Resolution Circle, a training hub that prides itself on providing experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate electrical and mechanical engineering students, believes the current crisis is an opportune time to harness the passion of hobbyists and makers in South Africa and provide them with the skills to build careers in electronics and engineering.
“Thanks in part to the availability of the open source Arduino hardware platform and the growth of 3D printing in the country, there is a strong community of enthusiastic makers out there who want to assist in creating solutions to help flatten the curve against the coronavirus. This talks to how the community want to come together to use their skills and resources to help solve a problem – in this instance a lack of ventilators. However, this must be approached with caution,” says Carl Spies, Robotics Developer at Resolution Circle.
Even though people are excited about the potential of creating ventilators, the technology itself is more sophisticated than simply pushing air into a patient’s lungs. And then there are a myriad of legal and certification issues to consider.
“Just think of the consequences of a maker building a machine at home and putting it in a hospital where it could potentially damage someone’s lungs or even result in their death. With no certification standard in place for the making of home ventilators, this means a maker has no protection against any criminal case that will inevitably be opened against them.”
These challenges do not only centre on sophisticated solutions like ventilators, but also towards quite simplistic ones such as the 3D printing of the plastic brackets to hold protective face guards. Because the virus spreads so easily, there is no way to guarantee hygienic protocols for all the makers out there doing printing from their homes.
Platform for innovation
“But instead of discouraging this passion, we are focusing on harnessing it and giving local hobbyists and makers a platform to channel that energy. To this end, one of the courses that Resolution Circle teaches involves additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. We can build a database to identify those in the community interested to help and give them the means to build up their engineering skills,” adds Spies.
With a shortage of engineering skills in the local and international markets, this way of channelling the focus of the community can result in career pathways into a professional environment.
“Engineers are driven by their passion but also have a professional responsibility to not risk any lives. To this end, we are making our fabrication services available to government and private sector stakeholders to assist in the manufacturing of any critical components required to combat the virus. This, in addition to our work with the maker community, creates an enabling environment where we can affect meaningful change in the safest way possible.”
He says that using a platform such as Arduino during the time of lockdown is ideal to provide children with an exciting pathway into engineering. But more than that it also gives electricians the opportunity to build their skills. For example, instead of only working on the lights and wiring at a customer’s home, the electrician will also be able to introduce a level of automation through the Internet of Things. Even businesses can benefit from such an approach and start automating previous manual-driven switches and other electrical functions.
“Despite the challenging times, there are also amazing opportunities out there for those who are passionate about getting into electronics and engineering. We are excited to be able to provide the skills and training required to help South Africans capitalise on this potential.”