The fifth annual EECE Race Day was held at the University of Pretoria this year, giving third-year microcontroller students at the department of electrical, electronic and computer engineering the opportunity to showcase their practical skills and to put theory into practice.
The event originated at the end of 2012 as the brainchild of Professor Tania Hanekom, who at that stage had already been the lecturer for the third-year microcontrollers module EMK310 for eight years. The idea was to create a learning environment that would foster an appreciation for the complexities of the design and implementation of a microcontroller-based engineering system. Engineering students are competitive by nature and the notion of a competition was an appealing approach to capitalise on this characteristic while having fun.
In essence, students design, construct and test an autonomous, line-following robot vehicle, but the snag is that the track consists of a criss-cross pattern of coloured lines. Line-follower robots as presented on the Internet invariably follow black on white or white on black lines; therefore, the implication is that students needed to develop the system from first principles. By levelling the playing field through a number of standardised components (for example, the motors), excellence is encouraged, since students have to use their ingenuity to devise strategies that will give their car an edge over those of their competitors.
RS Components sponsored Raspberry Pi CanaKits for one of the winning teams at the event as well as various components to upgrade the gantry. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer board that is used to teach computer coding and can be used in robotics and various PC type functions like running a media centre. Mellisa Naidoo, head of marketing at RS Components SA, explained that the company has taken a long term view on education and supporting future engineers, hence its support for the TUKS Race Day for the third year running. “Our aim is to remove the barriers of learning and innovation by providing access to products, tools and resources for engineers and students so that they can experiment, design and create solutions to solve real world challenges,” she stated.
One of the latest solutions from RS is the free-of-charge ‘ToolBox App’ available for use on iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, as well as for Windows-based PCs. The Toolbox App provides an easy access point to an extensive range of functions including popular electronic reference materials and a multitude of calculation and conversion tools in an easy-to-use format for electronics design engineers, hobbyists and students. In addition to the reference tools and calculators, Toolbox offers the latest news on technology from the DesignSpark community, including 3D models of thousands of products.