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05/31/2011

On a Bike with a Computer, Steve Roberts Takes to the Open Road

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Specialist, Society for Science & the Public

 

Steveyellow
Steve Roberts

Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, Steve Roberts wasn’t very good at school.  As he says on his website, “I was theoretically a smart little bugger, according to test scores, yet I kept hearing that I had attitude problems and wasn't working up to my potential. With the exception of science fairs, my academic performance was apparently disappointing to authority figures.”

 

Despite his less-than-exceptional grades, he did excel at science fairs and was a Finalist at the International Science and Engineering Fair in 1969.  “The project-orientation of focusing on Science Fairs…has significantly shaped my life,” Steve told SSP recently.

In 1983, Steve was becoming restless staying in a single location and wanted to explore the country while he worked, so he focused his attention and energy on a new science project. After six months, he made a bike with a computer that had communications capabilities, which allowed him to travel across America while still working on freelance projects.  He was telecommuting from the open road at a time when many people didn’t even have a computer.  His experience was covered by tech publications and he also wrote a book, Computing Across America, about the journey.  

 

That spurt of creativity simply lead to more inventions.  As he describes on his website, “From 1989 to 1991 I threw myself into a no-holds-barred extravaganza of geek expressionism.  In a lab sponsored by Sun Microsystems, aided by upwards of 40 volunteers from the very heart of Silicon Valley culture and over 150 corporate sponsors, I conjured a unixcycle dubbed BEHEMOTH (an acronym for ‘Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine… Only Too Heavy’).”   He later made a kayak, a microship, and a yacht in the same spirit of combining freedom with technology.

 

Sciencefair-speech
Steve Roberts at a science fair in high school

While his career-path may be a little unorthodox, he made his way with innovative ideas and connections. In order to help the next generation of innovators, Steve recently published a book that shares his unique expertise: Reaching Escape Velocity: Launching gonzo engineering projects with sponsors, media, volunteers, and other potent forces.

 

“[I] have made a career out of focusing on crazily audacious geek productions like the BEHEMOTH and Microship projects. Sometimes, the best surges of activity in these have been just before public appearances like trade shows or other events...really taking me back to my Science Fair days,” Steve says. “I started at age nine, and I'm still doing it a half-century later,”

 

 

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