On April 13, four geekStarter robotics teams took part in a full day of mentorship and group activities that encouraged the application of hard practical skills and evaluation of social and ethical impacts of AI (artificial intelligence) and next-generation robotics.

Students from Queen Elizabeth High School (Edmonton), Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy (Canmore), Father Mercredi High School (Fort McMurray), and Lacombe Composite High School (Lacombe) came together in Edmonton at the Feigl Conference Centre at MacEwan University for the day-long workshop; students interacted and gained invaluable insight from geekStarter mentors and industry professionals working in the field of Robotics and Automation, including:

● Nikolai Kummer, robotics developer, ATTAbotics
● Vimal Bhandari, research and development engineer, Takemetuit Inc.
● John Whitbread, engineering manager, General Dynamics Missions Systems Canada
● Sunny Dhaliwal, lead roboticist, ATTAbotics

“This was a well-received, engaging workshop where geekStarter robotics teams enhanced their skills and projects through a variety of hands-on and minds-on activities,” said Magda pop, geekStarter program manager. “The event was a valuable and unique opportunity to gain real-world insights and feedback from experienced professionals and mentors.”

The Robotics Workshop began with students from all over Alberta participating in an icebreaker activity where they were asked to share with someone they just met “What they love the most about their project”. After the teams got to know one another, they were asked to give a five-minute pitch about their current geekStarter robotics project and explain the real-world problem their project addresses.

ATTAbotics robotics developer, Nikolai Kummer, gave a presentation that covered some of the student-friendly platforms used in robotics, the value and role of different sensors and hardware in creating a viable robot, and the importance of troubleshooting and using the wider community in the iteration process. Students then participated in a hands-on practical activity developed by Vimal Bhandari, research and development engineer at Takemetuit Inc. Students worked in teams to program an Arduino, motor, and ultrasonic sensor with the purpose of creating an automated door that would open and close under controlled conditions. To finish off the morning, teams spent time troubleshooting their own projects with the subject matter experts present at the workshop.

Leading into the afternoon, John Whitbread, engineering manager at General Dynamics, demonstrated the effects of automation and artificial intelligence during an icebreaker activity. Participants were asked to roleplay as operators directing robots to move chairs into a circle, demonstrating the chaos and lack of efficiency in the operator to robot relationship. When AI was introduced, the operators were removed allowing the robots to replace the chairs efficiently while also demonstrating job loss.

Following the icebreaker, John Whitbread gave a presentation on the social impact and ethics surrounding AI and robotics. Using this presentation as a springboard, students then worked in integrated teams on a soft skill activity, analyzing case studies around the topics of AI and automation. Students were asked to consider the case study from a specific perspective and answer questions before moving into groups. As a group, students were asked to incorporate their individual perspectives into a set of recommendations and policies to use AI and automation in a positive way.

The workshop ended with an integrated panel discussion with John Whitbread and Sunny Dhaliwal, lead roboticist at ATTAbotics. The panelists posed questions to the teams focusing on project management and design thinking, and asked them to work together and present their answers to the room. This new integrated panel approach encouraged engagement and accountability from the students.

“Having hands-on activities along with an open panel makes the session more engaging allowing us to have a larger take away from the workshop.” – High school student in attendance

All geekStarter teams – both robotics and synthetic biology – will come together once again on May 25 and 26, 2019, in Canmore, for the geekStarter High School Jamboree and iGEM 2019 Season Kickoff. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting annual event as we draw closer to the date.

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