Written by Alifiya Nalwala
For those participating in the Mumbai Marathon on Sunday, a unique welcome awaits them — Armaan, a robot co-created by students of schools run by the Pune Municipal Corporation, will greet them at the stall by NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation.
The crew of eight Class IX students from two PMC schools — Narayanrao Samas Vidyalaya and Wamanrao Oturkar Secondary School — who are a part of NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation’s skills@school programme’s Robotics project, worked closely with a team from Indiafirst Robotics, a city-based robotics education company that trains students. The students’ team helped build a bionic arm which goes up and down very precisely, repeating exactly the same movement over and over again. The bionic arm has been fitted onto Armaan, which also has motion sensors.
The eight youngsters — Ravi Patel, Sushant Kathane, Omkar Pasalkar, Kajal Sonawane, Ashwini Bhargawe, Ninad Jadhav, Atharv Pawar and Swapnil Sonawre — are all 15 years old.
The group has done it all from scratch, from the structure-building to grip mechanism, logic of movement to power sources, the youngsters trained with experts to improvise and finally put together the robotic arm.
Patel, whose father is a construction contractor, said that until three months ago, he had no clue what robotics entailed. “During the course, I learnt a lot of new things and I got very involved in the programming bit. Other than this project, I developed another robot which is based on voice-controlled… automation system,” he said.
So inspired is another student, Kathanem that he now wants to study mechanical engineering and eventually take up robotics as a career. “My parents are both vegetable sellers and we had never had a chance to learn something like this as it is beyond our reach, it was a thrilling experience,” he said.
Since 2017, the Salaam Bombay Foundation has collaborated with Indiafirst, offering training in robotics and artificial intelligence to young students.
From humble beginnings, where only 32 students (18 boys and 14 girls) enrolled for the course, pointing to a lack of awareness and overall scepticism about the field, to 377 students in 2019 (188 boys and 189 girl), it is also a step towards bridging the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education that generally exists in India.
Aditi Parikh, VP of Communications, Salaam Bombay Foundation, said, “In a job market dominated by STEM, demand for candidates with qualifications in robotics has seen a massive growth in recent times. By teaching our students the basics of robotics, we have managed to open a whole new world of exciting opportunities that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. None of these students have ever worked on a project like this before. The excitement in the group is palpable.”
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