Solving problems you care about

by Patricia Charlton and Stefan Poslad, Queen Mary University of London Queen Mary University of London

The best technology helps people solve real problems. To be a creative innovator you need not only to be able to create a solution that works but also to spot a need in the first place and be able to come up with creative solutions. Over the summer a group of sixth formers on internships at Queen Mary had a go at doing this. Ultimately their aim was to build something from a programmable gadget such as a BBC micro:bit or Raspberry Pi. They therefore had to learn about the different possible gadgets they could use, how to program them and how to control the on-board sensors available. They were then given the design challenge of creating a device to solve a community problem.

Street in London with two red buses going in opposite directions.
Red London buses image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Hearing the bus is here

Tai Kirby wanted to help visually impaired people. He knew that it’s hard for someone with poor sight to tell when a bus is arriving. In busy cities like London this problem is even worse as buses for different destinations often arrive at once. His solution was a prototype that announces when a specific bus is arriving, letting the person know which was which. He wrote it in Python and it used a Raspberry pi linked to low energy Bluetooth devices.

The fun spell

Filsan Hassan decided to find a fun way to help young kids learn to spell. She created a gadget that associated different sounds with different letters of the alphabet, turning spelling words into a fun, musical experience. It needed two micro:bits and a screen communicating with each other using a radio link. One micro:bit controlled the screen while the other ran the main program that allowed children to choose a word, play a linked game and spell the word using a scrolling alphabet program she created. A big problem was how to make sure the combination of gadgets had a stable power supply. This needed a special circuit to get enough power to the screen without frying the micro:bit and sadly we lost some micro:bits along the way: all part of the fun!

Two microbit computers; one is plugged in to a USB cable.
Microbit programming image by JohnnyAndren from Pixabay

Remote robot

Jesus Esquivel Roman developed a small remote-controlled robot using a buggy kit. There are lots of applications for this kind of thing, from games to mine-clearing robots. The big challenge he had to overcome was how to do the navigation using a compass sensor. The problem was that the batteries and motor interfered with the calibration of the compass. He also designed a mechanism that used the accelerometer of a second micro:bit allowing the vehicle to be controlled by tilting the remote control.

Memory for patterns

Finally, Venet Kukran was interested in helping people improve their memory and thinking skills. He invented a pattern memory game using a BBC micro:bit and implemented in micropython. The game generates patterns that the player has to match and then replicate to score points. The program generates new patterns each time so every game is different. The more you play the more complex the patterns you have to remember become.

As they found you have to be very creative to be an innovator, both to come up with real issues that need a solution, but also to overcome the problems you are bound to encounter in your solutions.

This article was originally published on the CS4FN website and a copy can also be found in issue 22 of the magazine called Creative Computing. You can download that as a PDF by clicking on the picture below and you can also download all of our free material, including back issues of the CS4FN magazine and other booklets, at our downloads site:

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This blog is funded through EPSRC grant EP/W033615/1.

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