NESTA one day digital make Dundee

The plan is as ambitious as it is elegantly simple. 100 school pupils, 5 different digital maker themes and one day. Not one event but four in subsequent weeks across scotland.

The first event took place yesterday, hosted by the School of Computing at the University of Dundee. The Queen mother building’s undergraduate labs at the weekend are typically home to a handful of hard working students crunching for a deadline, not this weekend. It was alive with around 100 young people engaging is a variety of digital making hackery. Games dev on Raspery Pi, 3D modelling and printing, Open web dev, Open data hacking and physical apps on arduino. This was one fully packed day with a fanatic energy from all involved.

I was running the the Arduino session which kicked of with an post it session harvesting thing that make you happy, sad or amused. Following this 12 students (age 13/14) took their first steps with C programming and some bread boarding. After a fairly intense 2 hours or so lights had flashed, dials had been turned and various coding techniques learned. It was really interesting to see how quickly the loose association of school pupils came together as a team, eagerly helping each other when they could. After a well earned lunch we moved on to some more output modes and looked at writing functions to control an RGB LED and used a bunch of variable resistors to make a colour mixer. I think the highlight was the getting the speaker to play different tones, controlling the pitch with one variable resistor and the timing with the other. quite eerily the air was full of monotonic blips and beeps like a room of R2D2s. After this we looked at using loops to control a servo to do different motion.

Emerging as C coders we set about applying these skill to some idea borne out of the post its on the wall. The capa board was cut the hot glue flowed and the plasticine was moulded. Various lo fi engineering techniques emerge and ideas sketched with sharpies became reality. We had a couple of mood boxes that used the RGB LED to convey different emotional states, a Facebook notification app that beeped and flashed when a notification was received, a physical timer with a lovely back lit servo sweep, a police car and a thing that kept count of how many times you have been patted on the back. We even had a slightly deranged robot with swinging arms, flashing eyes and random monotone blips.

The NESTA team really pulled it together, the atmosphere was great, with relaxed energy that takes lots of work! next we are up to Aberdeen. “Fit like loons and quines!” (might even still be spaces)

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