Sheffield schoolchildren explore Mars through use of new augmented reality app

It’s exploration time on Mars! But first, you’ll need to build a robot that can cross the terrain and take on challenges.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 02 April, 2019, 10:44
Twinkl's Chief Technology Officer Pete Casson shows off the app

That’s the task children from Mercia School, in Carterknowle Road, were given during a workshop to mark the launch of the School Robot Competition – a joint project between the UK-RAS Network and Education Publisher Twinkl – as part of the build-up to UK Robotics Week.

Mercia students Lana Grice and Minahil Masood at the launch of the AR app for UK Robotics Week

Using the Twinkl Robotics app – a first of its kind educational game which uses the latest Augmented Reality technology to support Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math learning objectives – the students were invited to explore a variation of skills and be in with the chance of winning a host of prizes.

Using the workshop area of the app, the children were able to choose from a variety of robot parts, from wheels to distance sensors.

The aim, to build a robot that could successfully navigate the treacherous Mars terrain, by programming parts and testing their creations in the designated test zones.

However, build it too big and it would need more suspension to get over craters but build it too small and it would struggle to drive over hills.

Mercia student Perry Ogedengbe. at the launch of the AR app for UK Robotics Week at Mercia School

The new game, which is available through the Apple app store and Google Play, is split into three main areas – build mode, programme mode and play mode.

Firstly, children and young people are asked to construct their own robot based on Mars using a host of components such as sensors and motors which are then connected to a base block.

During this time they will need to consider how the robot will move and how it will cope with the Mars terrain, adjusting their designs accordingly.

Minahil Masood gets up close to one of the robots

Next, they move onto programming, working on the different components and sensors on the robot they have previously created, using a scratch styled interface, in which the screen is split into three panes.

The final stage is to unleash the robot on the surface of Mars to complete a series of challenges – with everything from drilling certain areas, to transporting material to the Mars base station without damaging the cargo.

The School Robot Competition is open to all UK schoolchildren and students aged from eight to 14 and children can enter by downloading and creating an account through the AR apps or the web platform.

The UK Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Network – who partnered with Twinkl, Imperial College London and University of Sheffield for the app – is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and has 28 university members across the UK.

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Mercia student Eliza Yasmin at the launch of the AR app for UK Robotics Week

Marianne Knight, Manager of the UK RAS Network said: “The main aim of the competition is to try and inspire schoolchildren to engage with ideas of design, engineering, mathematics – to learn about robotics from an early age with the hope that it peaks their interest and they carry on with that kind of activity later on in life.

“Technology is the way of the future. We face increasing levels of automation in all aspects of our daily lives, not to mention things that ordinarily you and I wouldn’t think about or come across.

“For example there are search and rescue robots, those that go into rubble after earthquakes looking for signs of life. They can actually do an awful lot of things that we are not able to do as they would be too dangerous.

“The scope of this is ever expanding and there is only going to an increase in the demand for technologically capable people who are adept in building and managing robotics systems and technological engineering.”

Pete Casson, Chief Technology Officer at Twinkl, said: “AR is an amazing way of learning. It allows a brilliant new way of creating a world right in front of your eyes.

Launch of AR app for UK Robotics Week at Mercia School

“We are using technology that has never before been used in this way to teach robotics and bring robotics to a young audience and make it really accessible and inclusive to everyone.

“We want to build a love of technology and want to bring something that is perceived as complex like robotics to a young audience to build that love at a really young age.

“Technology is not going away in the future. So, we need people who are passionate and excited robotics in the future. It’s our responsibility to make sure we help these young children to use that at an early age.”

UK Robotics Week is an annual initiative which is backed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and their industry partners.

The competition winners will receive a range of unique prizes, from an all-expense paid trip to London to the latest iPad Pro/Apple Pencil, or the MiRo-E Robot for team entries.

MiRo-E is an advanced AI robot adapted for education with robust hardware and a specialised programming interface to facilitate students coding.

For more information visit the UK-RAS Network website here.