InAVator: Kate Stone, Novalia

Academic prowess is considered a minimum requirement to join the ranks of the scientific elite. Nial Anderson and Hurrairah bin Sohail speak to Dr Kate Stone, the creator of innovative touch-based products about her journey.

Standing on the stage at the 2013 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference at Long Beach in California USA, Dr Kate Stone mixed music on a pair of imitation vinyl records made out of paper. She then proceeded to play the drum to much applause from the assembled audience, on a printed poster by just touching the poster with her finger.

Dr Kate Stone said that being chosen to speak at the event, an honor previously bestowed on luminaries such as Bill Gates and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, was one of the proudest moments of her life. But the route she took to the TED Conference stage was far from simple or straightforward.

For an academic, Dr Kate Stone admits to have “totally failed” at education in school. But as a child, she was fascinated with electronics. By threading wires under carpets and using hidden speakers as well as a tape recorder, she would startle her siblings by having her voice projected from unlikely areas of the room. Another project born of a restless mind found her hiding an FM transmitter in a hollowed out book. By leaving it near her father, she found she could eavesdrop on his conversations by tuning in a radio in another room.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to really eavesdrop. I just liked the idea of everyday items that could do extraordinary things, I wanted the technology, but I wanted it hidden away,” she said. However, having dropped out of school and with no career prospects in sight, she headed out to Australia and found work on a 120,000 acre sheep farm. Her experiences helped her develop a “never say never” attitude.

In addition, it also helped her realize an uncomfortable truth. “I’d see people who would come out to Australia with degrees, who, to be quite honest, were a bit stupid,” she explained. “I was thinking ‘I’m going to be working on farms or in warehouses shifting boxes and these people are going to be my bosses – this isn’t right’.”

“So I started to get really interested in education and learning again.”

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