Teams from government and private high schools from across the country that have built and programmed their own robots will be vying for top honours in the first AfrikaBot competition, a robotics challenge hosted by the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ’s) Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE).
Robots designed by AfrikaBot 2016 participants will have to make their way through a maze autonomously, as is accepted practice in many high-profile international robotics competitions.
“AfrikaBot is a fantastic opportunity for teenagers from underserved communities to get involved in pre-engineering activities that were not available to them before,” says UJ RobotScience project head Michael Ettershank, in reference to the learners from township schools that would be participating.
He believes working with robotics equipment can motivate teenagers to do better at maths and science, and may be the catalyst that helps them find the confidence to enrol for engineering courses at UJ.
“However, in the past, robotics kits have been so costly that entering competitions has been limited to just the wealthy elite. [Therefore], to make robotics affordable, we are making some of the parts ourselves at UJ’s TechnoLab,” he says.
With this in mind, AfrikaBot has been billed ‘the world’s most affordable robotics competition’.
UJ’s TechnoLab, which falls under the School of Electrical Engineering, has reduced the cost of getting involved in robotics for disadvantaged teenagers, without compromising the quality of education available.
Meanwhile, the university has also partnered with the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, which has provided funds to purchase some of the parts that the TechnoLab cannot make.
“Another enabling factor has been the availability of free software that anyone can download from the Internet. Depending on the skills level of the teenagers, they can program the controller with easy graphics at first, and then start using a text code software later on, when they have acquired those skills in the training program,” notes Ettershank.
The first AfrikaBot competition will take place at Zwartkops International Raceway in Centurion in October. AfrikaBot has been billed as "the world’s most affordable robotics competition".
There is also a category for engineering undergraduate teams.