Higher education is a big challenge but also one of the most recognized ways to create development opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Financial limitations and old fashioned education methods are two of the strongest barriers to education efficiency. Specifically, engaging in education using robotics is more expensive due to the lack of robotic platforms as pointed out by the African Robotics Network (AFRON). To address this problem, AFRON organized a robotics competition to create a robotic platform that engages pupils into STEM subjects at a lower cost than what’s on the market.
Students from the University of Lincoln designed Colias, an affordable mobile robot that fulfills AFRON’s requirements. The robot has two major parts that work in parallel. The upper board is in charge of high-level tasks such as communication and managing user-programmed scenarios while the lower board is designed for low-level functions like power management and motion control. Colias uses two parallel micro-controllers, one to control each board. External modules such as camera, external memory, and an ultrasonic sensor are reached via serial links.
Thanks to its light weight, Colias does not require a special torque to move. Colias sensors only use infrared proximity sensors to avoid obstacles. For power management, Colias uses a 3.7 V, 600 mAh battery as the main power source. This insures autonomy for approximately three hours.
Due to the low cost of roughly $40, Colias hardware lacks necessary functionality to be an efficient educational platform. The system would be more helpful if it had a software deployment feature to ease interaction with the platform, and a programming environment to allow students to modify some of the robot’s functionality using high-level language. The current software support is limited to a low-level library. It would also be ideal to have educational material to help teachers design subject curricula. This is an ongoing project in collaboration with the department of Computer Science, University of Ghana.