How QuantumCrayon is developing the next generation of technologists in South Africa with AWS IoT EduKit
QuantumCrayon is a startup based in South Africa, focused on developing a community of technologists who will help guide local businesses on their digital journeys by creating, evaluating, and implementing impactful technology projects that propel the businesses into the future. They primarily work on telecommunications and disruptive 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies such as augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Introduction to QuantumCrayon’s educational programs
In addition to consulting with local businesses, they offer online courses through their EduPortal site, as well as partner with local non-profits to deliver in-person educational programs to underprivileged students that offer fun, fast, and practical dives into digital technologies. QuantumCrayon recently ran two educational programs, one with 30 high school students in Gqeberha (the tip of Africa) and another with 75 high school students in Soshanguve (about 100km north of Johannesburg). Both of these programs included a curriculum focused on IoT development.
Intended outcomes of the program were to have students:
- Gain wider exposure to various technology domains.
- Experience the thrill of developing and applying their own technology solutions to real and local problems.
- Ignite an interest in technology career paths.
- Gain awareness of new career possibilities and receive career path guidance with a ‘breadcrumb trail’ to follow in furthering their formal and informal educational development.
“We have developed a technology education program of courses designed to address some of the skills development challenges in our country,” says Willem Boshoff, Director, QuantumCrayon Education. “Our objective is to inspire learners and provide them with practical Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) skills so that they can further their formal and informal educational development towards new career possibilities in technology. Beyond technology, we are trying to find ways to give the greatest number of people the ability to positively impact their families, organizations, and communities.”
Getting hands-on with IoT
Learning IoT is not easy. Educators and/or students must select both hardware and software frameworks to work with. When making that selection, they need to consider options that are easy enough to get started with, yet extendable enough to learn how to build something of purpose.
To get hands-on, the QuantumCrayon curriculum uses their own ‘technology toolkit’ of sensors and actuators, but the heart of the kit is the M5Stack Core2 for AWS IoT EduKit reference hardware. The hardware is packed with on-board features to enable a multitude of IoT applications out of the box. Learners can then broaden their capabilities to cover additional use cases with hundreds of plug-and-play expansion options.
To not further disrupt or delay the learning journey of pupils due to pandemic restrictions, QuantumCrayon adapted the most recent course conclusion to be run outdoors where better social distancing and ventilation could be maintained. This way, learning about coding and 4IR could continue in a time-honored tradition – outdoors under a shady tree!
As part of the hands-on learning component, students prototyped and demonstrated solutions to tackle challenges in the local minibus taxi industry. Some examples include:
- Using sensors to measure and display seat occupancy for COVID compliance.
- Using sensors to count passengers entering/leaving the taxi also for COVID compliance.
- Using smartcards to enable tap-and-go electronic fare payment and improve the passenger experience.
- Using programmable lights to display taxi destinations and improve customer experience.
- Deploying kits at a taxi stand and implementing smart cards to hail priority rides.
“To see what these young students are able to build with minimal exposure to technology and the real constraints they face is astounding,” said Rashed Talukder, the head of the AWS IoT EduKit program. “QuantumCrayon has made edge application development accessible and easy for learners who are just beginning their IoT journeys.”
Making an impact in the community
To date, QuantumCrayon has seen enthusiasm for the program, working with a non-profit called Mokgetha Thuto funded by the Telkom Foundation to provide IoT training to hundreds of learners. The program’s optional project day, which was held on a public holiday just after school exams, had 83% turnout. Post-program surveys showed a nearly 50% increase in learners considering careers in technology.
Over the next few years, based on the success of this program, they plan to expand their courses, cover more AWS services, and reach more than 3,000 students.
See some featured learner-created projects from this cohort, showing the breadth of solutions that novice learners felt capable and confident enough to tackle after the program.
To learn more about QuantumCrayon and their mission of developing a community of technologists that will drive the fourth industrial revolution, visit their website at edu.QuantumCrayon.co.za.