History as robotic car race goes virtual

By Time of article published Sep 11, 2021

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THE University of Pretoria held its 9th annual Robot Car Race online for the first time since its inception.

In 2020, the university could not present the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic and hard lockdown.

The university’s Professor Tania Hanekom from the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering said the race was held online this year, because the department realised that students were struggling with the lack of interaction with their peers and felt discouraged by lost opportunities.

“The Robot Car Race team therefore decided to reimagine and reinvent the event so that the third-year class of 2021 could have their race mostly in cyberspace, with the final being an in-person event,” said Hanekom.

She added that paper tracks that could be printed out on A4 pages and stuck together at home were designed; all the practical demonstrations that precede the final event were done online; and qualifier, quarterfinal and semifinal entries were submitted as video entries that were posted (and judged) on the event’s Facebook page.

In 2013, the Robot Car Race started out as an attempt to create an engaging, enjoyable practical project for the third-year microcontrollers module as students really struggled with it.

Hanekom said that the intention was to get students excited about the learning material, by creating a formal opportunity to play and explore.

She added the competition was also aimed at developing soft skills such as perseverance, teamwork, the realisation that an engineer has an obligation and a responsibility to serve our society (or in other words: one does not work for marks, but to achieve true competence!), innovation and creativity.

“Inviting spectators to attend the robot race, which was just the final practical assessment in the microcontrollers module, was actually a spur-of-the-moment decision. We thought that parents, siblings, friends and family would be interested to see what the students were doing in their engineering class.”

Hanekom added they hoped to develop fundamental and practical embedded design skills that would allow their graduates to be valuable, competent employees in the technology industry.

UP also launched the Robot School which started on August 21 and will run until the end of October.

The curriculum is targeted at Grade 8 to Grade 11 learners, but can also accommodate Grade 7 learners and educators, should the classes not be fully booked.

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