According to a Time magazine article, “The Male Minority,” women make up almost 60 percent of undergraduate students nationwide.   Science, technology and math are one of the few areas where men have superior numbers but the women are winning there too.

The Spelman College robotics team, SpelBots, tied for first place in the RoboCup Japan 2009 Standard Platform League Nao League humanoid soccer championship on May 10, 2009, in Osaka, Japan.

Invited by the RoboCup Japan organization to participate in its first-ever humanoid robot competition, SpelBots were the first all-woman team to vie for the Standard Platform League title and were one of only two teams taking part in the two-legged challenge. Spelman’s four-woman lineup went head-to-head against members of ASURA-FIT from Fukuoka Institute of Technology in five matches and a tiebreaker. During the competition, the two teams played three-on-three autonomous soccer with robots programmed with artificial intelligence and operated without the use of remote controls.

Since 2005, SpelBots have been the only all-female, all-Black undergraduate team to qualify for both U.S. and international RoboCup competitions.

“The SpelBots emphasize the study and research of robotics, which can help improve society and address issues in healthcare, entrepreneurship and other areas,” said Andrew Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of computer and information science and adviser to the SpelBots. “We see so few women involved in robotics and high tech; more role models are needed in the field. The SpelBots are a way of encouraging girls and young women to go into science and technology. This competition has been a celebration of the intellectual talent and courage of young women.”

Due to costs, Dr. Williams estimates there are less than 30 universities around the world with the two-legged Nao robots. With the support of General Electric, the National Institutes of Health, Boeing, the National Science Foundation and Apple, Spelman College purchased four Nao robots in early 2009, valued at close to $5,000 each. SpelBots’ members had less than four months to study, train and program their team of robots for Japan’s RoboCup 2009.

Members of SpelBots representing the College at RoboCup Japan were co-captains Jonecia Keels and Jazmine Miller, both sophomores and computer science majors; Naquasia Jones, a sophomore biology/pre-med major; and Ariel Butler, a sophomore biochemistry major/Japanese minor. Miller and Keels have participated as SpelBots since freshman year. RoboCup 2009 was their first robotics competition. 

“This entire experience on the SpelBots team has had a major impact on my life, and because of this I have been able to inspire others as well,” said Keels. “Every time I present to middle school and high school students, particularly females and minorities, they are amazed at what I do. There are very few Black female computer scientists and one of the most rewarding experiences from being on the SpelBots is making myself a positive example for minorities and females to pursue degrees in the technology.” 

With a first-place finish under their belt, SpelBots are preparing to compete in the Nao League at RoboCup 2010 in Singapore. 

“SpelBots is the best thing that has happened to me,” added Miller. “To be able to be a part of [this] team is certainly an honor. Being able to travel around working and inspiring others to pursue fields they believed they were incapable of previously is wonderful. SpelBots is not just a robotics team, we are living anti-stereotypes that encourage others to step out of the norm and pursue their dreams, just as we are.”