There are only two kinds of people: those who ride the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and those who drive it. If you ride the revolution, you have to see where it takes you, but if you drive it, you determine its destination. In the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment, and Information Technology (EBIT), the next-generation engineers who will drive the 4IR are developed, as we speak, through innovative teaching and learning practices.
This year the Faculty held its seventh annual Robot Car Race Day. This electrifying event marked the end of a semester’s hard work during which students developed their own robot cars in a quest to master the fundamentals of microcontroller system design. The small microcontroller-based robot vehicles, or MARVs, as they are known, have much more to them than meets the eye.
Robotics is currently an extremely popular field that allows many young aspiring engineers to experiment with a wide variety of commercially available robot kits. However, while robot kits may satisfy gadgeteers and googleneers, driving the 4IR needs authentic engineers that have the ability to solve real-world problems from a scientific perspective. (Engineers create cutting-edge technologies from a fundamental understanding of the science that describes our world, while gadgeteers and googleneers re-use and mould existing technologies into solutions to problems.)
It is no simple feat to design, from first principles, the colour-detection sensor on the MARVs, which includes the electronic circuitry that translates the sensor signals to signals that can be interpreted by a microcontroller. It is also no simple feat for the fledgling engineer to do programming in a low-level-machine coding language that really teaches the fundamental architecture and functioning of microcontrollers.
Progressing through all the steps to complete a MARV prepares students for the challenges associated with creating novel microcontroller-based solutions to problems that cannot be solved by using hobbyist kits.
No wonder UP engineers are in the driver’s seat of the 4IR!