Insights | 7.23.21

Innovators That I Admire – Her Intelligence is Not Artificial By Rob Baum, CEO of TechFlow

If you’ve read some of my past blog posts on technologies that inspire me, you’ll know that I am fascinated with artificial intelligence (AI). At TechFlow, we are tapping into the possibilities of AI and are constantly driving to push the intelligence out to the edge – to where it is collected and made to be actionable.  I think our work is important and has the potential to impact many in a positive way. When I look for inspiration on how AI can make a difference, I found Ayanna Howard’s work really stands out and I am humbled by her accomplishments.

From developing the first commercial genetic algorithm to robots for studying the impact of global warming to addressing children with special needs with therapy and educational products, Ayanna has set an example of how to put AI to work to create positive outcomes.

She is currently the Dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University (as a Michigan guy that hurts!). Appointed earlier this year, Ayanna became the first woman to lead the engineering department (Yay!).  Her accomplishments started early and just continue to roll out. She graduated from Brown University at age 21 with a B.S. in Engineering and immediately went to work at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she held multiple roles including senior robotics researcher. Among many projects, she was involved in developing SmartNav, an autonomous, next generation Mars rover and SnoMotes, small robots designed to explore icy terrain so scientists could safely study the impact of global warming on Antarctic ice shelves. She remained at JPL for 12 years and during that time completed her M.S. and Ph.D in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California. And she was only getting started…

After JPL, she joined GeorgiaTech as an associate professor and founder of the HumAnS lab. While at GeorgiaTech she directed research on robotics and intelligent machines and in 2017 she became the Chair of the School of Interactive Computing. Her university work must not have kept her busy enough because in 2013 she founded Zyrobotics which develops therapy and educational products for children with a special focus on ensuring access for those with special needs. Over the course of her career, she also managed to author 250 publications, secured four patents and not surprisingly has been honored with many awards. Just amazing!

All of this interest in AI started when Ayanna was a young girl. She had an early interest in robotics and her favorite show was The Bionic Woman. Right around the same time, I was getting inspired for future work in tech by watching The Bionic Man! It’s so exciting to think about what the next generation will do as they follow in great footsteps of people like Ayanna. TechFlow sponsors a local high school robotics team: Spyder 1622. Who knows, maybe the next Ayanna will come from one of those teams!

At TechFlow, we may not be building robots like Ayanna or even the impressive creations of Spyder 1622, but we are putting AI to work to develop smarter workflows, energy efficiencies, better maintenance models and more!  Our tagline is “Always Ahead” and people like Ayanna embody that spirit we are trying to capture in our work…to look to the future, anticipate needs, and lean-in to forward-thinking solutions.