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- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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 weâ€™re also interested in designs that could be
assembled/manufactured centrally at low cost and made available. Weâ€™re
also hoping for designs that can spur open-source sharing of software and
programs. The â€œ$10 Robotâ€ 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
robotâ€™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