Welcome to robot class

2015-01-25 10:00

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Fundi Bots is an organisation based in Uganda that is passionate about teaching youngsters to build robots. The initiative started in 2011 as a side project run by founder Solomon King Benge and has since started operating full time in 15 different schools. It reaches 2?000 young people a year.

Fundi Bots is shattering the notion that big budgets and fancy equipment are needed for a robotics programme.

King Benge says that “as a child growing up with a passion for technology, it was extremely frustrating not to be able to have the financial, logistical and educational support needed to pursue a passion that was outside of the standard school curriculum. Neither my teachers nor my parents were interested in helping me pursue this passion, simply because it was ‘not in the school exams’.”

King Benge is teaching parents and children that learning about robotics develops a variety of skill sets.

“Firstly, most people’s idea of a robot is like something that comes out of a Transformers or Terminator movie. Actual practical robots vary in shape and size, and most of them look like an arm or a car. Secondly, our focus is not on the finished robot, but the process of making the robot,” he says.

“Yes, we teach them how to build robots, and all students finish and program their robots, but in the process, they have learnt a phenomenal amount of material in a wide variety of subjects like computer programming, mechanical and structural engineering, electrical engineering and biology,” says King Benge.

Some of the practical solutions that are being worked on include a device that uses robotics components to assist a blind person or someone with severe visual impairments to navigate their environment.

An electric wheelchair is a few weeks away from testing in the field, and farm automation tools like automatic irrigation systems, livestock feeding systems and an automated cooling system for dairy animals are on the cards.

“Fundi Bots does a series of talks and workshops with the target school while also working with the administration to set up a club in the school. Once established, the members of the club meet every Friday, [along with a school teacher], to cover the curriculum.”

Outside of schools, Fundi Bots has training workshops every other week that are open to students and the public, as well as weekly training sessions organised by Fundi regulars.

King Benge’s programme has partnered with Echoing Green, Ashoka, Oysters & Pearls and Google Rise, and is looking to expand to other African countries, including Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa.

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