Saturday saw Dublin’s RDS become a showcase for coding mavens as CoderDojo’s Coolest Projects rolled into town.
The event, now in its fourth year, brought together CoderDojo ‘ninjas’ from all over Europe, who presented their codes, hacks and builds to roving panels of judges.
The wealth of talent on display was astounding, with kids as young as seven devising apps, robots and websites, many designed to make people’s lives better.
Siliconrepublic.com spoke to a group from Cork who had created a tech-integrated home heating system, controlled via smartphone. Designed to be environmentally friendly, Home Touch self-adjusts based on ambient outdoor temperature and learns homeowners’ behaviour.
Other projects were just plain cool. We met with James Heavey and Andrea Rizzi, whose project – My Robot Buddy – avoids obstacles, carries out different functions based on what colour it’s driving over, and prevents itself from driving over table edges. Its developers say the technology could be used in wheelchairs to prevent them from going over pavement edges.
Lauren Boyle, EU Digital Girl of the Year 2014 and Inspirefest 2015 speaker, showcased her new app, Cool STEAM Kids, which encourages kids to learn about STEAM.
Noel King, founding member of Coolest Projects, was enthusiastic about the incredible projects the young coders came up with.
“It was a day of limitless creativity by CoderDojo members from across Europe. They wowed everyone who attended with everything from awesome platform games to eye-catching designed animations to wearable technologies. These young people challenged themselves to change the world around them with technology, and what they created was truly inspirational.”
Projects were judged across a number of categories. Winners included an app that finds you the safest route to your destination (John Ryan’s ‘Arrive Alive’, Thurles Dojo), a game to encourage cleaner seas (Tina and Ells Truyt’s ‘Save our Seas’, Antwerpen-Centrum Dojo) and a website that lets kids review books (John David White’s ‘Book Reviews by Kids4kids’, Dungarvan Dojo).
Mary Moloney, CoderDojo Global CEO, said Coolest Projects was a success on a number of levels. “There was an incredibly high standard of projects delivered by the kids using all types of technology. But what made it most special for me was the kindness, and the supportive and fun atmosphere.”
The Future of STEM
Of course, the event wasn’t just about the projects. Speakers at the event discussed the future of the STEM industry and how it can be changed by the young coders who regularly attend Dojos.
CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton was in awe of the size of Coolest Projects, and the skills exhibited by those taking part: “When me and Bill [Liao] co-founded CoderDojo, we had no idea it would become like this.”
Stuart Johnson, engineer at Havok, spoke about how the kids sitting in front of him were destined for great things. “You guys are the future of gaming. Everything that will be will come from your heads.”
He also spoke about the great possibilities of new technologies: “Everyone’s saying VR is the future. And it is. But no one really knows what to do with it.”
Seán Kelly, MEP, talked about the need to look to Europe to fill Irish tech jobs. He said that it is more important than ever to ensure that tech talent is available, and the best way to do that is to make sure that CoderDojos continue to spread throughout Europe, and the wider world.
And, finally, Silicon Republic CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea was on hand to educate the coders on the dangers of the gender gap. She pointed out that “there still does remain in the industry plain, ordinary sexism”.
Highlighting the importance of having a truly representative workforce in STEM, O’Dea said, “We will have a far more interesting industry if the innovation comes from a diversity of thought and a difference of opinion.”
Silicon Republic will be exploring this ideology further at this week’s Inspirefest event, which – with female speakers taking up 70pc of slots – aims to balance gender representation in STEM.
Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.
Robot image, via CoderDojo Foundation/Flickr