Kate Reed is an artist, musician, designer, innovator and tech entrepreneur all combined into one. Within minutes of talking to her, you begin to understand her vision and realize that she is going to change the world one day. Kate creates Biomimetic Wearable Computers using her expertise in art and robotics by leveraging principles of nature. Her projects are not just fascinating to watch but eye-opening in terms of what they represent. The interesting thing about her work is that they belong to the MIT Museum just as much as the New York Fashion week. Her inventions have been featured at the White House, Boston and New York Fashion Week, The Museum of Design Atlanta, and the Hackaday Super conference among other places. In today’s feature, we talk to Kate about her ingenious projects, her passion for social issues and why it is imperative that we symbiotically combine man and machine now.
Name : Kate Reed
Company: Kate Reed
Location: Boston, MA
Industry: Technology, Art & Fashion
Company: Kate Reed
Location: Boston, MA
Industry: Technology, Art & Fashion
I’m so excited to know your story! Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in the Boston area. I was homeschooled in my early years and loved it. I spent most of it digging in the dirt and exploring the world of nature. I dropped out of traditional high school to become the first graduate of NuVu studio which is a high school backed by MIT. It was amazing because I had access to some of the best minds, materials and resources – all as a 14-year-old. It was here that I began to create wearable devices, way before we had any sense of mainstream wearable technology like the Apple Watch.
I’ve been creating wearable technology ever since. My vision in all of my wearable devices focuses on how to combine technology and humans symbiotically using the principles of nature. Today, most technology is inspired by science fiction. People are always talking about this futuristic vision where we leave this planet behind and go to the next planet. The way I see it, we are all humans who evolved on this earth for centuries and we need technology that feels natural and blends with us. I am pushing against this whole Cyborg inspired idea of technology to develop technology that looks and feels like nature.
Can you explain a little more about this ideology of symbiotically combining human body and technology?
In many ways, digital intelligence is quickly exceeding biological intelligence. On one hand, you have Elon Musk with Neuralink, saying we need to implant things into our brains and that we need to physically merge with digital intelligence. On the other hand, you have this whole slew of people who are not comfortable with that. Our human bodies are perfectly working machines. I don't think about my lungs breathing or my heart beating, yet it’s happening every moment. We need to merge humans and technology together in a way that feels natural, like an extension of the body. This is what I've been pushing towards in my work. How can we incorporate technology in a way that we don't notice it and it just happens? I don't want to have to look at my Apple watch and be told to complete my steps, I want to naturally complete my steps. We need to fundamentally change our relationship with technology, or it will soon be too late. We're merging wrong with technology and we’re going to reject it. In my opinion, we needed to do this two years ago, so we definitely need to be on this now!
One of your most popular projects is the Sonic Invisibility Cloak. Can you talk about this and explain the concept?
I was part of a research group with Hyundai focusing on the future of mobility and cities specifically looking at sound. At the start of that research, the group was looking at electric cars and how these cars don’t need to sound like conventional cars. I started thinking about our sonic relationship with nature, why cars sound like cars, and how we can make this relationship more symbiotic. I came up with the idea of creating the sonic invisibility cloak which cancels out our sonic footprint to the point of being invisible. Ultimately, we can coexist with nature instead of taking it over. I started looking for inspiration in nature and found that mockingbirds do this already, they mimic and repeat the sounds that they hear. I started to think about how to mimic nature to invite nature back in to eliminate our sonic footprint. The Sonic Invisibility Cloak samples sound in real time and plays it back around the user. It adds sound to cancel out sound, ultimately making the wearer sonically invisible.
That sounds so cool! So, you have to be an expert in art, science, design and computers to be able to bring your visions to life. How did you manage to do all this in so little time?
The way that educational tracking works right now is - you go to middle school, then to high school, and you learn standard subjects like math, science, etc. You then go to college and become an expert in one skill and do that one skill until you retire. I was fortunate to attend NuVu, where they flipped that conventional system on its head. Yes, I fit in my traditional classes around the edges, but I worked on more than 40 interdisciplinary projects, with prompts ranging from: solve global warming, hack a wheelchair, create products for wellbeing, interactive public art, and designing smart fashion, etc. I spent a lot of time with robotics on the technical side and on the design side, and I kept going back and forth until I had this strange plethora of skills where I’m able to think of a problem, think of what I need to solve it and then utilize the tools to solve that problem.
Can you describe a few of your favorite projects and the concepts behind them?
I really love the Musical Prosthetics project. I am a musician and worked as a street performer for eight years, so I have always been interested in how sound connects emotional realms. This was one of the fundamental projects conceptualizing usage of clean technology to have emotional conversations. I started thinking about things that our bodies can say to each other without words or without the brain involved. When you see musical prosthetics, it creates this moment of wonder. You’re thinking how is this happening and you can't help but turn to the person next to you and wonder what's going on here. It creates this kind of childlike joy where the social barriers are broken down and you’re communicating without consciously trying to.
Another favorite project was of mine is Luna. I’m a little heartbroken right now because I was supposed to be installing it at Burning Man this year. The concept behind Luna focuses on changing our relationship with technology on a group level and having a magical experience to create a sense of community. It is designed to be an interactive shrine celebrating the connection between the moon, the earth and its creatures. It is a giant globe covered in moths that pulses with light based on live tidal data which draws you in to feeling more connected to the earth. And then you can go up to it and put your hand on a metal moth and the individual moth start to pulse with your heartbeat. Imagine having this moment where you are part of this interactive shrine where you can see your heartbeat, your neighbors’ heartbeat and the heartbeat of the earth!
How has the pandemic treated you?
I think the pandemic has offered me a nice time to look inward and think about everything that I'm doing and what's going on with the world. But it’s also giving me more time to just play outside, go digging in the dirt and see what's out there. More importantly though, it’s revealing how much we rely on technology, more than ever before. We can't communicate with one another without technology which is highlighting the problems with our relationship with technology. It's created an exciting time for thinking about how we perfect this interaction and experience.
Do you have any advice for people that are reading your story?
Don't let failure push you down because, it's all about failing fast and moving on. If you do something and it doesn't work, the more you dwell on it, the more time you're losing! It's scary to be doing something new and to be the only one doing it, but it's just a question of going ahead and doing it. There's no harm in trying and if you try enough times, you will change the world. And that’s a great feeling, knowing that you've impacted the world or someone's life or made something better.
Do you have any book recommendations for us?
I guess one of my all-time favorites is ‘Winnie the Pooh’. There are a lot of fundamentals in the story that we should learn at a young age - be good humans and take care of our world and our environment.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.