While Star Wars’ legends C-3PO and R2-D2 may not be quaking in their metal boots, Hawke’s Bay Schools Trades Academy students are designing and building ‘robots’ that are smart enough to play ball.
Working in teams, high school students enrolled in EIT’s newly-launched trades academy Level 3 computer technology programme are designing, building and programming robots that they control as ‘players’ in soft ball competitions staged in the classroom’s ‘games arena’.
“It’s learning in a fun, engaging and practical environment,” says senior IT lecturer Istvan Lengyel, who has been working with high school students across the region for the last 18 months, getting them interested in both programming and electronics.
“The emphasis for this new offering is on programming and introducing senior school students to robotics control, media design and prototyping.”
The group’s base, a recently refurbished classroom in EIT’s Trades Academy block, is equipped with 10 computer stations, 3D printers, a computer numerical control [CNC] cutting machine and “an assortment of parts to play with”.
Lengyel enjoys teaching the students, who travel to EIT from as far away as Wairoa College for their Friday classes. “They are a fun bunch who keep the day interesting,” he says.
The current group of students find designing and building robotics creative and entertaining, and the programme also provides an opportunity for them to gain credits towards NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance.
“It’s a quite hands-on learning experience and not just about textbooks,” he says.
“The content varies from week to week. Most recently the students, working in groups, constructed a clawbot – the platform and structural mechanism for their robotic projects.
“They then had to identify any structural issues and improve on the design.”
In the coming weeks, their focus will move to software, “designing this for a 3D world and working with micro-controls.”
The trades academy programme was rolled out late last year and Lengyel says the aim is to support high schools with their senior curriculum.
“It could be a launch pad for studying computing or media design at tertiary level and potentially also engineering.”
Lengyel expects many of the trades academy students will want to progress to high-level study programmes.