Technocamps beach lab

Yesterday we held a Technocamps event on the prom at Aberystwyth – we took over the bandstand, and had various cool things on the prom, in the bandstand, and on the beach. I’m 20% on Technocamps, which runs computing workshops with schoolkids, and the beach lab was a kind of outreach thing. We can’t count it towards our targets1, but it’s still fun to show off what we’re doing and spread the word.

One of the coolest things on the day was a young lad who’d been to a technocamp session and who’d really gotten into it – having done a bit of robots and a bit of programming in the workshops with us, he went home and has built himself an arduino powered boat. Here he is with his boat (wearing my arduino powered hat).

We run a workshop on AI – Artificial Intelligence – with chatbots. Chatbots are computer programs you can hold a conversation with, and here’s Mathew manning the chatbot stand. One of the reasons we’re keen to do the AI/chatbot stuff is that it lets you talk about the Turing test, which is (in my opinion) one of the most interesting and enduring ideas from philosophical computer science. It’s also the Turing centenary this year (as I mentioned in my last post).

Here’s Nikolai and Jonathan with some of the smaller robots – some of these were student projects, and some of these are technocamps robots. The technocamps robots were called Demo-bots as they’re designed to demonstrate key robotic concepts, but after a typo by one of the technocamps team they’re now called demon bots. I’m not sure this is an improvement…

The next picture features Rokas with a modified G-Wiz electric car. It’s been modified by Rokas, as his dissertation project, and now is an autonomous vehicle that can drive itself. That’s some final year project.

Throughout the day, Idris (one of the larger robots) was on the beach, drawing pictures in the sand. Here it is drawing a flower:

Here’s another smaller robot having a go on the beach:

Back indoors we had Minty 2, a robotic boat which is designed to do survey work on glaciers. This picture has Mark explaining Minty 2 to Lucy, a friend who was visiting for the weekend and who got roped into helping out all day. I am fairly sure she enjoyed it though.

The workshop we’ve run most often with local schoolkids involves programming little robots called Pioneers – these are wheeled robots about the size of a dog. There’s a system called AberBots which simplifies a lot of the robot control issues, and we’ve run AberBots + Pioneer sessions with over 500 schoolkids now, aged from 11-19. The next picture shows Dom explaining what’s going on in a robot safety zone (they’re not actually that dangerous, but you know, health and safety…).

The stall I was on was the wearable computing stall. This had various lilypad arduino bits and pieces, including a fab light-chase piece constructed and embroidered by Claire Sauzé. Very nice work, and shows what you can do with craft skills and computing skills.

In all it was a fun and exhausting day. We had nearly 600 people through, looking at what we do and playing with technology and robots. Things I didn’t get pictures of include: a K9 robot, some kite flying with live aerial camera feed to inside the bandstand, a raspberry pi (yes they do exist), some physics buskers, lots of robot boats and lots of other smaller robots. Fun.

1We’re targeting 11-19 year olds in the EU convergence area of Wales, and in order to count someone towards our quota we have to have done 3h+ of workshops with a particular young person on two separate occasions… We’ve got special sub-targets for women and NEETS (people not in employment education or training). So a day on the beach is fun, but it’s not the main aim of the project.

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