Wishford Schools

Wishford Schools

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The prospect of Driverless vehicles came a step closer today with two momentous announcements. Reported on the BBC website, a demonstration of driverless technology is due to be conducted over the next few months followed by a public road trial later this year. More excitingly for the future generations of computer scientists, Heywood Prep demonstrated a prototype that should show the experts at organisations like Google, Tesla and Ford what can be achieved by children aged eight and nine in the field; it is a promising sign of a pioneering workforce for what is undoubtedly the future of transport.

Over the past couple of months, Heywood Prep’s Year 3 computer scientists have been assessing the technology involved in autonomous transport as well as its potential applications (see the video above). Using the Lego NXT robots as a foundation, the children used ultrasonic sensors to detect the boundaries of a track, adapting to the road layout that they were presented with. After some initial bumps and subsequent adjustments the robot consistently drove down the centre of the track.

Not satisfied with successful navigation, an optimal speed was sought. Using scientific approaches, they adjusted several parameters to find the balance between the vehicle’s speed and its ability to turn quickly enough; too fast and it would not be able to turn sharply and therefore crash. 

In terms of applications, the pupils identified some tremendous possibilities. Some of the ideas included automated Fire Response or other Emergency Services vehicles; mobile defibrillators that could be delivered to where it is needed in response to a panic signal; and vehicles that could transport those who can’t drive for some reason (visually impaired, physically disabled, infirm).

For our project, due to the prospect of a hot summer, the children chose to develop a prototype automated ice cream delivery van. In addition to the work on navigating, the children also investigated insulation materials to allow for the products to last as long as possible during transport.

Offered real-world situations and challenges, children become far more engaged with learning, understanding and applying technology, analysing the possibilities and drawbacks, and really thinking through the options available to them. All this in Year 3! It will be exciting to see where their efforts and vision take them next.

Ben Pitman-Jones, Head of Technology, Wishford Schools