Player 1: ready to learn

Can digital games form part of the answer to dwindling attention spans in the classroom? Sara Cameron attended the ‘Playful Learning in STEM’ Seminar at the MITA data centre in June to hear entrepreneur Dr Lauri Järvilehto’s thoughts on the matter.

Our attention is constantly bombarded by the likes of mobile games, social media, Netflix, and Google. Adults are having a tough enough time focusing, let alone children sitting at their desks trying to wrap their heads around algebra and particle physics. Textbook lessons are fighting a losing battle with personalised entertainment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Dr Lauri Järvilehto, co-founder and chairman of Finnish startup Lighteneer, believes his team might have a solution. Games see kids experience progressive challenges. Children, as players, use diverse problem solving abilities, then receive instant feedback, satisfaction, and a sense of achievement. To ignite that same fire for games in learning, education needs to tap into that world and harness what makes it special. The feat, Järvilehto explains, is finding balance. We need games that contextualise mathematical or scientific concepts, allowing players to master these concepts, all while being engaged and having fun. A tall order.

Gamification has the potential to ease the introduction of subjects that are normally considered complex. It can make them more approachable, allowing students to grasp the basics before undertaking formal learning to further deepen their understanding.

‘Our thinking is that great learning games can work as the first spark for the love of learning in future generations. They can convey the awe and wonder you see shining in the eyes of our scientific experts as they tell us about the wonders of particle physics,’ says Järvilehto, speaking at a seminar called Playful Learning in STEM organised by the Science Centre (Ministry for Education and Employment) in collaboration with Malta Information Technology Agency and the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

But whilst digital learning is becoming all the craze, Järvilehto warns that educators should be wary of jumping on this trendy bandwagon. Technology is not a cure-all; there is no magic wand. Lighteneer aims to develop games that complement, rather than compete with, formal learning. He also believes that, even with an abundance of tech-based tools, an engaging teacher is still the best way to improve education and inspire the next generation. Games should be used as an initial spark to reel students in at the outset. ‘Perhaps kids will soon grow to think about particle physics and atoms as something as cool as collecting Pokémon.’ Game learning can be the key to unlocking students’ potential, offering a more accessible route to developing an understanding of complex topics.

To keep up with a fast-changing digital world, we must acknowledge its challenges and adapt. Games can’t solve this puzzle alone, but used in the right way, they can be a tremendously useful addition to a teacher’s toolbox.

  Author: Sara Cameron

Are we ready for self driving cars?

Clint Galea

In 2016 a 40-year-old technology company owner called Joshua Brown was killed when his autopiloting Tesla Model S malfunctioned. Since then a number of other incidents have raised the problem of safety in and around autonomous cars. One potential solution is to connect cars together so that they can keep in constant touch, letting each other know exactly where they are and when to get out of the way. Another alternative is to have a human pilot the vehicle for part, or all, of the journey, reducing some of the fear associated with self-driving cars’ safety and giving rise to so-called remotely-piloted ground vehicles (RPGVs).

Because this idea needs a stable and constant Internet connection, I wanted to test if the current 4G network is fast enough for these cars to drive and function safely. Relying on a hefty amount of external data about pedestrians, other traffic, road layouts, and more makes things difficult.

At the Department of Communications and Computer Engineering, (Faculty of ICT, University of Malta [UM]), on a project led by Prof. Ing. Saviour Żammit, we created an RPGV by modifying a radio-controlled vehicle and used it to test the suitability and safety of 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi networks.

Fast communication between driver and car is crucial for the safety of RPGVs. If information from the car takes too long to reach the driver, they won’t be able to react quickly enough to avoid obstacles and accidents.

On Wi-Fi networks, we found that when the connection moved from one base-station (the receiver-transmitter that serves as the hub of a local wireless network) to another, the handover took too long. This problem meant that whilst the connection was transferring, the video was lost, leaving the car blind. This is obviously dangerous and means that these networks are not safe enough for automated cars. 3G was not fast enough to transmit video in real-time.

The next step was to set up an outdoor racetrack to test the RPGV over the 4G network on UM grounds. We varied the networks’ signal delay and the camera’s range of view, then measured the lap times, distance travelled and road cones hit to calculate driving accuracy. Finally, we compared them to how accurate the drivers thought they were driving.

We concluded that 4G mobile networks allow adequate remote control of an RPGV, although the amount of delay left little room for error. A faster 5G network would be able to act quickly enough to avoid accidents, so self-driving cars will need to wait a bit longer before becoming a reality.

This research was carried out as part of the Masters of Science (Telecommunications) program, Faculty of ICT, UM, supported by GO plc and the Research Fund Committee of the UM.

Author: Clint Galea

Systematic Failure, Persistence and Success – A Table of Early School Leavers

In Europe, around one in 10 students (18-24 years old) is an ‘early school leaver’. For Malta, it is one in five. A fifth of our local student population is neither in school, nor in training, and with less than five SEC exams under their belt, Malta’s public education investment (~6% GDP) is not seeing much fruit. Cassi Camilleri speaks to Prof. Carmel Borg about what is needed to abandon the antiquated system our communities are being marred by. Photography by Elisa von Brockdorff.

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Hand pose replication using a robotic arm

Robotics is the future. Simple but true. Even today, they support us, make the products we need and help humans to get around. Without robots we would be worse off.  Kirsty Aquilina (supervised by Dr Kenneth Scerri) developed a system where a robotic arm could be controlled just by using one’s hand.

The setup was fed images through a single camera. The camera was pointed towards a person’s hand that held a green square marker. The computer was programmed to detect the corners of the marker. These corners give enough information to figure out the hand’s posture in 3D. By using a Kalman Filter, hand movements are tracked and converted into the angles required by the robotic arm.

The robotic arm looks very different from a human one and has limited movement since it has only five degrees of freedom. Within these limitations, the robotic arm can replicate a person’s hand pose. The arm replicates a person’s movement immediately  so  that a person can easily make the robot move around quickly.Controlling robots from afar is essential when there is no prior knowledge of the environment. It allows humans to work safely in hazardous environments like bomb disposal, or when saving lives performing remote microsurgery. In the future, it could assist disabled people.

This research was performed as part of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at the Faculty of Engineering.

A video of the working project can be found at: