Woodie Claude Flowers (born 1943) is an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His specialty areas are engineering design and product development, he holds the Pappalardo Professorship, and is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow.
Flowers was born in Jena, Louisiana, in 1943, and named after his grandfathers Woodie and Claude. As a kid, he showed mechanical aptitude like his father, Abe, and he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. When he was seventeen, he and four friends were driving on Louisiana Highway 127 when they were hit head-on by another vehicle that was traveling at about 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). The collision killed two people in Flowers' vehicle and one in the other. The event ingrained his self-described "genetic opposition to violence" and his "fierce, vocal loathing of any spectacle that involves crashing pieces of machinery into each other with deliberate force."
Flowers attended Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, graduating with his B.S. in 1966. He then attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning his M.S. (1968), M.E. (1971), and Ph.D. (1973) under the direction of Bob Mann. His thesis, titled "A man-interactive simulator system for above-knee prosthetics studies," was on a robot-like prosthetic knee inspired by Mann's Boston Arm.[a]
After receiving his doctorate, Flowers began as an assistant professor at MIT, working with Herb Richardson on the "Introduction to Design and Manufacturing" class. Known by its course number as 2.70 (now 2.007), the class featured a design competition to build robotic mechanisms to accomplish a given challenge. Flowers took over the class in 1974, changing it into one of the most popular classes at MIT. He changed the challenge every year, always trying to make it more complex and exciting. The competition was televised several years on the PBS show Discover the World of Science. The competition became akin to a sporting event, and was even jokingly referred to as MIT's true homecoming game. In 1987, Flowers handed the class over to Harry West.
Discover the World of Science changed its name to Scientific American Frontiers in 1990, and Flowers served as its host until 1993 when he was replaced by Alan Alda. In 1990, Flowers began working with Dean Kamen on FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a project to inspire a culture that celebrates science and technology. Taking elements from 2.70, they created the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) in 1992. Flowers introduced the phrase "gracious professionalism" to FIRST, an idea which has since pervaded FIRST literature and culture. In 1996, FRC created the Woodie Flowers award, which was awarded to Flowers that year. Flowers has served every year as National Advisor to FIRST. He has been active at FIRST events, working as an emcee and treated along with Kamen "like heroes".
Flowers is a "Distinguished Partner" at Olin College, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2007, he received a degree honoris causa from Chilean university Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello.
- A video about the Boston Arm is available from MIT: link
- "Woodie C. Flowers". MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
- Stone 2007, p. 192.
- Cullinane, Maeve (April 8, 2011). "Afterhours with Woodie Flowers". The Tech. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
- Stone 2007, p. 193.
- Chandler, David L. (May 7, 2012). "Woodie Flowers, a pioneer of hands-on engineering education". MIT News. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
- Flowers, Woodie Claude. "A man-interactive simulator system for above-knee prosthetics studies" (PDF). MIT. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
- Stone 2007, p. 194.
- Stone 2007, pp. 188–189.
- Stone 2007, pp. 194–195.
- Stone 2007, pp. 195–196.
- Stone 2007, p. 195.
- Stone 2007, p. 196.
- Woodie Flowers, on season 1 of Scientific American Frontiers.
- Stone 2007, p. 197.
- Stone 2007, pp. 203–204.
- Stone 2007, pp. 204–205.
- Stone 2007, p. 207.
- "Dr. Woodie Flowers". FIRST. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
- "Woodie Flowers, Ph.D". Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Retrieved May 27, 2013.
- "Ceremonia Investidura Grado Honoris Causa Universidad Andrés Bello Dr. Woodie Flowers" (PDF). October 23, 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Stone, Brad (2007). Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-8732-3.
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