Ahead of the curve

Large multinational supports educational startups

Micromelon Robotics - coded robots

Micromelon Robotics - coded robots

By Josepha Dietrich

Before the pandemic hit Australia, startups led by UQ alumni received funding from Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration program to scale up solutions in STEM education and connected campus technology.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated programs that expand learning models, which had been in development for some years already.

Cisco is enabling the next era in learning, helping to augment the classroom with new models such as personalised, distance, and flipped learning using a blend of physical and virtual learning capability. These require accessible and fast connectivity, cyber security, and people-centric intuitive campuses that foster innovation and prepare students for future jobs with initiatives like STEM education, research and innovation programs. This is the big picture but getting there still requires small steps.

The collaboration between Cisco and UQ will support three startups from the University’s 2019 ilab Accelerator program spanning educational robots and people counting technology.

Micromelon Robotics builds robots and software to support education in schools, while Robotics Playground creates engaging robotic workshops for students. Fiffy Solutions has developed people counting technology that targets university campuses.

four founders: two sitting on beanbags and two standing outside the Global Change Institute.

Back to front, L-R: co-founder Julian Stein (Fiffy Solutions); Wilson Kong (Robotics Playground); Adam Stacey and Tim Hadwen (Micromelon Robotics).

Back to front, L-R: co-founder Julian Stein (Fiffy Solutions); Wilson Kong (Robotics Playground); Adam Stacey and Tim Hadwen (Micromelon Robotics).

Cisco QLD Regional Manager Terry Weber said the partnership will enable both UQ and Cisco to improve STEM learning throughout greater Queensland.

“Working with UQ, we’re hoping to solve problems like how to scale innovative technology so it reaches all students across the State,” Mr Weber said.

“I see Micromelon and Robotics Playground potentially becoming partners with Cisco Digital Schools Network (DSN): a community-based program designed to enable educators and students to connect and learn within a secure digital platform to help transform traditional schools into digital schools.

“The crisis has only accelerated the need to not rely on physical classrooms or lecture theatres to deliver world-class learning.”

Mr Weber also said room utilisation is a key issue for large organisations, including Universities, where Fiffy Solutions’ people counting device could integrate with Cisco’s current network infrastructure.

With the grant from Cisco, Micromelon will develop and run workshops for students and teachers over Cisco WebEx remote meeting platform. The robotics technology teaches students at primary, secondary, and university levels – a market in need of additional resources after changes to the national curriculum has resulted in educators, particularly in regional areas, teaching programming and robotics for the first time.

“No one really had a single solution that could work for every year level,” co-founder, Mr Hadwen said.

“We’ve got one bit of software – and one robot – that can work from Year three through to first year university students working on obstacle avoidance like a self-driving car."

“The prebuilt robot allows for a visual programming language as well as Python code. This intuitive visual interface is for younger kids to learn to program the robot doing challenges as simple as driving around in a square.

Micromelon teaching at CISCO offices - lots of female students working on software

Workshop by Micromelon for high school students, held in the Cisco offices in Brisbane.

Workshop by Micromelon for high school students, held in the Cisco offices in Brisbane.

At the same time, our software allows more advanced students to view and write real Python code similar to that taught in first year computer science at UQ. They can edit this Python code in real time, seeing how this changes the visual elements and as they progress, they fall into using Python rather than having to relearn everything again.”

ilab Accelerator is one of the University’s suite of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives, known as Ventures. In 2020, ilab awarded $20,000 each to 10 aspiring startups ranging from organic laundry detergent to recycled rockets.

UQ's Ventures program is open to everyone – from new students to PhD students and alumni. To learn more and to see what's on, visit UQ's Ventures website.