The Albert Thinkers, a team of four Year 5 pupils from St Albert the Great College, Valletta, have come up with the idea of developing a drone-like robot to tackle the problem of illegal hunting and trampling of vegetation in nature reserves.
A prototype of the system, called a Nature Reserve Protector (NRP), was showcased at the Malta Robo League, which formed part of MRO19, the Technology and Gadgets Expo held recently at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre (MFCC), Ta’ Qali.
The project started when the pupils decided to focus on the problem of air pollution and what could be done to reduce it. They soon realised that the answer has been with us for millennia: trees! Their thought process then shifted to the local environment and the few spaces where nature is still untouched, such as nature reserves.
After looking at a map of Xemxija Nature Reserve the idea of developing the NRP was sparked. The concept is to protect the nature reserve when it is closed by deploying drone-like robots to inspect designated areas via their GPS locator every time an unauthorised person is sensed in the reserve.
The drones would be positioned along a reserve’s perimeter to photograph intruders, and use artificial intelligence to distinguish between humans and animals. Once an image has been captured the drones would return to their charging base which would also be connected to the internet. They would then send the image to the authorities and those responsible for the nature reserve.
The team built the NRP prototype using Lego blocks
The children also came up with the idea of having a speaker on board the drone to reduce the rotor’s noise by playing instead bird, insect or other animal sounds according to the time of the day and season.
The team built the NRP prototype using Lego blocks, a Bluetooth hub with a variable speed motor and a motion sensor. The children had to create a code using programmable blocks on their tablet computer to enable the movement of the rotor, sounds as well as the correct function of the motion sensor.
The pupils enthusiastically and voluntarily worked on the project during lessons at school as well as after-school sessions backed by constant support of their mentor, parents and the head of school Mario Mallia. The Malta Robo League judges and visitors to the expo praised the pupils for the originality of their NRP model and the preparation of their ‘Show Me’ poster.
The Malta Robo League is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education programme designed for children aged seven to 11, guided by an adult mentor. The league is based on three discovery pillars: identify, design and share. Every stage is discussed, analysed, practised and finally presented as a team.
Nowadays we often hear about the importance of STEM subjects, robotics and coding in our daily life. However, this event stresses the importance of collaboration, creative and abstract thinking, problem solving and innovation, which are the backbone of 21st century skills, as highlighted by various tech giants.
Educators in the 21st century need to be knowledgeable about how students learn and understand the available resources, including ICT. They also need to embrace change and flexibility of methodology in order to practise differentiated instruction that encompasses distributed learning and evaluation.
Yasmin Galea is an educator at St Albert the Great College. He graduated from the University of Leicester with a Master’s degree in International Education and is currently undergoing training to become a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator.
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