Durban Learners Communicate with Robots in SwitzerlandAgriculture, Engineering & Science

Eden College pupils with (from left) Dr Andre Rosendo, Professor Riaan Stopforth and Mr Clay Johannsson of Eden College.Eden College pupils with (from left) Dr Andre Rosendo, Professor Riaan Stopforth and Mr Clay Johannsson of Eden College.

Several Eden College pupils were involved in a world-wide project in which they were able to communicate with robots in Switzerland, thanks to UKZN.

The youngsters sent communications to thymio robots which resemble small flat cars with two wheels that can be programmed and controlled remotely to undertake certain tasks.

The aim is to teach eager young minds exactly how to programme robots and the science of robotics. 

The Eden College learners were given the opportunity to become space-age engineers through a collaboration with a Swiss university of engineering.

They were guided in South Africa by Professor Riaan Stopforth of UKZN’s School of Engineering, who collaborated with Professor Francesco Mondada of Mechatronics Engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL).

Mondada has developed the thymio robot as an educational tool to introduce children to robotics. Through Stopforth, Eden College was identified in South Africa to participate in the 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 teaches French, the language in which communication between teams was conducted.

The robot’s software has a screen on the side of the graphic programming interface showing its coding.  Learners enter a code on a local computer and transmit it to Switzerland over the internet, and the robot responds to the instructions after a delay.

The delay replicates the situation in communications between earth and the mars mission enabling the youngsters to test their coding before sending instructions to the robots in Switzerland.

Dr Andre Rosendo, a Post-doctoral Fellow from Cambridge University who is based at UKZN’s Mechanical Engineering Department, assisted with guiding the learners on how to brainstorm the solution to ensure their robot responded correctly. 

The South African team got together with 15 similar groups from around the world to test their training.  Using a YouTube streaming video, YouTube Chat, and a shared Dropbox folder, the pupils connected to the other groups and the robot at its home base at EPFL.

The connections had five different streams in order to observe what the robots were doing in each country.                                                                                                     

It was the second time Eden College has been involved in the successful programme and the learners thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

Said Stopforth: ‘Team UKZN was able to complete their tasks, and even started to assist other teams in other countries to pursue ways to get their robots to also complete their goals.’ 

Prashina Budree