The fantasy world of Barbie dolls just got more high-tech. On Tuesday, Mattel, the company that makes the famous stick figurine, announced Barbie’s new career: robotics engineer.
The “Career of the Year” Barbie is now available online for $13.99. She comes with safety goggles, a doll-sized laptop computer, and a small humanoid robot.
While robotics engineer is a first-ever career for Barbie, she’s previously had several occupations in science, technology, engineering, and math, including as a computer engineer, astronaut, and video game developer.
But this Barbie is more than just a doll, say STEM experts involved in its creation and launch.
“I’m excited because [the doll] allows our girls to imagine a future that I didn’t have at their age,” says Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer and founder of Black Girls Code, a nonprofit educational organization that’s received a grant from Barbie to help reach girls interested in the field. Some participants in the organization’s robotics workshops will receive the new Barbie doll.
Mattel will also offer seven free “Barbie-inspired” coding experiences through Tynker, an online platform that provides coding classes to children. The lessons will focus on logic, problem-solving, and other coding skills.
Bryant believes the robotics engineer Barbie, which comes in four skin tones, could help young girls imagine themselves in a STEM field at an early age. Women hold only 24 percentof STEM jobs in the United States, and Bryant says that lack of representation, both in pop culture and in the workplace, can deter women from entering and remaining in STEM careers.
Bryant’s favorite aspect of the doll is how her career represents the “intersection” of technology and engineering — in other words, coding a computer program and building a robot.
Barbie enlisted Cynthia Breazeal, associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT and founder of the social robot company Jibo, Inc., to ensure that the doll and her accessories accurately reflect the typical robotics engineer. The product packaging art depicts an industrial robot workspace, the robot looks similar to one you might find in hobbyist workshops, and the robot’s sprocket parts actually work.
Breazeal hopes the doll introduces girls to artificial intelligence and encourages them to learn more about robotics and engineering. Imaginative play with Barbie could include pretending to program a robot to do chores or homework.
“I think it opens up girls’ imaginations [to the idea] that intelligent machines can be in their daily lives,” says Breazeal.
That point isn’t a small one. With AI driving innovations in everyday products like phones, cars, and even doorbells, Breazeal says it’s imperative that the workforce behind those developments be as diverse as possible.
“When you talk about something like artificial intelligence, we cannot only have a few highly educated people” accessing and interacting with it, she says. “The democratization of these technologies is very, very important.”
Years from now, we’ll no doubt hear from pioneering female robotics engineers who fondly remember their “Career of the Year” doll.