Teaching Robotics in Africa


Teaching for SparkFun I get the opportunity to travel around the U.S. teaching technology to people from all walks of life and all levels of knowledge. I’m not always sure what the abilities of the audience will be and I rarely know how much time the participants will have after my workshops to pursue physical computing. Combine these uncertainties with things like a slight language barrier, inconsistent electricity supply, a lot less digital nativity in the student population and a team I’d never worked with before and you’ll start to get an idea of what I thought I was headed into when I went to Uganda to teach physical computing this summer. The reality was that it was surprisingly similar to what I do in the U.S., but with a different set of hurdles.

Hanging out out with some kids from the orphanage

Regardless of culture kids tend to learn in similar ways across the globe

I’m getting ahead of myself. In October of 2012 I was in Boston teaching some classes at the Artisan’s Asylum, Tufts and M.I.T. with Jim “The Engineer” Lindblom. I had been talking to tech support about a woman who wanted to bring robotics to Uganda, Africa who had some questions about what she should be ordering. I wound up pacing in my hotel room on a rainy Boston afternoon talking to Sandra for about an hour. Sandra Washburn runs a Ugandan based non-profit called Oysters and Pearls. While she is a very persuasive and capable woman we both quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to lead these workshops by herself. I initially explained that SparkFun was concentrating on the U.S. and our National Tour during the next summer but that I would be happy to help her figure out what to take over to Africa as well as provide some free training. Here is the Wishlist I gave her. I also agreed to put her in contact with a man named Solomon King who was, and still is, building a team of technology educators and equipment by the name of Fundi Bots to help his country’s growth in that area. Near the end of our conversation Sandra said something to the effect of “I’m not asking SparkFun to come to Uganda, I’m asking you. You’ve got vacation time, right?” I told her I would think about it.

The next day on our way to the next workshop I asked Jim what he thought about the proposition. He looked at me immediately and said, “You’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t.” Jim’s a smart guy. He knows all the words to Gangnam Style and a whole bunch about physical computing and sensors and stuff. I decided that Jim knew exactly what he was talking about.

Eight months later I’m on a plane to Africa to help a bunch of people I’ve never met in real life teach robotics on a continent I’ve never been to. Sweet.


To read what happened once Linz traveled to Uganda, check out the rest of his post at the Learn.SparkFun.com blog


Comments 14 comments

  • Lindsay, it was an honor and a pleasure learning from and working with you. What we started in Gulu will change lives for years to come.

    I am Looking forward to the next time we get together for some more hardware hacking.

  • Wow inspiring. I am 20 years and graduated high school over two years. Recently my girlfriend encouraged me to think about going back to school and so I’ve been studying 5 days a week for I think 8 weeks now and it’s been amazing. It feels great to learn again and ever since my junior year in high school I always had a thing for seeing robots and was instantly inspired by seeing the stuff on Ted. Unfortunately I never had a chance to learn before. So about a month and a half ago I bought my first Arduino microcontroller. And two weeks ago I began buying the rest of the parts for Popular Mechanics BYFR. I must say, after having put the robot together I am in awe.. I never thought I could do this on my own and though I am struggling with the programming, I am stubborn to give up. These kids have inspired me (because I haven’t got my robot to do a single thing then just tick lol) but I won’t give up. Thanks guys

  • Hope you don’t mind me posting this wishlist…and I hope others are interested: https://www.sparkfun.com/wish_lists/61413

  • I really hope that the guy in the car at the start of the video (Solomon King?) wasn’t driving. Those roads look crazy enough even if you had your eyes on the road the whole time, and not looking in the back seat!!!

    • Thankfully, no. Our traffic is extremely bad and you have to be alert at all times. We drive on the left here, so almost all cars have right-hand steering. And we had an extremely competent driver.

      • If you ever make it to Haiti - be prepared to drive on both sides of the street - anyone who has been there knows exactly what I’m talking about. They will drive anything with a steering wheel regardless of what side it is on. ; )

      • Well, that explains it. It does look very strange to those of us who have spent our whole lives with the driver on the left side. Yet another unexpected cultural insight!

      • In India, we too drive on the left. So compulsorily all the cars have right-hand steering! :)

  • That is so AWESOME - I look forward to reading the blog immediately!

  • Sparkfun, changing the worlds view on technology. I am so proud of you guys!

  • Though I am non-technical, I always enjoy SFE’s posts. And this was really very interesting. All the best to you guys. :)

  • Wow! Technology that transcends culture. Did not see that coming. I envy you all.


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