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ARM and UCL inspire young engineers with the IoT

ARM and University College London (UCL) have launched an educational kit, to help students develop their engineering skills, focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT). The hope is to encourage young engineers to remain in STEM related careers.

The course is designed to teach students how to program embedded devices, create smart phone apps, and control and communicate with these things using the cloud -- skills that ARM and UCL believe will be critical to the modern economy. 

In an interview with Scientific Computing World, Khaled Benkrid, worldwide university programme manager at ARM said: ‘Our flagship offering is our education kits, our lab in a box, these self-contained packages contain software, hardware and full teaching materials, designed by academics for academics.’

The ARM IoT Education kit was unveiled at the UCL Institute of Making in central London. The Institute is a creative workshop which is open and free to everyone at the university and has more than 3,000 student and staff users.

The project itself is aimed at UCL’s department of electronic and electrical engineering initially focusing on a week-long IoT module for a full-time MSc course but there are plans to extend this to undergraduate students the following year.

Professor Izzat Darwazeh, head of communications and information systems at UCL Engineering Sciences said: ‘Many students are not following through to an engineering career and that is a real risk to our long term success as a nation of innovators. Most students take engineering because they are driven to understand how the world works, from taking radios apart when they were children, to creating apps in high school. Engineering is about creative problem-solving and it’s exactly what we hope to instil in them again with the IoT Kit, which provides the tools and the knowledge to create devices and systems that could one day become best-sellers or even change our world.’

During his interview, Benkrid stressed that: ‘The university programme is all about equipping academic students worldwide with state-of-the-art technologies that will help to equip them with the skills need for today’s job market so they can play a pivotal role in the modern economy.’

The IoT revolution is enabled by the falling cost of making embedded chips, which have considerable computing power but also sensing, communication and memory. The price of these chips is now so low they can be installed in anything from smart phones and medical devices and to microwave ovens, washing machines and even dishwashers.

One aspect of the project that Benkrid highlighted, in conversation, was the effort that ARM had invested to reduce costs of the kit so that it could benefit as many people as possible. Benkrid said: ‘One of the main guiding principles for the education kit is that the cost of ownership should be less than that of a textbook, so that students can actually avail of this and work on their own in addition to the tuition that they receive at university.’

Benkrid continued: ‘It is about lowering the barrier to entry; it is about sending a message out there that you do not need a lot of resources a lot of money and a lot of deep technical know how to build useful solutions that can go out into the world and solve real world problems.’

‘One example is a couple of students managed to connect a heart monitor to the could whereby you could, in real-time, see the heartbeat and how it changed over time on the cloud remotely' Benkrid said.'

'That is one application that they actually made themselves based on the basic building blocks that we have given them. That is really key to what we are trying to do, we give them the basic building blocks but we want them to innovate, to solve real problems’ he concluded.

The latest research carried out by UCL with Oxford Policy and Research in 2012 analysed the career paths of students graduating from STEM-based courses. The study showed that in engineering courses 36 per cent of males and 51 per cent of females took up non-STEM careers. In computer sciences this rose to 64 per cent of males and 66 per cent of females taking up non-STEM careers.

Benkrid said: ‘We want to send a message to engineers and non-engineers that there are huge opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities out there for them. There is a gap in the skills and we are not training enough engineers for the modern economy. Statistics show that up to half of graduates in engineering actually do not follow a career in engineering and we want to let them know that there are a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities.’

Mike Muller, chief technology officer, ARM said: ‘Students with strong science and mathematical skills are in demand and we need to make sure they stay in engineering. The growth of the IoT gives us a great opportunity to prove to students why our profession is more exciting and sustainable than others. New technologies make it far easier to start a business and there’s a huge appetite for highly motivated young people to help companies such as ARM deliver innovation that will shape the world’s future.’

The education kit is available immediately. More information can be found on the ARM University Program website.

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