The Master Minds Strike Again!

Our fabulous Master Minds recently participated in the regional competition of RoboCup Junior 2016 on the 12th of November 2016, in the On-Stage Performance Category. The MasterMinds used a total of 3 Robots: a Keyboard Player, Drummer and a Conductor.

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How did the performance go? Very well of course. Since we do not have a video to show, here’s a short description of the 2-minute show. First, the drummer started with beats of a lower tempo and then slowly picked up the tempo. After a 3-second pause, the keyboard Player fingers the notes of the Birthday Song, on getting directions from the Conductor. As a finale, all three performed in sync to play the National anthem.

All three Robots were programmed to speak and coordinate with each other using ‘Blue Tooth’.

Out of the 11 participating teams, our team came 3rd overall, and, no surprises here, even  won the award for the ‘Best Robot Design’! They used string puppetry (Robotic mechanisms to control the strings) to present the given theme. They will soon be competing at the national level competition scheduled to be held in January 2017.
 
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The team ended their performance amidst thunderous applause and appreciation from the audience. They’re known for coming up with new ideas and doing something unexpected, thus keeping their fellow participants wondering what’s up their sleeve next.

We wish them all the best for the upcoming Nationals!

How the coolest robot in India went all the way to Leipzig.

In 2013, Akshara Foundation with support from the Lego Foundation, set up a robotics lab in a government school, in Bangalore.

It’s overwhelming to see how the children have progressed from not being able to turn ON and turn OFF the computers to gaining the expertise in building Robots and programming it using computers.

Just over 2 years later, in February 2016, these geniuses from the Seva Bharath Trust, made us all proud. Fighting against all odds, they were recently placed First in the ‘Dance’ category of the Robocup Junior National level Robotics competition and fourth among 39 teams in the First Lego League 2015 national competition, earlier this year.

This gave them the opportunity to represent INDIA at the International level of the Robocup Junior competition in July 2016.

Here’s a look at their innovative robot, the E-bot Max that won them the 1st place.
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Meet the team behind the coolest robot in India – the Master Minds.
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From left to right: The Instinctive One (Ameenuddin), The Collaborator (Balachandra), The Mechanic (Aravinda Reddy), The Thinker (Lawrence), The Silent Programmer (Ramesh) and The Challenger (Ramakrishna).

And their achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. They have driven Local and national media into a frenzy with their accomplishments!

But these young geniuses remained unfazed with all the limelight on them. All they wanted to do was prep for the next step, their next competition in Germany. They walked in to the lab every day, rolled up their sleeves and immediately got to work on bettering the E-bot Max.

As a small tribute to these WHIZ KIDS, Akshara Foundation created a video that highlights them at their creative best.

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After an action-packed fundraising quarter on Ketto, E-bot Max and the Master Minds, finally made it for the International RoboCup Junior Competition that was held at Leipzig from June 29 to July 3, 2016.

Initially, a 6-member team was supposed to go. But the challenges in getting their passports kept us swinging from courts to government offices, till finally it was time to leave and just three had managed to overcome all those hurdles.

While the Master Minds just about missed out on an award or two, they definitely did not fall behind on all the cheering, encouragement and positive feedback. “It was a fabulous first time effort”, as quoted by one of the organisers.

You can follow their entire journey at Leipzig here and here.

That’s all that matters, as long as they’ve come back richer with experience and had fun while at it. All this goes to prove that given an opportunity, anyone can reach for the stars.

A future in robotics starts by winning the zonal RoboCup Junior Competition.

Yesterday, the 8th of November 2015, was a robotastic day for the kids of our Robotics Lab.

Three teams from the Vivek Nagar Government School in Bangalore participated in the South Zone – Robocup Junior Competition held at St John’s High School, Frazer Town.
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It goes without saying that these bright sparks outdid themselves in both the categories that they participated.

