My interest in computer science (in its many forms) has waned over the years; I do enjoy the services brought forth by programmed software such as games and social networking sites but could not care less of how the game was made or functioned through a computed device. However, my stark disregard towards programming was largely diminished once I witnessed an actual robot, programmed through a computer, run along a line track exactly according to the directions given a minute ago.
Yes, this activity actually happened today at Biruwa Premises in Gyaneshwor when a team from Karkhana showed us (me, Ankit dai and Anu didi) their trial workshop regarding robotics that are made interesting for children. The workshop began a little later than planned and in the meantime; we were admiring the vending only seen the working of a traditional vending machine which required cash or any other cash equivalent like coupons to function.
We also got to observe the plastic butterflies and bangles made by the 3D printer. Although the parts were imported and the design copied, Karkhana had successfully assembled the parts and crafted Nepal’s first ever 3D printer; which is altogether a remarkable achievement.
As the workshop began with an introduction about programming and robotics, my mind started to drift off towards other more interesting things, such as the sweet aroma of roti tarkaari coming from the nearby table. Like I said earlier, I was never in for the details about programming software and their use; I was there to see robots in action, whether they were controlled by a remote control or by programmed software simply did not matter. However, I had not foreseen that in a matter of minutes, my perception and enthusiasm towards programming and robotics would change forever.
First of all, we were introduced to a device called Arduino- a five inch micro-chip look alike with LED lights attached. The device then was connected to the laptop with a USB. With a pre-written code saved in the computer, I observed the LED lights flash in a similar pattern as was directed in the program. Contrary to my previously held beliefs, the code written was actually quite simple; the commands given, albeit case sensitive, were in simple English. I was instantly fascinated by the software and actually volunteered to edit the program so as to modify the timing and pattern of the flashing lights.
The Arduino Device
Volunteers from Biruwa learning about Coding LED lights and Robots
Later, as the guys were setting up the stage for the three wheeled robots, I had a moment of epiphany; realizing that if our Computer Science coursework in high school had included such fascinating aspects of programming and coding, I could actually have developed an interest towards the subject. All we did in computer class was memorize specific programs that were likely to appear in the SLC exams; and the programming software was not interesting either, QBASIC was well, just “basic” stuff.
What the wireless robots with wheels (again programmed through the software) did next only contributed to enhance my already developed interest towards robotics and programming. Although a little more complicated than the previous LED show, we witnessed a three wheeled robot move in the directions given by the program. It looked like a toy which functions when its key is rotated, but so much cooler with all the technical instruments and sensors inserted into it.
All in all, the kids attending the actual workshop on Saturday shall learn a lot and possibly have an idea about the general functions of programming, apart from the things they learn in school. Karkhana is doing an awesome job; and should these forthcoming workshops become successful, and I am sure they will, we may see a revolution in the education system of the country and a change in the way young minds perceive things. I also enjoyed myself today and am looking forward to other programs organized by Karkhana.
PS: The lunch was good too….
Karkhana, meaning ‘factory’ in Nepali, is a hacker/makerspace that seeks to engender a culture of experimentation in Nepal and build local solutions for global problems. It was started by four engineers and has expanded its team to 12. In a short span of six months, Karkhana’s team has run over 25 workshops at various engineering schools to encourage local talent to use their education to solve everyday technological problems. They are currently making an educational curriculum that will help students learn programming and logical thinking. Karkhana recently built Nepal’s first ever vending machine that utilizes SMS technology to dispense products in collaboration with a local phone payment gateway. In addition, they are prototyping low cost technology for common problems such as an automatic water pump, electronic lock etc. Although seed capital from Udhyami Impact Fund (UIF) helped the team get started, it is, in fact, the passion of the founders that will define success of such startup companies. Biruwa has provided coaching and strategic advice on how to buid business models, and built linkages with experts to help Karkhana overcome hurdles in their entrepreneurial journey. Karkhana recently held talks with an established business conglomerate in Nepal for potential round of funding. It is quite an achievement for local investors to show an interest in a startup, and speaks to the stepping stone that UIF provides for entrepreneurship in Nepal.