Sunday, 21 September 2008 11:16

NICTA Tunes into Computer Science Students with ARTEMIS

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Speaking at a major media event today, NICTA CEO David Skellern outlined a plan to bring some fun to the uptake of Computer Science skills amongst Australian high school students.
A couple of months ago, NICTA (National ICT Australia) announced that in only their second attempt, they won the ARTEMIS Orchestra competition in Europe with a robotically operated, computer-driven clarinet.  This follows on from a second place the previous year with a robot violin.

The clarinet robot, not simply a clarinet-playing robot, is a complex software and hardware solution that is able to emulate the functions of the human mouth in order to manipulate the human mouth to form the notes and other complexities of a clarinet.

Speaking at the Influencer Forum in the Hunter Valley today, David Skellern outlined many of his concerns with the attractiveness of Computer Science (and related disciplines) as a career choice for today’s students.  He pointed out that in 2001 something over 500 students enrolled into first year Computer Science at a major NSW university whereas last year, that number had dropped to barely 150.   Fortunately, the ‘quality’ of the students remains excellent.

Skellern observed that the drop-out in interest appeared to be happening around Year 10 – just at the point where most high school students are actively considering their career options.  He observed that the prevailing attitude seemed to be that they knew how to operate a computer, that’s was all there was to it, wasn’t it? 

As I see it, this reflects the commodity view of computing – a box that does its job – doesn’t much matter how it works on the inside.  They work; what more is there?

So, what’s the significance of the clarinet robot?


Imagine the fun a group of high school students would have programming and enhancing one of these devices.

That’s the plan.  Initially targeting TAFEs, but with a clear plan to move down to high schools, NICTA is planning to create a number of these clarinet robots and deliver them to high schools for their Computer Science students to experiment on.  Clearly the engineering skills to actually design and build one of these would be lacking at this level, also the ability to create software from scratch. 

However, the plan is to deliver the basic robot and functional software along with guidance on how to improve both the software and hardware.

In TAFEs, the hope is that with sufficient encouragement, students there could in fact be building the entire unit.

This is always the best way to attract children (high school students) to such topics – MAKE IT FUN!  PIQUE THEIR INTEREST.  If you make it look dry, you’ve lost them.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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