Thymio Robot Project A Success
How better to teach robotics to young people, than using an actual robot?
The Thymio Robot resembles a small flat car with two wheels, which can be programmed and controlled remotely to fulfil certain tasks. But its most important task is teaching kids exactly how to programme robots, and the science of robotics, and recently the learners at Eden College were given the opportunity, via a collaboration with a Swiss university of engineering, to become space-age engineers.
The Thymio Robot project was headed by Dr Riaan Stopforth at the UKZN School of Engineering. Recently, while on sabbatical in Switzerland, Stopforth met a Professor of Mechatronics Engineering from École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL), Professor Francesco Mondada. The Zurich-based professor had developed the Thymio Robot as an educational tool to introduce children to robotics, and he asked Dr Stopforth to identify a local school in South Africa to use as part of a world-wide learning experience.
Eden College was chosen for various reasons: the high standard of its education; its close proximity to UKZN and – most importantly – the fact that it taught French, which was the language in which the learning was going to be conducted.
The Thymio Robot has a screen on its side, which shows its coding. Learners enter code via a remote keyboard, and the robot responds immediately to the instructions. In this way, the children can test their coding while they are busy doing it.
Dr Shaniel Devraj from the Engineering Department trained the learners who to use the robot, and on November 4th they got together, along with similar groups from around the world, and tested out their training. Using a YouTube streaming video, YouTube Chat, and a shared Google Drive folder, the children were able to connect to other groups of learners in other countries and to the robot itself at its home base at EPFL. The connections had five different streams in order to see what the robots were doing in each country.
The learners thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were very eager to participate in this programme.