There are far too few women doing computer engineering and coding. It’s no wonder; the indoctrination starts young — just look at the poor girl in Timmins who wasn't even allowed into class. Girls are not choosing to study computer science, and the percentage of women in those schools has actually dropped since the '80s. It’s not surprising. There certainly have been enough events in the last year, from the Reddit meltdown to Gamergate to make it clear that this is a boy's world and girls are not welcome in the clubhouse.

graph of girls in professionsThe number of women studying computer science is dropping. (Photo: Jewelbot)

Some people are trying to change that. Jewelbot CEO Sarah Chipps has the ambition, “aside from creating killer, programmable jewelry that thrills 9- to 14-year-olds: to dramatically increase the number of girls entering STEM fields.”

She and her team are launching a new wearable that is designed to thrill and inspire, to get girls interested in coding. The Jewelbot is a teensy little bracelet that the developers call “friendship bracelets for the iPhone era.” Lots of people like the idea.The company has blown through its Kickstarter goal by 350 percent.

The device itself is a circuit board the size of a quarter with a series of LED lights and a Bluetooth transmitter/receiver fastened to a stretchy band and covered with a plastic jewel. Using an iPhone or android phone, basic functions can be programmed in, like detecting friends or sending secret messages. And here’s a plus, the Jewelbots can talk to each other over Bluetooth so the phones can be turned off or in the locker.

Using basic engineering logic, girls can program their Jewelbots to do just about anything they — and their besties-turned-collaborators — dream up, opening their minds to STEM during an age when many lose interest.

what jewelbot doesStart with the simple stuff — and then who knows where you can go? (Photo: Jewelbot)

But that's just opening the door. The fun really begins when they get beyond the basic phone programming and plug it into an Arduino IDE computer. Then they can program it to light up when they get an Instagram or (do they really want this?) “let them know when their dad is on his way to pick them up.” And much more that nobody has thought of yet. School admins are going to have fun controlling this, a whole new peer-to-peer network separate from phones and WiFi. The Jewelbot is a big button. (Who knows, Morse Code might make a big comeback, or some other secret code that they make up.)

Once they get familiar in the environment, they can create whatever they want. Their imagination is the only limit. They will even be able to share their work and get support with the rest of the Jewelbots community online.

It’s really quite inspiring. Most wearables are sealed and expensive; the Jewelbot is open source and pretty cheap at $60 per pair. Most are designed for a specific function; the Jewelbot can do almost anything a girl can think of. It is designed around a goal rather than a function:

We want to inspire a deep curiosity and lasting love for computers and programming. A love that these girls can take with them throughout their careers and lives.

On Wired, Kyle Vanhemert gets carried away thinking of adult uses for the Jewelbot; no doubt there are many. I'm particularly intrigued by the phone-free networking. Who knows where that might go? Kyle writes:

For her part, Chipps does think there’s wider potential for programmable, mesh-networking wearables; she and her co-founders have already applied for a patent on their particular implementation. For now, though, they’re content to serve their current demographic. “We’re starting with teenage girls because we think they’re the awesomest.”

How true. Here's the Kickstarter video:

Related in MNN and TreeHugger:

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

Here's a wearable that teaches girls to code
It's more than just a cute bracelet with lights; it's a trojan horse.