Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging – which takes place today, March 24th, 2009 – to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born in 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella. Now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote a description of Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer – the analytical machine. Ada Lovelace is valued today as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs (manipulating symbols according to rules) for a machine Baggage had not yet built.
One woman excelling in technology, and reinventing the way people manipulate it, is Leah Buechley. Buechley is a computer scientist, crafter, and Assistant Professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she directs the High-Low Tech research group. Just started in January 2009, the High-Low Tech group explores the integration of high and low technology from cultural, material, and practical perspectives, with the goal of engaging diverse groups of people in developing their own technologies.
An expert in the field of electronic textiles (e-textiles), Buechley developed a method for creating cloth printed circuit boards (fabric PCBs) using a laser cutter from conductive cloth and a heat activated adhesive. This technique can also be used to quickly build multi-layered PCBs on a variety of substrates. Buechley designed the commercially available LilyPad Arduino toolkit, which lets users sew together electronic components to build their own interactive, custom design wear. The deluxe kit contains a mainboard, accelerometer, button board, buzzer, power supply, vibration motor, conductive thread, LEDs, sensors, and more. Users program their constructions using a modified version of the Arduino software. The toolkit gives younger people a chance to develop long-term interest in computing and engineering in a fun, creative setting. Other popular projects of Buechley’s include the LED Tank Top, E-Sewing Kit, and Turn Signal Bike Jacket.