Robby Kraft “I don’t get the chance to collaborate often. I want to go back. There were really good people — it felt supportive and safe.”

Robby is an origami artist and pitched a project during the Brooklyn Space Apps / Science Hack Day that the Mozilla Science Lab hosted in 2016. The concept was to develop paper prototypes of self-folding robots that could be deployed to repair damaged rovers on Mars. Pretty epic. He and his team, the Stellar Folds, won the final five slot in the global NASA challenge.


Robby’s Story

Can you tell me a bit about your work?

I work in three areas: coding, origami, and classical music. I learned how to program the iPhone because it seemed to me to be like a little creature. It had sensors for orientation. It could vibrate. It felt like a little robot. I’ve been able to make money with iPhone coding. At that time, I was working with Arduinos. Discovering Arduino was my first introduction to an open source community — a community of people trying to help each other out. It felt good.

I’ve been doing origami my whole life. I’ve figured out way to involve computers to design crease patters. I recently got a pen plotter. There is something about the machine drawing in a 2D line on the origami paper. It is different from a fake 2D line made up of an aggregate of printer pixels. I am in the 2D medium directly. The plotter runs on Arduinos, so I’m combining origami, electronics, and coding. I’ve also built musical instruments and hooked them up to Ardiunos. I’ve started creating generative compositions, doing algorithmic composition.

What would be an example of a success for you? Can you tell me about a time when you’ve felt successful?

The thing I am looking for is self satisfaction. And with me that is uncovering something that is new but that also has runway ahead of it. Meaning there is still more to explore. That gives me a buzz. That’s the feeling I’m seeking.

Why is open Internet important to you?

The Internet is like a public service or a public good. Like electricity or water.

[at this point we stopped to discuss definition of the term “open Internet”]

I am not trying to appeal to a mass market of people with my work — I do origami — but I do need to be open to a large amount of people. Also I need to stop the echo chambers. I left Facebook in 2010 because I realized that I was in an echo chamber. Only looking at one little group inhibits my creativity. Some people might find it helpful, but I am suspicious of that. I draw from everyone. From greater humanity.

I’ve even moderated my Twitter usage. I wrote something that mutes Twitter, so when I go to the page is empty. I wanted to fight the impulse to go to the site first thing in the morning, when I get bored, or when I’m in the middle of something. Something draws us to that. There are apps that moderate your usage of websites, but I built my own.

How about an example of a challenge? How have you approached solving this?

With origami there are challenges getting some math to work out. With iOS development I go to StackOverflow all the time. I could not code without it. This is an example of a community I lean on heavily.

Can you tell me about how you got involved with Mozilla? What has that been like?

I don’t know if I am involved with them. I met Aurelia at a hackathon. Science Hack Day. I had a great time there. I am going to do some more. I’ve always been aware of them. But not so involved. Apart from using Firefox. The hackathon was about NASA Space Apps. The environment was good for making a thing and within a day. After one day you have a finished product. I like that because I think too much and I draw projects out longer than I need to. Also I don’t get the chance to collaborate often. Collaboration is the biggest reason I want to go back. There were really good people there. It felt supportive and safe. That feeling is special and hard to coordinate. I want to show up to those things as often as they are happening.

Have you followed up with any of the people you met?

Yes I’ve followed up with Stuart Lynn. We’ve gotten together and hacked on a little kinect project since. And we’ve emailed ideas back and forth. This weekend I’ll meet with another person I met at Science Hack Day.

Can you tell me about a time that Mozilla had some sort of impact on your life or work?


Can you tell me about a time that Mozilla did not meet your expectations?


Anything more you want to tell me? Anything you want to ask me?

Did not ask.