Paramount Labs – the research and innovation division of aerospace and technology company Paramount Group – in partnership with the South African Air Force (SAAF), has successfully completed its newly-launched robotics training programme with the first group of young students who enrolled as part of the SAAF Eagles Robotics Club (Eagles).
The Eagles offers teenagers an innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) development programme, the ultimate aim of which is to inspire the youth to consider technology-based maths-related careers in fields like engineering and manufacturing.
This year, the Eagles programme ran over five months and took learners through training that included elementary robot programming, electronic circuit theory and practice, technical drawing and computer-assisted-design software, as well as printing parts using additive manufacturing machinery in the form of three-dimensional printers.
The first workshop format training session for the Eagles included an interactive “Sumo Wrestling” contest, where scholars engaged in remote controlled robot combat using a joystick. The objective of the contest was to see which robot could push its opponent out of the arena first.
During the Covid-19 lockdown some of the Eagles training sessions had to be presented remotely using online streaming platform Zoom.
In addition to its role as a product research and innovation facility, Paramount Labs has unique robotics capabilities that place the company in a strong position to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), both in terms of the latest manufacturing developments, as well as skills transfer within the group and the greater society in terms of its extensive corporate social outreach programmes.
The Paramount Robotics Club is based within Paramount Labs, and aims to offer teaching resources and hardware platforms to assist communities across South Africa create their own STEM programmes that will inspire the local youth to study maths and science.
Through more partnerships like the Eagles, and by assisting and supporting local communities to create their own robotics clubs, Paramount Group aims to create an awareness and greater preparedness among youth to take advantage of the 4IR and set themselves up in a high-tech career.
The Paramount Robotics Club is hosted at the company’s Midrand campus and relies on experienced lab trainers and volunteers from across various group divisions to inspire and educate visiting youth. Several hardware platforms are available for visiting youth, including an open source desktop-scale robot and a quadcopter that can be programmed to perform autonomous missions.
Complete supporting training materials and videos suitable for grade 6 to 12 learners, and even undergraduate training, is made available by the Paramount Robotics Club to learners and teachers who are curious and want to learn more.
The Eagles participated in the first ParaBOTics Competition, during which the robots were required to autonomously make their way through a desktop maze.
First place went to 15-year-old Obakeng Mathekga, while second place went to Adam Price (14) and third to Kea Bapela (15). The ParaBOTics Competition is held in September every year and is open to all South African youth.
Paramount Labs special projects executive Reuben Ichikowitz says the education landscape in South Africa and across the globe has changed fundamentally.
“Online education is the new normal [and], going forward, we are going to use online tools like video training and Zoom calls to support young people who want to be prepared for the 4IR.”