The University of Southampton

Learning what engineering is all about!

Published: 
8 August 2013
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Fifty students from over 40 schools around the UK took part in a Computing and Microelectronics course at ECS last week, organized by educational charity The Smallpeice Trust.

The five-day residential course enabled students from Years 11 and 12 to build and programme a substantial autonomous robot. The final day of the course was devoted to a competitive challenge in which the robots had to manoeuvre a testing course, demonstrating their manoeuvrability and ‘intelligence’, as a result of the students’ inventiveness in design and programming. The course was sponsored by ARM, and delivered by the Student Robotics team in Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), under the direction of David Oakley, ECS Labs Manager.

During the design and build of their robots the students worked in teams in the high-spec undergraduate Electronics and Computer labs at ECS. The students learned about the design, fabrication and testing of devices, circuits, microprocessors and systems, while exploring the exciting and wide-ranging theory and practice of computing and electronic engineering. The course also gave them the opportunity to find out more about life at university and also to improve their skills in team-building, communication, time management, planning and presentations.

Harry Grassom of Maidstone Grammar School commented: ‘I came on this course because I want to do engineering at university and I liked the idea of constructing and building some kind of device. Building robots has been great fun. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.’

Lizzie Speddings from Wallington High School for Girls said that she had found the whole experience valuable: ‘I learned a lot during the week about teamwork and a lot of technical things about programming and building robots. It’s been a really great experience.’

‘I definitely want to do engineering at university,’ she added, ‘and now I’ll be thinking about whether it’s going to be Electronics or Computing.’ Student Robotics is a student-run organization, based in ECS, which runs an annual challenge for sixth-form students in schools and colleges around the UK. Over a period of six months, led and mentored by engineering students at the University of Southampton, participating teams design, build and test their autonomous robot creations and then put them through their paces in a final challenge held in April each year. Students on the Smallpeice Computing and Microelectronics course had only four days to design and build their robots but they were every bit as inventive and successful as those which are produced over the longer time-frame.

The Student Robotics team was led by Andy Busse, who graduated from ECS with an MEng Electronic Engineering degree in 2012 and now works at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. ‘The standard of the students was really excellent,’ he said, ‘and by the end of the week there was no doubt that they had caught the engineering bug! They were thinking about design but also thinking about programming, building robots and electronics as well. It’s what engineering is all about.’

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