Students Code the Raspberry Pi to Benefit Lebanon

Alexis Baghdadi, May 08 2016

When my generation went to school, science fairs were mostly a drag. We would either build an Xth version of the baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano, or models of the water cycle, the effects of pollution, the human body’s systems, etc. from any material we could think of. Remember, this was the pre-internet era.

The lucky ones among us had one (or both) of their parents as engineers who would design a simple mechanical or hydraulic system for them, or integrate a closed electrical circuit in their model. This earned them points – and the jealousy of their classmates. Occasionally there was that flash-in-the-pan genius kid who would somehow come up with an invention so amazing even teachers couldn’t believe it.

That was all child’s play compared to today’s Generation Z. With the amazing tools at their disposal, these kids are really only limited by their imagination. Events like the VEX Robotics Competition and Beirut’s first Invention Show have shown young inventors’ huge potential with robotics and other technologies.

And these technologies are only going more mainstream. Today, coding platforms like the Raspberry Pi make it easy to write responsive programs for real-life applications.

Recently, the International Education Association (IEA) held the first Raspberry Pi Competition for schools in Lebanon, in collaboration with UK Lebanon Tech Hub. The competition revolved around solutions for issues with a social dimension.

Check Out the Winning Projects

The competition stretched over 3 months and received over 90 projects from public and private schools across the country. 44 projects made it to the finals and were showcased on April 7, 2016 at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

The top prize included a study tour in the UK. Additionally, one high school and one middle school team received a second prize of $1,000 each.

Most of the projects focused on 5 main themes: smart building and energy solutions; navigation systems for visually challenged people; awareness schemes about sorting recyclables; traffic lights control; and automated greenhouses.

Among the other projects that stood out was an All Terrain Life Vest developed by students of the American Community School. The vest automatically inflates when it senses the user is about to fall or enters water. The Tyre Public School worked on an offline digital map of their city that serves as a visual navigation guide at information centers for tourists or visitors with a broadband connection.

And the winners were…

-Grand Prize: Study Tour in the UK

The students of the Girls Secondary public School in Zahle (École Secondaire Officielle de Jeunes Filles à Zahle) conquered the jury with their “Techno Green House” idea.

Coming from Lebanon’s main crop region, these young girls had a special relationship with agriculture, with many of their parents working in that domain. They found that the main problem that farmers face when it comes to planting in greenhouses is their lack of availability for time-consuming tasks like irrigation, climate control, and security, so they set out to find a solution.

Sensors in the Techno Green House’s Raspberry Pi-powered solution measure levels of humidity in the soil to optimize an automated irrigation process. Additional sensors measure temperature and control a convertible roof that opens to let air in and cool the atmosphere. Additionally, ultrasonic sensors detect motion in case someone enters the greenhouse and alert the owners via an app.

Thanks to the app, greenhouse owners can keep an eye on their crops, and manage them remotely.

-Middle School Winner: $1,000

Students of the Al Mahdi School, Kfarfila, devised a solar-powered and app-supported system to manage electricity consumption, lighting, and parking traffic in their school.

-High School Winner: $1,000

Although there were around half a dozen sorting projects presented at the competition, the Ghobeiry I Public School for Girls was able to design the most practical and advanced system. Their Smart Trash Basket can differentiate between 3 types of non-organic waste (paper/plastic, glass, and metal) and automatically sort them in their respective bins.

Additional teams were rewarded for their coding capacity, team spirit, innovation, and design.

Building an Academic Tech Community

In the lead-up to the final judging round and awards ceremony, the IEA organized hands-on training workshops for teachers from the participating schools.

The teams also enjoyed continuous support from designated experts in each region, including live online follow-up sessions and a coding support forum that put them in direct contact with experts from Cambridge Coding Academy, UK.

During the event, ArabNet had the chance to talk to the teams and recognize similarities between their projects and the work of recent startups in the region. Examples included Pathfinder, the navigation belt and app for visually challenged people; Lifelab, the automated hydroponic greenhouse solution; and others like them.

We took this chance to tell them about their older peers in the hope of inspiring them to develop their ideas further or perhaps even collaborate with those startups.

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