Remember back to when you were at school. You either loved or hated mathematics. For those that struggle getting their heads around maths, especially the more sophisticated theoretical math problems, its often difficult to find reasons why students need to continue with maths, how it will benefit their lives and careers in a practical way.
I spent some time at the Viva Technology conference with students from a private school, isep in Paris, France.
ISEP is a large school that trains generalist engineers in all fields of digital technology, in the heart of Paris. ISEP’s educational project is built on the expectations of the leading digital companies (and all promising sectors) and those of the new generations.. they learn to work as a team under the same conditions as the professional world.
The thing that drew my attention was a crazy robot spider, a drone and a hacked together steadicam gimbal to stabalise a DSLR. It’s precisely these kind of applications that they’re hoping will give mathematics purpose.
By seeing a physical object move its simple to demonstrate maths but putting theory into practice. One you can move a single object based on a math equation, you open the door to explain how that movement happened (answer: programming using some form of mathematics to control the servo motor that created the movement). After you establish this is possible, its an easy leap to ask what other kinds of motions are possible. After understanding the basics, student can imagine the difficult and possibly innovative solutions, often requiring complex mathematics to operate, the specific characteristics of the device.
With a drone, you have the complexity of automatically leveling, which requires a dynamic implementation of rotor speed to generate lift from each of the props. These can’t work in isolation, they need to draw input data from an array of sensors that detect a potential collision, wind speed and any changes to the payload weight. An instruction set has to accommodate for this as well as inputs from a the controller which is a beast of its own.
The video below shows a spider robot that’s capable of being controlled by a mobile app (running on an iPad Mini). The robot isn’t designed to ever be commercially available, but does have a neat trick of being able to pickup and deliver you a drink bottle.
Sure the gadgets have chips and wires everywhere, but that’s almost the point, to expose the way things work and for students to learn about what goes into making the products that are available for sale.