UWE student engineers visit Leaders Award winner’s school

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A team of engineers from UWE Bristol is bringing to life one of the winning designs from last year’s Leaders Awards. Designed by Philippa Griffiths of Hugh Sexey CE Middle School in Somerset, the Red Line Braking System (RLBS) displays red lights to alert other drivers of the severity of the braking and levels of attention needed, with the aim of reducing fatalities on our roads. Miriam Cristofoletti tells us more about their visit to the school of designer Phillipa Griffiths in this blog post.

Earlier this month we had the incredible opportunity to go and visit Philippa in her school, run a series of STEM activities with her classmates and to discuss her idea about the RLBS project! We were so excited! 

After about an hour of traveling, we reached Hugh Sexey CE Middle School, in the quiet Somerset countryside, and we met Ms Latti (Philippa’s teacher), who took us to the DT classroom and introduced us to the pupils. It was a great surprise to see the majority of them to be girls! 

We started with a brief introduction about who we are, what we do at UWE and we had a chat with them about their career plans after school. The students were very interested and it was nice to see them interacting with us and sharing their opinions, without feeling shy. We then had a couple of quizzes. First, we wanted the children to explore the different areas of Engineering, so we gave them a few job descriptions and they had to guess the job title. We picked the latest job adverts from real websites, in the Engineering sections, like Drone Pilot, App Developer, Machine Learning Engineer, Virtual Reality Designer,… to show them that all these jobs weren’t there a few years ago, but they are now possible because of the new technological advancement. When we said: “Think about the fact that you all will have jobs that are not there yet, because you haven’t invented them yet!”, a girl from the back went like “Oh my God, THAT-IS-SO-COOL!” 

And it’s for real, “SO COOL”! 

Another activity was to see whether they knew some of the most important past and present figures in the Engineering industry and research environment, like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, but also Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, telling them that they all started from nothing, from a garage or from a little desk, and they all built their way up with determination and strength, never giving up. 

We showed them some of our work and projects at university, and we also brought a Mekamon (the spider-like robot produced by Reach Robotics). They were all so excited to see a real robot in front of them, but also interested by the fact that Silas Adekunle, was just an undergraduate student when he came up with the idea of building it and set up his own company. 

Then, it was time to discuss the Leaders Award competition and Philippa’s design. We presented her our work from the very first tests and the current progress. She shared with us the reasons behind her idea and she told us her thoughts about what we’ve done so far. It was a great experience for both sides – she managed to see her drawing slowly coming true and give her input about the next steps, and we got the opportunity to have our customer review, avoiding future errors and/or disappointment! 

The last hour was spent with our final activity, a practical one! We split the class in 4 groups and each group was further divided in 2 teams: a Hardware team and a Software team. We brought laptops, microcontroller boards, wires, sensors and LEDs, to allow the pupils to build their own circuit and program their own code, and make an easier version of Philippa’s RLBS: an LED would lit up based on how much a sensor was pressed. 

To create a more real life scenario, we supplied the 4 groups with slightly different materials and they had to share some components, because that’s what an Engineer project sometimes looks like, especially when you start with the first tests. You don’t always have everything as expected, you need to adapt and improvise with what you have or what you’re given, sometimes you have constraints in terms of money, resources, time… but you keep on trying, persistent and confident that eventually you can make it! 

The children worked hard and followed our instruction perfectly! They soon found out that nothing works fine on the first attempt, it’s not like in movies, when you just type on a keyboard and magically you get all the results you want! It takes time and team work. It was amazing seeing the members of the HW team agreeing with the ones in the SW team for the number of pins, and cooperating to get the whole system working! This is exactly what we do in our projects at university – no Engineer works alone! 

At the end, some children managed to lit up an LED, and the sense of achievement in their eyes was priceless! 

With the bell’s ring, we packed our things, and came back to UWE, happy to have lit up the first sparkle of inspiration for our future Engineers! 

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