VIA Hosts Autonomous Car Kit Event for Kids in Taiwan
Following its successful launch in China in 2018, VIA introduced the VIA AI Learner Kit for the first time to a classroom of elementary-school students in Taiwan eager to learn how to program their very own robotic car just before the Lunar New Year holiday. The kit was inspired by VIA software engineer Vincent Chen, who realized the potential for AI technology in mainstream education after attending the China Children’s Computer Competition in Beijing two years ago, and is now being adopted by schools throughout China.
The VIA AI Learner Kit is a highly-integrated hardware and software package that enables students to learn how to build and program a self-driving car. Its key components include an Arduino-compatible controller board, autonomous driving expansion board, camera, battery, sensors, and chassis, as well as a user-friendly software program that enables students program commands to activate the car, set its speed limits, and define the appropriate actions when the camera detects a stop sign, warning sign, traffic lights, or turning. A training manual is also provided plus a track for the car to drive around.
The VIA Autonomous Car Kit Event
The event took place over a period of five days during which the students were taught by a step-by-step process to assemble the car, program it, and write a simulation program of the track we had installed in the classroom and upload it onto the vehicle. Finally it was time for them to test out the accuracy of their programming by running the car on the track itself.
The first day entailed organizing the classroom into teams, as well as introducing and setting up the software. Using Google Blockly, the students were given the chance to experiment with writing code. They were then introduced to the hardware where they learned to assemble the physical components of the vehicle.
Day two and three entailed programming the vehicle. This consisted of teaching it to recognize common road signs and setting the appropriate actions it should take when encountering them such as slowing down, coming to a stop, and changing direction.
Day four consisted of completing the assembly of the car, placing race-tracks onto the floor, and carrying out a few test runs to improve the car’s handling and performance around the track. With these tasks completed, the students were almost ready for the competition on the final day.
The fifth day of the event started off with a final test-run, giving the students a last chance to fix any remaining software bugs and make any last-minute alterations to improve the vehicle’s performance. With the students jumping from their computers to the track making adjustments, the anticipation was growing and so was the excitement to see the end result. One race-track, seven robotic cars, and a classroom full of eager students.
Wheels Meet Track
The cars were finally ready to go on the tracks. One by one, each team were given the chance to showcase their robot’s talent. Some robots responded perfectly to the traffic signs and kept in line with the track, while others didn’t run quite as smoothly as planned. The atmosphere shifted between loud cheers to tense silences, as everyone watched to see how well their robot was going to perform. With every failure evoking laughter, every success evoking everyone’s praise, and the intense uncertainty halting everyone’s next move, it was great to see how immersed both the students and engineers had become in the competition.
After the competition was over and the tensions eased, it was time for the awards ceremony. Every student was awarded a certificate and small prize, with the top three students receiving VIA AI Learner Kit . After a big classroom photograph and a pizza party, the VIA Autonomous Car Kit Event came to an end.
Interview with Vincent Chen
After the event, we were able to catch with the event’s organizer, Vincent Chen, and ask him a couple of quick questions. When asked why he thinks it’s important for children to learn about programming at this age, he responded: “Programming helps children to think in many ways and make rational decisions. It is beneficial in education today because of the potential in AI technologies.”
As to where he sees the VIA AI Learning Kit going in the future, he said: “We are looking for opportunities to develop more platforms like the VIA AI Learner Kit to boost STEM education in schools and create software which is more intuitive and engaging for children to help them prepare for the challenges of the modern world.”
Overall, the event gave the students a real taste of working together as miniature engineers. From working with each other as team members to solving issues and fixing them with the senior engineers, it encouraged students to work collaboratively in tackling AI technology. With AI at the forefront of innovation and autonomous vehicles dominating the headlines, it provided a great way to give students hands-on experience with the technology in a a fun and immersive workshop, which not only taught them how to build and program their own car, but also how to have fun at the same time– bridging the gap between academic and intuitive learning.
We are planning introduce the VIA Edge AI Learner Kit into global markets Q2 of 2019. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about the kits. We would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this initiative.