Do you know how many every-day objects such as mobile phones, TV remotes, and iPads have microcontrollers? Or that developments in microcontrollers mean that we are only 10 years away from self-driving cars? Neither did I, until we went on a STEM excursion to QUT to learn about Arduino microprocessors. Microcontrollers are just very small computers!
Victoria Anderson-Bond, Year 8
On 17 May, a group of young, wide-eyed scientists departed from CHAC to catch an early train. We were on our way into the city for a workshop on programming Arduinos at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Upon our arrival, we were taken upstairs into our workshop room. We sat with our groups and after a quick briefing on how the Arduino functions, we commenced programming the microcontroller to flash an LED. This was called the blink challenge. We then had a chance to explore QUT’s amazing facilities, including the largest interactive display in the southern hemisphere, The Cube. Despite its name, the display is not actually a cube. As we were in need of a break and some food, we departed for lunch. Full and content, we headed back to our room, and commenced with programming the Arduinos to follow a white line. Many corrections and improvements were made, like decreasing the ‘wobble factor’ and increasing the speed. These changes were vital, because after we finished programming, there would be a race! During the challenge, CHAC spirit was at its finest, but unfortunately there could only be one winner. Though, in my opinion, we all left that day winners because we had attained so much valuable knowledge and experience.
Alice Dagwell, Year 8
The experience at QUT was absolutely amazing. It was an eye-opening opportunity to explore the world of driverless cars and micro-controllers. We first travelled via train to the City and from there we walked to QUT where we were met by our instructors for the day. Their names were Atrey and Jesse. The two boys were very friendly and always happy to lend a hand if we needed one. Arduino is a platform that allows you to program your micro-controllers to perform task as directed. Our first activity was programming a light board of four lights to blink. This was the harder activity as there were fewer instructions to follow on the website. However, after a few attempts my group got it to work and created a Morse-code message that read ‘hi’. In the second activity, which was my favourite, we had to program our robot to follow a white track around the floor. This was hard, but we had Jesse and Atrey helping us the entire way. Once the robots were able to go around the track we had fifteen minutes to try to increase the speed to make it go faster while ensuring it didn’t wobble off the tracks. This was challenging and required a lot of patience and testing to make it work. Eventually we had a time trial race with the fastest time being held by the robot named “Stanley” with a 9.1 second lap of the track and a winning ratio of 1:3. All in all it was a wonderful day and a very enlightening learning experience. I would just like to say a massive thank you for this amazing excursion for which I am extremely grateful.
Aiden Ahmelman, Year 8
The QUT Ambassadors told us what a micro-controller is a control device with a small circuit board that has all the functions of a processing unit for a computer, and that the first micro-controller was used in Apollo 11, in 1969. It cost $15,000,000 and weighed about 31 kg. It took 55 W to work and could process 1 million instructions per second (MIPS). Nowadays, a micro-controller costs from $10 - $75, weighs 5-10 grams, takes 0.005 W to work and can process 20 MIPS.
The micro-controller we used was an Arduino with a Lego base and wheels. Our first challenge was to make the LED lights blink by putting code into a computer and uploading it into the robot. My group got the lights to blink with a gap of 5 milliseconds between blinks.
Archie Moffatt, Year 8
During a coding workshop hosted by QUT, two QUT students discussed the topic of how cars may be presented in the future. The function included interactive tasks surrounding the prototyping platform Arduino, coding small cars and understanding the complications of coding commercial cars.
The Arduino coding platform is a simple and easy-to-use program that can code a variety of devices. Arduino uses English words as coding, such as ‘digitalWrite’ and ‘pinMode.’ As part of the workshop, we learnt to code an LED light to flash, as well as attempt to program this light to convey Morse code. We also learnt to code a small, electronic car to move and follow white lines.
The complications of coding commercial vehicles were also discussed during the workshop. These included how programmed cars could accommodate manual vehicles and how these cars should be coded to respond in certain situations. Driverless cars have to be able to deal with anomalies, which is difficult to program. There is the complication of deciding what a car should do in the situation of a potential threat. Should the vehicle swerve to protect the driver, but potentially harm others? Or should the vehicle continue on, and put the driver at risk?
Cordelia Jeffrey-McNamara, Year 8
My favourite part of the workshop was the relationships formed between the QUT presenters and fellow students. They were so passionate about coding which encouraged us to be inspired and sparked creativity in us. The presenters taught us about how coding is used in everyday situations, and posed questions about the future of self-driving cars; the pros and cons of relying on robots to drive. The presenters mentored us and extended our knowledge of coding. We worked in groups of four and brainstormed different combinations of codes to ensure our robot’s speed was maximised. In these groups we not only learnt the skill of working with others and collaborating ideas, but we also made a bunch of new friends throughout the day. Once we had made the appropriate changes, we tested the performance of our robots by recording how long it took for each robot to complete a circuit of the course the fastest. Unfortunately ours didn’t perform to the standard which it did when we were testing it, but it was still enjoyable to watch it swerve around on the mat. This STEM workshop not only opened my mind to the future of STEM, and the opportunities of having a future in coding, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Isabella Armitage, Year 8
Overall the experience I had really opened my eyes to new career paths and opportunities within STEM, as well as giving me a chance to build on my team work abilities, learn important skills for the future and just have an amazing time! I think everyone that went came away with a new piece of information, and I really hope I get the chance to complete similar activities in the future.
Jasmine Balfour, Year 8
Programming the Arduino Microprocessors was a really enjoyable experience and it was so cool to learn about coding and also to explore QUT a little bit. The STEM workshop was an ultimately rewarding day full of fun and learning.
Sophie Ryan, Year 8
We all liked being on QUT’s campus because there’s lots of interesting work being done there, and they have one of Australia’s largest interactive displays, The Cube. We used it to launch a virtual rocket. Our visit to QUT was very enjoyable. The people running the Arduino workshop were friendly and helpful and it was fun learning something new with my classmates. One day I hope I will be able to program other microprocessors and maybe do things that have never been done before in aeronautics and space flight.
Zac McLay, Year 8