Imagine: A drone that can carry your baby. A robot that serves you a cold beer after a hard day of work. YouTuber Simone Giertz has built real-life robots from a Jetsons-esque future.
But the drone collides with the pavement more than an amateur skateboarder. (Don’t worry, no actual babies are harmed!) The beer-serving robot spills more liquid on the table and its creator than it ever gets in the cup.
See, Giertz’s robots don’t really serve a purpose. But her videos do.
With a charisma that deftly blends self-deprecating humor and earnest enthusiasm for engineering, Giertz demystifies challenging robotics projects by demonstrating the simple joy that can be found in experimenting with new skills, regardless of whether the end result is successful.
The 28-year-old Giertz has built an audience of 1.5 million subscribers who return to her videos not just for her latest creations, but to vicariously experience a feeling that seems fleeting in 2019: pure delight.
Scroll through her videos and you’ll find an uncommonly wholesome comments section. Here’s a sample of reactions to the video of her experiencing zero gravity:
“The childlike glee in her face when she goes weightless is so pure."
“You were so happy in zero G that I couldn’t help but have a big smile on my face as well.”
By setting out to build ostensibly flawed robots, Giertz removes the scariest outcome in any creative endeavor: failure.
You don’t watch Giertz’s channels to become a robot-building expert for the same reasons you don’t watch Netflix’s ironically titled cooking show “Nailed It” to become a master chef. They serve as counterprogramming to remind the audience that not every skill or project needs to be perfected to be enjoyed.
In a 2018 TED Talk, Giertz said she started building robots to overcome her own performance anxiety.
“As soon as I removed all pressure and expectations for myself, that pressure quickly got replaced with enthusiasm,” Giertz told the audience. “It allowed me to just play.”
Some of the funniest moments occur when things go totally off course, like when a hair-cutting drone tackles a mannequin by its wig.
Giertz captures the moments when her robots are technically fulfilling their purposes, but often with unintended clumsiness. The seven-second clip of Giertz sitting expressionless as her lipstick robot furiously scribbles across her face is not just a hilarious juxtaposition, but it perfectly encapsulates how her inventions simultaneously fail and succeed.
Giertz’s earlier videos have a one-person band, bootstrap quality and fairly low production value that we typically associate with vlogs. But in the past year or so, there has been a jump in the production quality of Giertz’s videos and the scale of her ambition. The 22-minute mini doc about hunting robots, which includes more than a dozen people in the production credits, wouldn’t seem out of place on any premium streaming platform.
The uptick in production value has not scaled back Giertz’s humor or her connection with the audience. While the majority of videos on her channel still focus on robotics, Giertz also answers questions that incorporate other parts of her life, and she partners with sponsors who aim to increase youth participation in science.
Profanity-laced humor is a constant ingredient in her videos, whether she’s building robots, following her own astronaut training program, or explaining to her fans how some of those jokes caused her to lose sponsors. The tone fits the platform, and she has the freedom to crack jokes that mainstream science show hosts can’t.
Those same tangential, seemingly unscripted riffs also make an appearance in far more somber moments, like when she revealed last year that she had a brain tumor that would require surgery. She named the tumor “Brian,” and joked about evicting him.
Staring into the camera, Giertz was also vulnerable, sharing her fears about the surgery along with her gratefulness for the people around her, including the community she created.
“You know what they say about brain tumors,” she joked toward the end of the video. “They really grow on you.”
In January, eight months after her first surgery, the tumor returned.
“I’ve been really reluctant to make this video because I don’t want to be brain-tumor girl,” she said. “I don’t want this to be my thing. I want to be badass builder girl who can build whatever she wants.”
That’s exactly who she is to her fans.
YouTube has dozens of channels dedicated to answering innocuous science questions and debunking myths. Channels such as AsapSCIENCE or minutephysics have millions of subscribers. Their strategy is clear and effective: look for popular searches and attempt to answer those questions in a more compelling fashion than your competitors.
Giertz’s approach is a notable departure from that formula, but no less effective. It’s an approach that works because of her personality. She finds the elusive balance of carefree irreverence and earnest excitement, treating life with levity while finding meaning for her viewers. She is building robots with her smarts, wit and unbelievable talent — and when those robots serve no purpose other than to make her viewers smile, you’re in on the joke.