Using Smart Cars to facilitate smart learning

Last Updated : 29 September 2010, 12:17 IST
Last Updated : 29 September 2010, 12:17 IST

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Over the past four days, a model car that easily fits into the palm has been their primary focus. “We have to programme it further to make it race faster on the track,” says Gracy, a final-year student of Electrical & Electronics at Madurai’s Thiagarajar College of Engineering. The model car  looks like  a cross between  a toy car and the Pathfinder robot.

Gracy and Divya are in Bangalore to  take part in ‘Smart Car Race-2010’, a competition organised by semiconductor company Freescale to encourage students to receive ‘hands-on’ experience in the field of microprocessors and control software.

The competition challenged students to programme a ‘Smart Car’ to run on a miniature race track , adjust the speed while negotiating curves, and cruise along a straight path. Fixed on the car is Freescale’s micro controller that steers the car.

“We had to finish our work for the semester before starting work on the car. It is hard work but it has been a great experience to programme an embedded device,” says Divya.

Vivek Tyagi, Country Manager (Sales), Freescale, says: “Lecture classes alone do not help students to understand the subject. Most students have no  idea of how to work with an embedded system, primarily due to lack of opportunity and training.”

Andy Mastarondy, University Relations Director at Freescale, says: “Embedded systems is one of the fastest growing segments in the IT industry. The ability to work on a project such as this one equips students with the kind of skills required by the industry. Besides, the fun and excitement in making a device actually work helps students develop and sustain their interest for the subject.”  

Besides providing the micro controller and the software tools to programme the Smart Car, Freescale has also trained faculty members who act as guides/mentors to students.
“This is very critical to the programme as it gives the teaching staff a better understanding of the ground realities in embedded systems,” says Vivek.

Though colleges like TCE, an affiliate of Anna University (Tamil Nadu), offer it as an elective subject, embedded systems is not as well-known  as other fields in IT.

Embedded technology is used in various other electronic and mechanical devices from washing machines to automobiles.

But for those at Freescale, the need to disseminate  knowledge and skills related to embedded systems remains a challenge — something they hope to address through the Smart Car Race.

“We have nearly a dozen labs established in different colleges which students used, to fine-tune the programming part of their car,” says Andy.

“We are trying to build more labs like these in other colleges so that the faculty and students can enjoy better facilities to fine-tune their work and, in the process, gain a practical understanding of how software tools work.”

In countries like China and Korea, Freescale has already seen an increased level of interest among students to work in embedded systems.

In China, when they first launched the contest, they began with 100 teams. But this year there were more than 1,300 teams and over 10,000 students who took part in the Smart Car Race.

In Bangalore, although Divya and Gracy know they have to work hard to enhance the performance of their car for a podium finish, they are enjoying themselves. “The best thing about a competition like this is that we gain plenty of valuable experience. There aren’t too many ‘all-girls’ teams which have qualified for the finals and the fact that we have come so far is very encouraging. Even if we don’t win the race this year, we are sure to come back for the title next year,” says Gracy.

(This article went to print before the finals of Smart Car Race India-2010 on September 29.)

Published 29 September 2010, 10:39 IST

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