Robotics so much more than features in Star Wars, Terminator and Star Trek – Geexpo 2015

Annette Willemse -- Wed, 06/03/2015 - 11:57

Robotics so much more than features in Star Wars, Terminator and Star Trek – Geexpo 2015

If you are anything like me the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a robot is machines that imitates a human – much like the humanoids in popular movies such as Star Wars, Terminator and Star Trek.  The truth is, you can’t be more wrong! 

During Geexpo 2015 learners – from as young as Grade 8, are invited to take part in several mathematics and information sciences related activities such as robotics. This annual event – that is set to take place on 17 October 2015 at the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal) will boast with a programme featuring a PAT Competition, a Mathematics Olympiad, a Statistics Competition, a Robotics Challenge and interactive presentations by the Serious Games Institute of South Africa (SGI-SA). The latter includes mobile technologies as well as the Campus’s App Factory.

The team heading-up robotics at the NWU Vaal: Sune van der Linde, Romeo Botes and Malie Zeeman

Robotics at the NWU Vaal

According to Romeo Botes, a lecturer within the School of Information Technology and a robotics expert, the value of robotics can be ascribed to three main areas, namely: play (entertainment), learning and research.

  • Play / Entertainment

In terms of the play or entertainment value of robotics students take part in various projects that allow them to discover the inner workings of robots, electronics, mechanical technologies and programming. The Campus currently boasts with a Robotics Club and several members of the club are involved with external initiatives such as Makerspace and Binaryspace.

  • Learning

Botes explains that learning takes place on a postgraduate level as honours students are required to develop various robotic components as part of the requirement of their degree programme. Undergraduate students also make use of basic robotics knowledge and skills in their various academic curricula.

  • Research

Research within the field of robotics focuses on the needs of industry and increased productivity, quality and consistency of computer engineering. Automation is an ever-increasing trend with robotics playing a vital part in facilitating the implementation of processes which were never thought possible. Traditionally the automotive sector has driven the technology as well as adoption, but small-to-medium enterprises are also starting to invest in robotics due to decreasing prices and increased labour issues. Globally, countries like Japan, Germany and the United States are already established in the robotics market with China becoming an increasingly strong competitor. South Africa, being one of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa: which are considered the five major global emerging national economies), is ideally situated to drive the trend up into Africa which is not predominantly industrialised and thus has the most potential for growth from all the continents.

Highlights thus far

The Robotics Club came into being in 2011 as an interest group on the Campus and Romeo explains that the aim of the group was to take part in the annual ROBMECH Competition at the end of that year. The team achieved an overall 3rd place and in 2012 they walked away as the overall victors.

In 2014 the club successfully hosted the first ever Robofest for the Vaal Triangle region and the Gauteng province and due to the overwhelming popularity thereof, the Campus also hosted the 2015 rendition of the event. The winners of this competition goes through to the international finals hosted by the Lawrence Technological University (LTU) near Detroit, Michigan.

Members of the club varies from high school learners to professional IT programmers and senior academic lecturers and researchers. Apart from learning and experiencing new technologies first-hand the members of the club also act as judges at various competitions and helps in organising local and regional competitions for schools. An example of such an initiative is the First Tech Challenge.

For more information on Robotics at the NWU Vaal please send an e-mail to Romeo.botes@nwu.ac.za

Romeo Botes busy with one of his projects (Photo credit: BinarySpace.co.za)

Geexpo 2015

According to JT Terblanche, a lecturer within the School of Information Technology and one of the organisers of the event, the importance of mathematics and science cannot be stressed enough, since these subjects are compulsory if students wish to undertake further studies in a number of fields that are very important to the economy and the further development of our country. These sectors include engineering, natural sciences, information technology and medicine. “At the Vaal Triangle Campus we believe that we are the preferred choice when it comes to business and information technology,” says JT and explains that apart from showcasing the different applications of mathematics and science within a university context, learners also stand the chance to win study bursaries during the event.

Schools are invited to register as many learners for Geexpo as they see fit. Please note that the PAT Competition is for learners who are in Grade 10 – 12, whilst the Mathematics Olympiad is open for any learner from Grade 8 – 12. For more information please send an e-mail to jt.terblanche@nwu.ac.za or to sune.vanderlinde@nwu.ac.za  For a registration form, please visit the Geexpo website.

* Geexpo is an initiative by the School of Information Technology within the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Information Technology.

  Photo credit: BinarySpace.co.za
Photo credit: BinarySpace.coza Photo credit: BinarySpace.coza