The mission under the RESCUE category was to locate victims of a natural disaster from a building, where the rescue personnel in place needed robotic assistance in dangerous areas.
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The Robot had to be fully autonomous and carry out the mission with no help. It even went over rough terrains (speed bumps in this case), without getting stuck.  When the robot finally found the victim, it carefully transported them to a safe area, where human intervention could take over.

Two out of the 26 teams fighting for this mission were from our Vivek Nagar School. Both these teams stormed through to the finals, bagging the 3rd and 4th place in the qualifying round.

But it was the team participating in the DANCE challenge that stole the show. The challenge: a robot designed, built and programmed by the team had to dance along with the entire team.This includes a whole range of possible performances, for example dance, storytelling, theatre or an art installation. The performances could include music if they wanted. Teams are encouraged to be as creative, innovative and as entertaining as possible. Sounds too hard to be true? Check out what these rockstars did for yourself.
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We came FIRST in this category. The children built a humanoid that can make moves supported by background music, and of course a great fan following. There was a lot of hooting and cheering, followed by a thunderous applause. 
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This is but a small high in their road to the finish. Undeterred by the wins of the day, they now have their eyes set on the big win. Determined to perform better than last time and win at the finals in January next year, they were already seen discussing what needs to be tackled next. All the best champs!

“Way Cooler Than The Robotics Lab In My School!”

A few weeks ago, I visited a government school in Viveknagar, Bangalore to see how they learn in India. The school has a Robotics Lab. I saw how they build their robots and it was very cool! I also admired them, because they let me help them with their robots.

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They had built a spinning top robot, a drumming monkey robot and a robotic boat to name a few. I made friends with a boy named Kevin Joseph. He is a very good builder and we built a robot together.

Thanks to Akshara Foundation and Mr. Sridhar for running the lab.

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– By Omkar Tharuvesanchi
3rd grade
Washington GT Elementary
Raleigh, NC
USA

ROBO-MANIA IS SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE.

I was not conducting any formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard kids. But I did allow them to come fiddle around every now and then…

Most of the time I had to come up with excuses, telling them that they could use the Robotics lab when they came to the 5th standard. Because that’s how the Robotics Programme is structured.

Today I reached the lab very early. A few 3rd standard kids had also come as early. They requested me to allow them to build something. Since there were only three students and ample time before class, I asked them to sit together at one computer.

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At the most, I knew I might have to reinstall some software. And so I just observed them. They confidently turned on the computer and were trying to open the LEGO WeDo software… but they did not know that all it took was a double click of the icon.

I showed them how to do a double click by tapping on the bench. They opened the software and without any further guidance, reached the robot building guidelines page. They chose to do the first Robot on the list.

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After a few trials and errors, they finished building the Robot. Their faces reflected the sheer joy they felt…
So again, these kids are proving me wrong, sending the message loud and clear, that their capacity is beyond my imagination.

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The Robotics Programme has so far been restricted only to the children of standard V and above. Today’s amazing incident has prompted me to begin formal classes for the 3rd and 4th standard children too.

– Sridhar P.

Sridhar heads our robotics programme in the government schools and ever so often has more than one inspirational anecdote or two.

IN AND OUT OF CLASS – the change makers at IISc Alumni Global Conference 2015.

The recently concluded IISc Alumni Global Conference, Bangalore, was a celebration of coming together, reliving old times, reconnecting with friends and of taking a forward look at how the alumni could transform lives.

IISc alums, who at one point pursued lucrative career options or left India to achieve success abroad, are now helping poor students in the country. The meet brought together several distinguished people to deepen the collective understanding of the ways and measures to make learning a better prospect.

It also put the spotlight on a versatile global community of IISc alums who are helping communities in the country to learn better.

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Nurture the School that Nurtured You (NSNY), a programme started by the IISc Alumni Association of North America (AANA), has adopted 15 schools in different parts of the country and is working towards making learning a better prospect. Prof Arkal Shenoy, nuclear scientist and president of IISc AANA, was among the first to sponsor a programme in a government school in Ujire about a month ago.

