assure Amazon Privacy compliance. Our external customers are world-wide customers of Amazon Retail Website, Amazon B2B services (e.g. Seller central, App / Skill Developers), and Amazon Subsidiaries. Our internal customers are services within Amazon who operate with personal data, Legal Representatives, and Customer Service Agents. You can opt-in for being part of one of the existing or newly formed engineering teams who will contribute to Amazon mission to meet external customers’ privacy rights: Personal Data Classification, The Right to be forgotten, The right of access, or Digital Markets Act – The Right of Portability. The ideal candidate has a great passion for data and an insatiable desire to learn and innovate. A commitment to team work, hustle and strong communication skills (to both business and technical partners) are absolute requirements. Creating reliable, scalable, and high-performance products requires a sound understanding of the fundamentals of Computer Science and practical experience building large-scale distributed systems. Your solutions will apply to all of Amazon’s consumer and digital businesses including but not limited to, Alexa, Kindle, Amazon Go, Prime Video and more. Key job responsibilities As an data scientist on our team, you will apply the appropriate technologies and best practices to autonomously solve difficult problems. You'll contribute to the science solution design, run experiments, research new algorithms, and find new ways of optimizing customer experience. Besides theoretical analysis and innovation, you will work closely with talented engineers and ML scientists to put your algorithms and models into practice. You will collaborate with partner teams including engineering, PMs, data annotators, and other scientists to discuss data quality, policy, and model development. Your work will directly impact the trust customers place in Amazon Privacy, globally.
JP, 13, Tokyo
The JP Economics team is a central science team working across a variety of topics in the JP Retail business and beyond. We work closely with JP business leaders to drive change at Amazon. We focus on solving long-term, ambiguous and challenging problems, while providing advisory support to help solve short-term business pain points. Key topics include pricing, product selection, delivery speed, profitability, and customer experience. We tackle these issues by building novel economic/econometric models, machine learning systems, and high-impact experiments which we integrate into business, financial, and system-level decision making. Our work is highly collaborative and we regularly partner with JP- EU- and US-based interdisciplinary teams. In this role, you will build ground-breaking, state-of-the-art causal inference models to guide multi-billion-dollar investment decisions around the global Amazon marketplaces. You will own, execute, and expand a research roadmap that connects science, business, and engineering and contributes to Amazon's long term success. As one of the first economists outside North America/EU, you will make an outsized impact to our international marketplaces and pioneer in expanding Amazon’s economist community in Asia. The ideal candidate will be an experienced economist in empirical industrial organization, labour economics, econometrics, or related structural/reduced-form causal inference fields. You are a self-starter who enjoys ambiguity in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment. You think big on the next game-changing opportunity but also dive deep into every detail that matters. You insist on the highest standards and are consistent in delivering results. Key job responsibilities Work with Product, Finance, Data Science, and Data Engineering teams across the globe to deliver data-driven insights and products for regional and world-wide launches. Innovate on how Amazon can leverage data analytics to better serve our customers through selection and pricing. Contribute to building a strong data science community in Amazon Asia.
GB, London
Are you excited about applying economic models and methods using large data sets to solve real world business problems? Then join the Economic Decision Science (EDS) team. EDS is an economic science team based in the EU Stores business. The teams goal is to optimize and automate business decision making in the EU business and beyond. An internship at Amazon is an opportunity to work with leading economic researchers on influencing needle-moving business decisions using incomparable datasets and tools. It is an opportunity for PhD students and recent PhD graduates in Economics or related fields. We are looking for detail-oriented, organized, and responsible individuals who are eager to learn how to work with large and complicated data sets. Knowledge of econometrics, as well as basic familiarity with Stata, R, or Python is necessary. Experience with SQL would be a plus. As an Economics Intern, you will be working in a fast-paced, cross-disciplinary team of researchers who are pioneers in the field. You will take on complex problems, and work on solutions that either leverage existing academic and industrial research, or utilize your own out-of-the-box pragmatic thinking. In addition to coming up with novel solutions and prototypes, you may even need to deliver these to production in customer facing products. Roughly 85% of previous intern cohorts have converted to full time economics employment at Amazon.
US, CA, Cupertino
We're looking for an Applied Scientist to help us secure Amazon's most critical data. In this role, you'll work closely with internal security teams to design and build AR-powered systems that protect our customers' data. You will build on top of existing formal verification tools developed by AWS and develop new methods to apply those tools at scale. You will need to be innovative, entrepreneurial, and adaptable. We move fast, experiment, iterate and then scale quickly, thoughtfully balancing speed and quality. Inclusive Team Culture Here at AWS, we embrace our differences. We are committed to furthering our culture of inclusion. We have ten employee-led affinity groups, reaching 40,000 employees in over 190 chapters globally. We have innovative benefit offerings, and host annual and ongoing learning experiences, including our Conversations on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) and AmazeCon (gender diversity) conferences. Work/Life Balance Our team puts a high value on work-life balance. It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the flow you establish that brings energy to both parts of your life. We believe striking the right balance between your personal and professional life is critical to life-long happiness and fulfillment. We offer flexibility in working hours and encourage you to find your own balance between your work and personal lives. Mentorship & Career Growth Our team is dedicated to supporting new members. We have a broad mix of experience levels and tenures, and we’re building an environment that celebrates knowledge sharing and mentorship. Our senior members enjoy one-on-one mentoring and thorough, but kind, code reviews. We care about your career growth and strive to assign projects based on what will help each team member develop into a better-rounded engineer and enable them to take on more complex tasks in the future. Key job responsibilities Deeply understand AR techniques for analyzing programs and other systems, and keep up with emerging ideas from the research community. Engage with our customers to develop understanding of their needs. Propose and develop solutions that leverage symbolic reasoning services and concepts from programming languages, theorem proving, formal verification and constraint solving. Implement these solutions as services and work with others to deploy them at scale across Payments and Healthcare. Author papers and present your work internally and externally. Train new teammates, mentor others, participate in recruiting and interviewing, and participate in our tactical and strategic planning. About the team Our small team of applied scientists works within a larger security group, supporting thousands of engineers who are developing Amazon's payments and healthcare services. Security is a rich area for automated reasoning. Most other approaches are quite ad-hoc and take a lot of human effort. AR can help us to reason deliberately and systematically, and the dream of provable security is incredibly compelling. We are working to make this happen at scale. We partner closely with our larger security group and with other automated reasoning teams in AWS that develop core reasoning services.
