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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Taylor

Superbots is back - twice the size and twice as good!

Superbots has returned! In Term Two, 52 young women from Wheelers Hill SC and Mount Waverley SC joined us at Monash Tech School (MTS) to experience the new two-day Superbots format.

Designed in collaboration with Monash University’s Faculty of IT (FIT), Superbots allows students to prototype their very own voicebot - creating meaningful pieces of technology that aim to avoid gender stereotypes that have been historically perpetuated in current voice assistants.

What started as a one-day program has now expanded into a new two-day format. Focussing on the visualisation of voicebots through shape, colour, and other design factors, day two of the Superbots program gives students the time and space to really flesh out and finalise their working voicebot prototypes.

The program includes an introduction to stereotypes, including those prevalent in voice assistant technologies. Students then spend the remainder of day one developing a voicebot personality they feel is appropriate for their chosen target audience and purpose. We saw a voice bot to help older adults, ones to emulate sibling relationships, many that would provide companionship to 12-15-year-old girls and even one to help families whose loved ones were far away.

In what would form an integral part of developing a voicebot the students put on their market researching hats and conducted Wizard of Oz user testing. It was exciting to see students embody their well-curated voicebot personalities, communicating with a rotation of girls representing their target audiences.

New to the Superbots program this year is the inclusion of experiences that allow students to discover ways in which their voicebot can be visualised. The morning of day two sees students unpack how voicebots are currently visualised, from the speaker forms of Siri and Alexa to the female holographic form offered by Gatebox. They then further explore how form, speed of movement and colour can portray emotive states as they work through a design template and application-based visualisation generator developed by MTS’s own Stephanie Vella and Natasha Nguyen, former and current Monash University FIT students.

Using Fabella to scaffold and develop their conversational paths, students work towards having a final prototype ready to present at the end of day two. Their 2-minute pitch allows them to share their voicebots purpose, their visual emotion states and invite fellow students to interact with their online Fabella prototype. We are consistently impressed by the level of detail, pride and thoughtfulness that goes into each and every voicebot developed.

An integral component of the Superbots program is its consistent connection to industry. Students hear from co-facilitator Professor Yolande Strengers, whose research into gender stereotypes forms the backdrop of the program. They are supported throughout their design process by current female Monash University FIT students and are mentored by members of the Australian and New Zealand chapter of the Women in Voice (WIV) network. To round out the 2-day program, students also participate in a Q&A panel with the WIV mentors, enquiring about their career progression, industry experience and professional advice. This Q&A session complements a presentation from the Monash University FIT about relevant pathways into the IT industry. Finally, a digital badge is awarded to students who complete the Superbots program to recognise the wide variety of skills developed and refined throughout the two day design sprint. As part of a digital backpack, this badge helps future employers to verify the skills and experiences gained by the young women during Superbots.

We are excited to welcome Brentwood SC to our Superbots program in Term 3!

Read more about this innovative program, featured here on ABC News.

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