Navigation : EXPO21XX > AUTOMATION 21XX > H05: Universities and Research in Robotics > African Robotics Network
  • Offer Profile
  • The African Robotics Network (AFRON) is a community of institutions, organizations and individuals engaged in robotics in Africa. AFRON seeks to promote communication and collaborations that will enhance robotics-related education, research, and industry on the continent. To achieve this, AFRON organizes projects, meetings and events in Africa and at robotics and automation conferences abroad.
Product Portfolio
  • African Project Aims To Innovate in Educational Robotics

  • Abibiman mma a wɔn anigye robot ho, yɛnkambom!
    That's how you say, "African robot enthusiasts unite!" in Twi, one the main native languages in Ghana, a vibrant nation of 25 million people in West Africa.
    Roboticists there and in the United States are launching today an initiative to enhance robotics education, research, and industry in Africa. The African Robotics Network (AFRON) wants to mobilize a community of institutions and individuals working on robotics-related areas, strengthening communication and collaboration among them.

    "There are many robotics activities emerging in Africa," says Ayorkor Korsah, a professor of computer science at Ashesi University, in Berekuso, a 45-minute drive north of Accra, Ghana's capital. "Our goal is to highlight, enhance, and provide support for efforts in different parts of the continent."

    Korsah co-founded AFRON with Ken Goldberg, an IEEE Fellow and professor of robotics at the University of California, Berkeley. Goldberg, who was born in Nigeria, where his parents were teachers, says one of the first projects AFRON is planning involves an international competition to design an extremely low-cost programmable robot for education.

    The idea, still under development, is to create a simple robot with parts costing under $10 dollars that students would use to explore science and engineering topics. The robot would be connected via USB to a computer, and students would use open source software to program the robot's behavior and share their results.
    Goldberg acknowledges that developing a capable robot for just $10 is a challenge. "We want to get people thinking creatively," he says. "We are not sure it's possible, but it's a target to aim for." If they're successful, robots could become a powerful—and popular—educational tool in Africa.
    "Robotics is a great educational tool because it combines the tangible world, with which kids are familiar, and the formalization of programming and mathematics," says Paulo Blikstein, a professor at Stanford's School of Education who studies the use of technology in classrooms and is not involved with AFRON. "So you get the best of both worlds, if it is done right."

    AFRON, whose advisory board includes luminaries such as Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty, co-founders of O'Reilly Media and Make Magazine, will announce more details about the robot design competition, including criteria, jury, and prize, next month.

    Korsah [below, center, with her students] grew up in Nigeria and Ghana, and went on to study in the United States, earning a bachelor's and master's degrees from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in robotics and artificial intelligence from Carnegie Mellon University. She's now an assistant professor at Ashesi, a university founded by Patrick Awuah, a former Microsoft executive who returned to his native Ghana to establish a liberal arts college that he hoped would educate a new generation of African leaders.

    Korsah says AFRON was inspired by other robotics initiatives such as the European Robotics Network (EURON), but while most networks have concentrated on research activities, AFRON focuses more broadly on education, research, and industry, including efforts aimed at exposing school children to robotics.
    Research labs, non-profit organizations, companies, and individuals may join AFRON for free: there are no dues. Already AFRON has members from South Africa and Nigeria, and affiliated membership is open to anyone worldwide.

    Goldberg, a member of IEEE Spectrum's editorial advisory board, says the plan is to organize projects, meetings, and events in Africa and at robotics and automation conferences abroad. He adds that, for the purposes of AFRON, "robotics" is broadly defined to include related areas such as automation, computer vision, signal processing, machine learning, mobile games, and other topics.

    "The idea is to build bridges, connect people with commons interests, and identify resources that can be shared," he says. "We've already made progress within Ghana and are excited to reach across Africa and to include members in other countries."
    • A student programs a LEGO Mindstorms robot during a class at Ashesi University in Ghana.

    • Ayorkor Korsah/Ashesi University

  • The AFRON "10 Dollar Robot" Design Challenge

  • Goal
    The goal of the AFRON "10 Dollar Robot" Design Challenge is to design a new class of affordable robots for learning (especially in primary and secondary schools). Robots excite people of all ages. Their physical behavior in response to programs and/or sensors inspires student interest in computers, science, math, and engineering more broadly. However, existing platforms are often too expensive for students in many African countries and other emerging economies (this competition is open to anyone worldwide).

    There will be nine winners: a first, second and third prize in each of three categories (described below)
    • First prize: $500 + 1 Raspberry Pi
    • Second prize: $250 + 1 Raspberry Pi
    • Third prize: $100 + 1 Raspberry Pi
    This challenge is an opportunity to think creatively about robotics platforms that can be inexpensively built and/or manufactured and that are useful for science and/or technology education at primary, secondary or tertiary levels. In this competition, we are interested in designs that can be hand assembled based on a few easily obtained parts (eg, motors, servos, sensors, etc) and we’re also interested in designs that could be assembled/manufactured centrally at low cost and made available. We’re also hoping for designs that can spur open-source sharing of software and programs. The “$10 Robot” is a challenge to get participants thinking creatively -- not all entries may reach that price point, but all entries must be below $100 in parts for the prototype.
    For the purpose of this competition, a robot must be programmable and respond in some way to its environment (this could be through sensors, switches, and/or the camera built into a laptop). Mobile robots and/or robotic manipulators are all eligible. Other than those implied by cost, there are no restrictions on materials, sensors, or control systems.

    We invite submissions in one of three categories of robots. Each category will be judged separately, as the capabilities and prices of robots in the three categories will be very different.
    1.  Tethered: Computing and programming off-board (e.g. on a laptop).
          In this category, the designed robot is connected to a laptop that serves as the "brain" of the robot (and perhaps also the sensors via the built-in camera or 
         microphone). The connection is via a USB interface that can also be used to provide some power. If the robot mechanism is comparable in size to or smaller than a
         laptop, you can think of the robot as being tethered to the laptop. If the robot mechanism is larger than a laptop, the mechanism can carry the laptop. In this category,
         the laptop is considered part of the robotic system, but the reported cost of the robot does not need to include the cost of the laptop used for computing.
    2.  Traditional: Computing on-board, and programming off-board.
          In this category, the robot has an on-board processor serving as its brain. Programs are written on a computer, compiled, and then downloaded onto the
          robot’s processor, allowing the robot to operate independently of the computer used to program it. In this category, the reported cost of the robot should include
          the cost of the on-board processor and batteries, but does not include the cost of the computer used to program it.
    3.  All-in-one: Computing and programming on-board
         In this category, the robot has an on-board processor and is programmed through an interface on the robot itself. In this category, the reported cost of the robot
         should include the cost of batteries, its processor and programming interface.