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On Sunday 6 April KiwiSpace was present at the Science Street Fair, held at MOTAT in Auckland. This event brought together scientists and technology groups from around New Zealand, for a day of hands-on activities for the general public.

This was our first attempt at doing an expo-style stand: most of our activities to-date have been done through schools, in a more controlled learning environment. So the challenge was to find something engaging yet still educational, that could be digested in a very short time, and would keep a crowd entertained.

 

JAXA-Inspired

We modelled our activity off a session that JAXA presented at our recent SpaceEd Workshop. Professor Kubota from their Space Education Center, led the teachers present through a brief explanation of the challenges of controlling interplanetary rovers over great distances - then set them lose with a simulation of the real thing. They had a remote-controlled car, and put a small camera on top and using some software that came with the camera, they could add a small delay. Teachers then had a chance to drive the rover around, while looking at the video feed. But to add an extra challenge into the mix, and to simulate in-part the transmission delay - the person seeing the video couldn't actually drive the rover, but rather had to relay instructions to another person who had the remote control. They held up signs for "forward", "turn left", etc. Together they needed to navigate a small obstacle course and get to the target marker. Needless to say, a lot of fun and hilarity ensued...

Adaptation to an Expo-environment

Our first challenge, was that we couldn't find the same camera in NZ â€“ and that we needed a solution that lasted for a full 8 hours... Quite a challenge for a small battery powered wifi camera, etc. After much searching around, our solution was to use an iPhone with an extended battery sleeve â€“ and that gave us around 10 hours of operation. We couldn't find any time-delay software on the App Store, so ended up writing our own solution â€“ using just simple Javascript & HTML. It all worked a treat, and gave us great control over the time-delay.

 

Sample Code: We've decided to open-source the code we developed for the web-based time-delay video feed.
We won't proclaim that it's the highest quality code, but it worked for our purposes - and so hopefully others will find it useful:

Rover, by MindKits Invent

 

We were extremely fortunate to have the support of Mindkits Invent, who provided one of their BrainBoard Rovers. This cool little bluetooth-controlled rover was an awesome little robot, with great freedom of movement â€“ that really paralleled the rovers on Mars.

We combined the rover and time-delay controls with some rotating slides showing a series of short video clips about the Spirit/Opportunity & Curiosity rovers, as well as an explanation about the time-delays for communication between the various planets. This played silently while the activity was underway, and our helpful volunteers answered any questions from the attendees.

A big hit!

For our first attempt at this style of activity, I think we did really well. We had a constant crowd of onlookers and people queuing to have a go with the rovers. A good number of people signed up to our newsletter to get more information on our future events, and we got lots of great comments and questions from people. 

We weren't sure what sort of crowd to expect (there was about 1200 in total through the gates, of which i'd say about 1000 came through our room!) â€“ but it turned out to be a slightly younger audience than perhaps our target market. These younger children had a little more difficulty controlling and working as a team, but nevertheless the activity engaged them (even if they did peek often to see how they were doing!). And their parents got quite involved too and learned a lot too.

 

To close, I'd like to say a big thanks to a few people:

  • Marko Alach -€“ our lead for this project, who worked tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the event, and made this possible.
  • MindKits Invent -€“ and Brody Radford, for lending us the rover and providing their assistance on the day.
  • Janice Mackay -€“ who volunteered for several hours on the Sunday to support this activity.
  • JAXA Space Education Center - for their support this past year, especially with SpaceEd â€“ for which we otherwise would never have considered undertaking such an activity.
  • Prof. Kubota from JAXA - whose presentation at SpaceEd was the inspiration for this.

 

Mark Mackay

Executive Director,
KiwiSpace Foundation. 

 

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