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Allie E. Weber is a maker, builder, and inventor. She has an online following for her channel “Tech-nic-Allie Speaking.” She is a winner and ambassador for the Global Spark Lab Invent-It Challenge, one of Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21” and The Mars Generation’s “24 Under 24.” And now this 13-year-old Robot Maker Girl will be coming to your screen as part of the new Mythbusters Jr.
1. Lots of kids are intimidated by the idea of trying to invent something. What goes through your mind when you decide to take on a new design?
I think that the main thing that keeps people from innovating is high expectations. They think, like I used to, that you need a huge problem to solve like world hunger or global warming. It’s just not the case. All you really need is an issue that bothers you and something to solve it. The portable card table I created didn’t solve a huge problem, but it still improved long road trips.
2. How many tries does it take to come up with a new prototype? How do you decide what to test and what to change?
It really depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. Some prototypes have taken several months and others I have finished in a couple of days. You also want to test everything. If it fails, find the cause and fix it. If it works, try to find ways to improve it. Whatever the case, make sure the final prototype is something you are truly proud of.
3. Even though hospitals already have spriometers, you designed a version with blow darts. What inspired you to come up with the idea? Do you think a grown up could have come up with a similar design?
One year I got a toy blow dart gun for Christmas. I really enjoyed it and noticed that my lungs started feeling stronger. My mom suggested that it might be good therapy. That’s when I remembered how extraordinarily boring my grandfather thought respiratory therapy was. Why not combine the two? Although innovators are working on improving medical children’s medical equipment, almost all of them are adults. Sometimes it takes a kid to design for a kid.
4. You love movies and building, and you just got to be a part of the new Mythbusters Jr series with Adam Savage. What were some of the most memorable moments?
I love working with everyone on set. Every day is a new adventure, but my favorite was “Chicken Bowling.” We had bowling balls and rubber chickens, so why not? Fishing for goldfish with spider webs was also really cool. Other people might say “crushing cars” or “blowing stuff up” – which is still extremely phenomenal – but I see that in action movies a lot. When was the last time you saw someone go chicken bowling?
5. You have your own YouTube channel for sharing your designs. What makes sharing your work online different than sharing them in person?
It is both easier and harder. Making a video takes a lot of time and effort, but you can edit it and take time to think through what you’re going to say. You also need to address it to a wider audience. When talking in person you have less time to think about what you’re going to say, but you can scope out who you are talking to and personalize the message a bit more. Both methods have their pros and cons, and I like both.
6. You love a lot of kid stuff, and that might make people assume you are limited to typical kid skills. How did you learn to solder, program, and design in 3D? How do adults react when they find out what you can do?
Whenever I need to learn a new skill for one of my innovations, I look to YouTube or other sources online. And if that doesn’t work, I reach out to one of my mentors or STEAM friends on social media for help. Adults are usually surprised – and maybe a little intimidated – to find out about my skills. But I almost always find a way to relate my project to something similar they might be doing, and that helps a lot.
7. Are there any inventions you have had to abandon or set aside? How did you decide when it was time to move on?
You know those two poles with a rope between that restaurants or amusement park rides use to keep people from cutting? They’re called stanchions. I came up with the idea to make mini-velcro ones that kids can use to make backyard mazes. It was expensive, boring, and just didn’t make sense to play with.