US, NY, New York
Search Thematic Ad Experience (STAX) team within Sponsored Products is looking for a leader to lead a team of talented applied scientists working on cutting-edge science to innovate on ad experiences for Amazon shoppers!. You will manage a team of scientists, engineers, and PMs to innovate new widgets on Amazon Search page to improve shopper experience using state-of-the-art NLP and computer vision models. You will be leading some industry first experiences that has the potential to revolutionize how shopping looks and feels like on Amazon, and e-commerce marketplaces in general. You will have the opportunity to design the vision on how ad experiences look on Amazon search page, and use the combination of advanced techniques and continuous experimentation to realize this vision. Your work will be core to Amazon’s advertising business. You will be a significant contributor in building the future of sponsored advertising, directly impacting the shopper experience for our hundreds of millions of shoppers worldwide, while delivering significant value for hundreds of thousands of advertisers across the purchase journey with ads on Amazon. Key job responsibilities * Be the technical leader in Machine Learning; lead efforts within the team, and collaborate and influence across the organization. * Be a critic, visionary, and execution leader. Invent and test new product ideas that are powered by science that addresses key product gaps or shopper needs. * Set, plan, and execute on a roadmap that strikes the optimal balance between short term delivery and long term exploration. You will influence what we invest in today and tomorrow. * Evangelize the team’s science innovation within the organization, company, and in key conferences (internal and external). * Be ruthless with prioritization. You will be managing a team which is highly sought after. But not all can be done. Have a deep understanding of the tradeoffs involved and be fierce in prioritizing. * Bring clarity, direction, and guidance to help teams navigate through unsolved problems with the goal to elevate the shopper experience. We work on ambiguous problems and the right approach is often unknown. You will bring your rich experience to help guide the team through these ambiguities, while working with product and engineering in crisply defining the science scope and opportunities. * Have strong product and business acumen to drive both shopper improvements and business outcomes. A day in the life * Lead a multidisciplinary team that embodies “customer obsessed science”: inventing brand new approaches to solve Amazon’s unique problems, and using those inventions in software that affects hundreds of millions of customers * Dive deep into our metrics, ongoing experiments to understand how and why they are benefitting our shoppers (or not) * Design, prototype and validate new widgets, techniques, and ideas. Take end-to-end ownership of moving from prototype to final implementation. * Be an advocate and expert for STAX science to leaders and stakeholders inside and outside advertising. About the team We are the Search thematic ads experience team within Sponsored products - a fast growing team of customer-obsessed engineers, technologists, product leaders, and scientists. We are focused on continuous exploration of contexts and creatives to drive value for both our customers and advertisers, through continuous innovation. We focus on new ads experiences globally to help shoppers make the most informed purchase decision while helping shortcut the time to discovery that shoppers are highly likely to engage with. We also harvest rich contextual and behavioral signals that are used to optimize our backend models to continually improve the shopper experience. We obsess about our customers and are continuously seeking opportunities to delight them.
US, CA, Palo Alto
Amazon is the 4th most popular site in the US. Our product search engine, one of the most heavily used services in the world, indexes billions of products and serves hundreds of millions of customers world-wide. We are working on a new initiative to transform our search engine into a shopping engine that assists customers with their shopping missions. We look at all aspects of search CX, query understanding, Ranking, Indexing and ask how we can make big step improvements by applying advanced Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) techniques. We’re seeking a thought leader to direct science initiatives for the Search Relevance and Ranking at Amazon. This person will also be a deep learning practitioner/thinker and guide the research in these three areas. They’ll also have the ability to drive cutting edge, product oriented research and should have a notable publication record. This intellectual thought leader will help enhance the science in addition to developing the thinking of our team. This leader will direct and shape the science philosophy, planning and strategy for the team, as we explore multi-modal, multi lingual search through the use of deep learning . We’re seeking an individual that can enhance the science thinking of our team: The org is made of 60+ applied scientists, (2 Principal scientists and 5 Senior ASMs). This person will lead and shape the science philosophy, planning and strategy for the team, as we push into Deep Learning to solve problems like cold start, discovery and personalization in the Search domain. Joining this team, you’ll experience the benefits of working in a dynamic, entrepreneurial environment, while leveraging the resources of Amazon [Earth's most customer-centric internet company]. We provide a highly customer-centric, team-oriented environment in our offices located in Palo Alto, California.