Mid-Pacific high schoolers learn to code autonomous vehicles - Mid-Pacific Institute

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Mid-Pacific high schoolers learn to code autonomous vehicles

"By embracing the Altino platform, our students are opening the door to learning the technologies of the future, today."

Posted on February 9, 2018 by Julie Funasaki Yuen

Mid-Pacific is a leader in innovative curriculum that prepares students for the jobs of tomorrow. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Weyland Bailey's Engineering Systems class where students are learning to code Altino cars. These mini autonomous vehicles are manufactured by SaeOn, a partner of local science and engineering research firm Oceanit, and used as the platform for students to learn coding in a fun and interactive way.

"By embracing the Altino platform, our students are opening the door to learning the technologies of the future, today," says Mid-Pacific Chief Innovation Officer Brian Dote. "The Altino platform exposes a rich combination of sensors and programmable interfaces that allow our students to learn coding with relevant, real-world projects such as smart city technology and autonomous driving vehicles. This technology is timely as the 200-year old auto industry is in a state of disruption from the rapid advances in self-driving autonomous vehicles and the 'Uberfication' effect."

"The vision for Altino is to provide a way to expose every kid in Hawaiʻi to computer science," says Ian Kitajima, director of corporate development at Oceanit. "Our role is not to turn every kid into a coder. We want to expose every kid to this world called 'computer science' so that they are inspired to think."

Many of the Engineering Systems students have no previous experience and are taking their first academic coding course. The high schoolers are currently learning the C programming language to code Altino cars.

"The first step is the students learn how to make the car move," explains Engineering Systems teacher Weyland Bailey. "They learn to make the motor run for a certain period of time and move forward, backward, left and right. After that, they get into fancier code where they're able to access the sensors on board the cars to make the sensors interact with the wheels, so now they can make the car react to external stimulus."

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A Mid-Pacific student tests his Altino car in the Weinberg Technology Center.

Instead of focusing on coding as a skill, the Mid-Pacific Technology Vision outlines the school's priority on computational and programmatic thinking as an essential component of learning. It emphasizes how coding helps to cultivate a model of thinking and problem solving that may be applied in a variety of contexts.

"Coding is helpful whether you're an engineering or English major," says Bailey. "It doesn't necessarily just need to be applied to science. Computer programming is a language. And like other languages, it doesn't matter what your background is, it can be applied across the board."

Like all languages, coding is a communication vehicle.

"When the students see the cars not working, they go back through their instruction set and realize, 'I wasn't very clear here,'" shares Bailey. "I think coding helps in communicating with other people, and the students learn to work out their job flow, and organize their time."

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Mid-Pacific students watch and see if the Altino car moves as instructed while teacher Weyland Bailey looks on.

Learning to code with Altino cars also allows students the opportunity for instantaneous feedback and to physically see the results of their work. It represents a clear departure from the way coding was learned in the past.

"Years ago, coding was taught in a two-dimensional way," says Bailey. "You would sit in front of a computer, type out words, and it would generate a pop-up screen with the words 'hello world' for example. Using Altino cars allows the students to learn coding and have something tangible that they can actually see work. And that makes it more exciting. Just having something tangible brings to life what they are learning."

"Last semester, Mr. Bailey enclosed a square table and we had to program the cars to get out of a corner," says senior Kolby Au. "We had to program the sensors (on the car) to get out and not get stuck."

Senior Cage Vavul's favorite thing about the Engineering Systems class is the freedom he has to experiment and explore. "Mr. Bailey gives us a lot of leeway, and lets us design our projects to try and test ourselves," he says.

"The students are working on collaborative projects," shares Bailey. "Their code is step one to another person's code, that leads to another person's code. So they had to learn how to collaborate and match up their coding to someone else. It's a real collaborative project. They have to figure out how their steps not only help, but could also hurt the other students."

Collaboration. Innovation. Creative thinking. These are the hallmarks of a Mid-Pacific education and are represented in full in the Engineering Systems course.

"Car ownership, driving, and transportation will undergo a metamorphic transformation in the next few years," says Dote. "Our students will be at the forefront of some of this technology as prepared participants in the brave new world."