Nadya Peek

University of Washington

Nadya Peek develops unconventional digital fabrication tools, small scale automation, networked controls, and advanced manufacturing systems. Spanning electronics, firmware, software, and mechanics, her research focuses on harnessing the precision of machines for the creativity of individuals. Nadya directs the Machine Agency at the University of Washington where she is an assistant professor in Human-Centered Design and Engineering. Machines and systems Nadya has built have been shared widely, including at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the World Economic Forum, TED, and many Maker Faires and outreach events. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and her teaching has been recognized with the University of Washington’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Innovation with Technology. She received the MIT Technology Review’s 35 under 35 award in 2020. Nadya is an active member of the global fab lab community, making digital fabrication more accessible with better CAD/CAM tools and developing open source hardware machines and control systems. She is on the board of the Open Source Hardware Association, the editor in chief of the Journal of Open Hardware, half of the design studio James and the Giant Peek, plays drum machines and synths in the band Construction, and got her PhD at MIT in the Center for Bits and Atoms.

Machine Agency: Rapid Prototyping of Creative Automation Workflows

How can we harness the precision of machines for the creativity of individuals? Robotics gives us access to precision and repeatability, but there is a high threshold to automating. Domain experts such as ceramicists, plant biologists, wood workers, or chemical engineers have extensive knowledge of intricate processes and workflows, but are not also experts in control systems or programming. Because of this, highly skilled individuals conduct thousands of hours of manual work to support their goals. In my research, I develop end-user systems to lower the threshold to automation without loss of complexity. In particular, I develop low-cost and modular open-source toolkits for domain experts to build and customize while iterating on and refining their workflows. Cost forms only one barrier—the main problem is that robots for many workflows simply do not exist. Not all niche applications form a viable market segment. I show how using rapid prototyping equipment such as 3D printers is a viable strategy for domain experts to build application-specific machines and robots. In this talk, I will show example machines, workflows, and processes we are developing to support machine agency.