Nasa scientist of Mars Curiosity fame, Dr Gajanana Birur had adopted schools near his home town Birur in Chikmaglur district 10 years ago. He has also adopted a government school in Bovipalya near Rajajinagar in Bengaluru. “It has only 45 students as the area now has developed from when I saw it decades ago and parents prefer private English schools. I want this school to become a symbol of desire,” said Dr. Gajanana.

It is here through his own story and that of the children at Viveknagar Government School, that Sridhar, who is in-charge of Akshara Robotics Lab, talked about creating value and addressing questions that are both urgent and daunting.

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Robotics labs in schools where almost exclusively the children of poor study, are unheard of. Into this, Akshara brought in the idea of structured creativity in a lab under someone who could deal with robots and children, knowing the difference.

It is here for these kids our very own Sridhar, an IISc alumni, found it worth his while to junk his cushy job and instead work in an atmosphere where he has to stack carton-boxes over one another to place his laptop since there is no table of proper height. Together, school children and Sridhar, create enough enthusiasm for the robotics classes to become a craze where students vie with each other to take a seat, and hands go up with lightning speed when ‘robotics’ sir’ asks a question.

A story of hope and inclusivity – also a story of the way forward. This is a story that needs to be told, to be shared to be narrated by each one of us… and we are happy we had the opportunity to share it at the IISc Alumni Global Conference, 2015. It’s just a matter of time before we see a social change brought about by the difference makers who believe in their own potential and remove barriers to create a more inclusive world.

Thank you, IISc for giving us Sridhar.

N.B. – Two weeks ago, inspired by the way Sridhar has introduced government school kids to robotics, Dr Gajanana Birur has set up a robotics lab at an education centre run by social activists in Chettanahalli, a small village between Birur and Tarikere. In his own words – “I have now realised that robotics helps imbibe a spirit of curiosity and I have seen it work through the work of another alumni, who is working with a school in Bengaluru.”

Read more @ http://bit.ly/1C8YG4g

Authored by writer@educationjams

National Science Day at IISc

Following National Science Day, Akshara Foundation took students of the Seva Bharat Trust Government Kannada, Telugu, Tamil Higher Primary Schools, Viveknagar to the Indian Institute of Science campus for a Science Tour. The Robotics Lab team from Akshara, forty-four school children, along with two teachers and fifteen volunteers from Robert Bosch, Bangalore began their field trip in the morning.

The first stop was at the Department of Physics at IISc: Enthralled by the live demos of magnetic levitation, line follower robot, fibre optics and Tesla coil, students were able to learn fundamental physics through experience. After a short pit stop for refreshments, the group marched on to the airfield at IISc campus to watch unmanned airplanes performing somersaults in the air. Their next welcome was at the Combustion, Gasification & Propulsion Laboratory (CGPL) department where they could watch a live demo of a rocket launch: from ignition to take off.

The research scholars at the inorganic and physical chemistry department took up the job of entertaining and education our students next. After a round of experiments with explosive hydrogen gas, acid-bases indicators, surface tensions in liquid and its neutralization, children also participated in a simple quiz and won goodies such pens and periodic tables.
After a quick lunch and a visit to the R&D center collaboratively run by IISc and Robert Bosch, we called it a day and set off home.

Worrying that a hot day may have erased some learning, we met these children on Monday (03 Mar 2014) for a session of recap. It was rather overwhelming to see that the children remembered most of the demos. The Robotics Lab team spent a few minutes discussing the demos, listing the ones that can be replicated by the children at the school and making plans to do so.

We cannot end without expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the team from Robert Bosch. Not only did they graciously sponsor and make the arrangements, they were also incredibly supportive in escorting the children and motivating them to learn some more.

If you would like to volunteer at any of our future events, please write to us at volunteer@akshara.org.in

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