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Arduino Cars of the Future

The excursion to QUT on Thursday 9 August was a wonderful experience. We started the day learning how to code Arduino boards, which were part of small robot cars that had already been assembled for us. We started by coding basic light patterns, from simply blinking on and off, to a wave of lights, to sending messages in Morse code. This was a great way to introduce us to the main concepts without asking us to do anything too complex.

We then broke for a brief morning tea, before sharing our light patterns with the other groups. Every group had successfully programmed their robot to flash lights. After that, we headed to the Cube, which features many interactive screens. We completed a question sheet on the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef, and how humans are affecting it. This taught us how we can help to better protect the environment around us, as well as about some of the fantastic creatures that live there.

After lunch, we headed back to the lab to program our robots to race around a track. The robots had already been pre-programmed to follow a white line on the ground, so all we had to do was work out the optimum calibration and motor speeds. This required a lot of trial and error, and different teams had different methods to try and get the fastest robot. This culminated in a competition, where each robot raced another robot on a circuit of the same length. There were several rounds, with the two fastest robots eventually competing in a nail-biting grand final.

I got a lot out of this day, including a new interest in coding and new coding skills. This is especially valuable, as one of the hardest things to learn in robotics is a new coding language, and we were given several tips. I’m glad that the instructors were willing to provide help when we needed it, but also willing to let us go ahead and discover things for ourselves. I also learnt about what QUT is like as a university, as the people running the program are QUT students themselves.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Exceptional Scientists' Program excursion to QUT, as I learnt new things, and had lots of fun on the way.

Rebecca Leonard, Year 9

The best part of the day was when we began coding our robot’s lights. We began by learning the basic syntax of the Arduino language. The instructors taught us how to turn the lights on and off. They then gave us the task to get the lights to flash SOS. We were left to problem-solve but if we needed help the instructors would give us tips on how to solve any problems we had in our code. Our group quickly solved the problem but then we worked out some other ways to make it clearer such as having one light flash quickly for a dot but three lights flash slowly for and dash and have a fourth dot flash between characters, so the interpreter can more easily decipher its meaning. We were then given the challenge to devise the code to display a dot and a dash in function, so we would only have to write the function out each time. This allowed us to write some much more complicated Morse code with minimal work. The day was very informative and allowed me to problem-solve through some difficult tasks with the code helping me to better understand the problems and solutions associated with making self-driving cars.

Daniel Carton, Year 9

Today was the first time I was selected to be a part of this QUT experience and I have to say it was a great day. Going into it I didn’t know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of fun I had throughout the day. I didn’t know if I would be able to be a great help to the team as I had never done any coding or robotics before, but with the help and guidance from the QUT ambassadors I was able to contribute and have a lot of fun while doing it. I’d have to say the best part of the day for me was when my group (Ella, Emma and Emily) managed to get our light sequence to work exactly the way we wanted. Even though we did not have as much luck with the car races, I still had a wonderful time with this amazing group of people who never gave up in trying to code the fastest car. I had a great day and would love to do it again.

Alyssa Phillips, Year 9

The STEM for Schools experience was informative and exciting! We took a train trip into the hustle of the city and the beautiful grounds of QUT. One of the ambassadors, Jesse, taught us the basic rules of Arduino micro-controllers and we had half an hour to play around with the lights on out robots. After our time working together in groups, we presented our light shows to our peers. I particularly loved the interactive underwater display they have on the Cube. After lunch, we learned more about coding functions and went off to see how fast and smooth we could make our robot operate. We had a big racing tournament towards the end which became very competitive! Overall, I loved my experience – it was fun!

Italia Rees, Year 9

Being a new face in this program, it gave me a chance to experience activities beyond the school-grounds, extend my knowledge further, and become more familiar with my fellow students. The program was mainly focused on coding and robotics, and how self-driving cars can help enhance society and shape it in the near future. Consequently, this meant programming a replica of a self-driving car to develop our own group lightshows, using the LED lights, and racing them to see which car was the fastest. I think this experience should be highly recommended to the student body as it was an excursion that definitely made you think outside the box.

Alyza Jeffries, Year 9

I now know more about the topic of coding than my previous knowledge, which was nothing. My favourite experience was coding and racing the Arduino cars, and seeing how tiny changes in the code could make massive differences. Thanks to QUT for this experience; it was very cool.

Ben Mollee, Year 9

By far the most memorable part of the day was the final race for our robotic cars. After spending over half the workshop perfecting our robot’s speed, we were all on the edge of our seats watching each pair of cars lap around the course. Our group had named our robot 'RiceGum' and had, admittedly, spent more time attempting to copy other group’s combinations rather than trialling our own. We topped off our robotic race car’s look with gold and silver coins, or what we liked to call Gucci Bling. Though our car was by far the best looking, all the coins we used as decorations ended up short-circuiting the battery and lost the race for us. Lesson learned: it’s the programming that makes the all-important difference when it came time to race.

Charlotte Beavers, Year 9

It was an amazing chance to work with people you haven't worked with before. I was amazed that in only a few hours I could learn so much about something I never thought I would get the chance to learn. I am very grateful I was given the opportunity to come along on this excursion. It was a great experience.

Emma Gamble, Year 9

This was an exciting experience that exposed us to science and engineering in the real world. During just one activity that we participated in, we learnt how to program a robot car to drive itself around a track. We experimented with different instructions before racing the cars against other groups’ cars. This was a fun and interesting activity as it enabled us to use our newly-learnt skills in an exciting way. Through this activity, I had the opportunity to work with students with whom I normally wouldn’t work on a typical school day and was able to learn from their skills. Overall, this was an exciting and engaging day that was definitely a rewarding experience.

Hannah Shultz, Year 9

The QUT Cars of the Future Workshop was an amazing day where we learned many new skills in Robotics and Programming and gained an outlook into STEM life at QUT. It was a great opportunity to work collaboratively in teams in order to produce an innovative and futuristic design. My favourite part of the day was working with my peers to code a robot to race other teams on a racetrack, as well as creating LED patterns to feature on the exterior of our self-driving race car. Overall, having the opportunity to work in a team environment with like-minded students with a similar passion for STEM was certainly the best part of the experience.

Juliet Munro, Year 9

I had an awesome day at QUT. My favourite part of the day was the robot racing at the end. We had to code a robot to follow a white line around a race track. We were in small groups of three or four and whoever’s car was the fastest around the track won. This was my first attempt at coding and it was a fun challenge. Unfortunately, our car did not win. Although this was my favourite part, the rest of the day was exhilarating as well. For lunch we were allowed in the food court. The day was so much fun, and I really enjoyed myself. I have never experienced anything like it in my life. Everyone was in such a joyful mood on the train back home. It was a really great day!

Justin Trethewey, Year 9