An unprecedented worldwide experiment to introduce young people to digital sciences
On 4th November, children from Bordeaux and Nancy, with support from the Inria research centres, will participate in the R2T2 international mission, initiated by Professor Francesco Mondada from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Their task: to use their computer skills here on Earth to program robots to repair the generator of Mars Base R45, which has been damaged by a meteorite.
An unprecedented exercise in teamwork
This collaborative international mission will involve 16 teams in South Africa, Russia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France. Each team of five or six youths aged from eight to 14 will remotely operate a robot in a space station on Mars to repair the generator. A mock-up of the 4 m x 4 m station will be installed in a large room at EPFL. For the collective mission to succeed, all of the robots must complete their mission. All 16 teams will communicate in French (thanks to the participation of French teachers in the non-francophone countries) to co-ordinate their actions. Each team will have one member in charge of this communication function.
Twenty children in Bordeaux and Nancy
In Bordeaux, this is the third big event of the year on the theme of learning about robotics. In June, a colloquium dedicated to eduction was held, and Operation "Robots in our neighbourhood" took place in several priority areas of the Bordeaux region during Robotics Week.
The Gironde teams consist of children who did IniRobot robotics activities all year long, either in class or in extracurricular clubs. These activities were designed by the Flowers team from the Inria Bordeaux–Sud-Ouest Centre. They come from Ayguemorte-les-Graves, Bordeaux, Floirac, Gradignan, and Talence. This international mission is the culmination of their robotics course, and their roboticist comrades will be able to watch the whole adventure live.
The Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest Centre, which is co-ordinating the four French teams, is very active in computer science outreach through robotics, with two main initiatives: IniRobot educational activities for primary and secondary schools, using Thymio the robot (used by more than 500 adults and 6200 children) and the Poppy Education project for secondary schools and higher education, using the Poppy platform. This computer science education activities provide an opportunity for valuable collaboration with EPFL, the Bordeaux Academy, the Aquitaine Region, the Main à la Pâte Foundation, the Mobsya Association, the Robots en Baskets Association, the Centres for Culture Scientific and Technical Culture, Cap Sciences, and the Petits Débrouillards.
In Nancy, this event is the logical follow-up to a partnership with the MJC (youth and cultural centre) Centre Social Nomade de Vandoeuvre, which was built three years ago. Last year a creative programming workshop was set up at the MJC (Codcodcoding https://iww.inria.fr/codcodcoding/), with financial support from Inria and led by a PhD student from the research centre, allowed about a dozen children aged between 8 and 12 to play with computer concepts and programming tools such as scratch. To follow on from this experiment, an advanced workshop has started this year, with more emphasis on the programming of robots and drones. So, naturally, six children from the club were very keen to join in and face this challenge, live from the Inria Nancy – Grand Est facilities.
On the big day, these children will be guided by two of the Robotics Club leaders from the MJC and two robotics experts from the research centre in Nancy. Fruitful discussions are sure to ensue!
Inria: a strong commitment to scientific mediation
The R2T2 event is one of the action conducted by Inria in favour of computer science outreach—in this case, through robotics. These activities are used to initiate as many people as possible to computer science and offer a different way of teaching, with a greater focus on co-operation and more reliance on the children's capabilities, putting them in the shoes of young researchers using a scientific investigation method. This is also another approach to school and learning for children facing challenges.