Robotics is slowly being considered as one of the pre-requisites in today’s fast-changing world. This is because modern technologies have enabled humans to develop machines that aim to help us with multiple functions.
Today, we see robotics branching out in different fields – one of which is Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) robotics. This integrates the aspects of Math, Technology, and Science, together with mechanical, electrical, and control engineering, as well as computer science.
Even as young kids, we are exposed to how robots and robotics can help us thrive in a technology-driven environment. It’s no wonder that a lot of children have been thinking of taking robotics as their course, and eventually as a career.
With this in mind, Youth On Unity (Y.O.U.), supported by Multimedia University (MMU) Melaka is hosting The Malaysia Open Vex Competition 2017 (MOVC2017) on 17 to 19 February 2017. A national robotics competition for students, the event aims to attract over 300 students and teachers from all over Malaysia. These students will be representing their schools and universities to qualify and represent Malaysia at the World VEX Championship in April 2017.
To further understand the scope of STEM Robotics in the country and worldwide, we spoke to Dr Alan Tan, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology of MMU Melaka. We asked him about the STEM robotics today, its importance, and what lies ahead in this sector.
What is current situation of robotics and STEM robotics today? How is it affecting the world?
I think robotics is becoming more popular in the education community because the world today is entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The new generation of students is very engaged with technology. For this reason, it has become essential to engage them in this field further by creating new platforms through which they can involve themselves in new technologies like robotics.
New tools are being developed every day to further engage students in STEM education, and STEM robotics is one of them. I think you would see more variants of STEM robotics in the future whether in this country or around the world. More schools – and not just universities – have recognised its importance and are coming up with new ideas to engage students through robotic activities.
What is the response in STEM robotics education globally?
From what I know, it is picking up speed in some countries. Governments are getting more involved to encourage educators to accelerate STEM education. They want to be able to include robotics training or learning because it has been observed in some countries that the number of students in science education is declining. They realised the need to pick up the pieces and find a way to expose students to STEM education while they are still in schools.
Locally, what are the programmes in STEM robotics that are offered for tertiary education in Malaysia?
If you talk about STEM education, there are plenty of options. However, if you speak of STEM robotics, the variety of programmes is quite narrowed. Not all universities in Malaysia provide engineering programmes for students to pursue their robotics career.
In MMU, we offer an engineering programme that is majors in robotics and automation. That is the closest to what STEM robotics is about.
How was the response to these courses?
The response is there, but the interest of students generally for science education has been dropping. We do see some decline across all engineering programmes, but there is still interest in robotics education. In fact, some of our students are so passionate about it that they have set up companies related to robotics.
I would recommend students who are interested to take robotics to pursue it. One of the newest revolutions in the world today is robotics engineering. There will be a lot to gain whether in career or advancements when a student commits to an education in robotics.
How do you think MMU has helped in the development of STEM robotics and its study in Malaysia?
We are one of the pioneering universities offering a robotics course. In fact, if you do a survey on the market today, a lot of our graduates are working in automation or robotics-related industries. So, by producing more graduates in this course, it would very much help in the robotics industry.
What are the types of jobs available for a graduate of a STEM robotics program?
We offer an engineering programme majoring in robotics and automation so they can work in any industry related to that. For example, in automation industries where you have machines or robots replacing humans. The job position would be an engineer as this is an engineering course.
Regarding the MOVC 2017, what made MMU decide to a co-organise the MOVC2017?
MMU is one of the premier educational providers for robotics education. That being said, we want to be engaged with the organiser as we invite them to the university to discover talents and be able to offer students a place to study in the university.
How do you think the turnout will be?
I've heard that many teams have registered for the event, but I have yet to see the number. I do anticipate that there will be a significant number of students participating. As a matter of fact, we're preparing for a big crowd here on our campus.
Do you think young Malaysians are eager to showcase their talents in competitions like this? How were the turnouts in the past years?
Definitely. This is not the first one in the country. Some robotics competitions were held before, and it might surprise you that there is usually a huge turnout from school students.
I think because it’s an exciting competition where students will be playing around with robots and being creative with them. This event would provide the participants exposure and opportunities to explore new ideas. Also, when you join a competition, you typically work in a team. It’s an opportunity to meet new friends who share the same interest as you. So, I would say it’s a very fun and enjoyable event, and that is probably why a lot of students will be joining.
So it’s more than just building robots?
Yes. You make friends, you learn to cooperate with the team, and you get to work together to achieve something.
How will exposing students to competitions like MOVC help in the development of the robotics industry?
Exposing students to what robots can do, especially in competitions like this, contributes a lot to the industry regarding knowledge and skills. In this competition, the students need to achieve a set objective. So, they have to find solutions to problems that are similar to what happens in the industry.
When they encounter problems, they have to apply critical thinking skills to solve them. Participating in these competitions helps them learn the right skills and develop the confidence to solve problems. This is an excellent preview of what they can expect in their future workplace.
On our side, MMU is sending ten teams of students to participate in the competition, and they are all excited to do so.
Will students be further encouraged to pursue a STEM robotics career after taking part in the competition?
I think when young students are exposed, they tend to realise that there is fun in learning this. Even if it may not be the easiest subject around, they may consider studying robotics.
What would you advise students who want to pursue a career in robotics?
A student who wants to pursue robotics must have a sense of innovation. When you create a robot, you will not be using textbooks, but you have to think of the best solutions for a particular problem. So, if the student is interested in problem-solving and curious to learn about the different combinations of solutions to find the answer, their talents will show in this course.
Lastly, what is in the pipeline for MOVC and the partnership with MMU?
Well, we are looking for long-term collaboration with Centillion Robotics when it comes to hosting the competitions. This is the first time we’re doing this, but I anticipate that there will be more in the future.
Brought to you by Youth On Unity (Y.O.U.), the event is organised by Centillion Robotics Ltd., and co-organised by MMU Melaka. MOVC2017 is endorsed by the Ministry of Education Malaysia.
EasyUni.my is an official sponsor of the MOVC2017.