Young engineer: Kamogelo Sihlangu, a Grade 10  pupil from Ivory Park Secondary School in Midrand, shows off her programmable electric vehicle in Houghton on Friday. Picture: MARK ALLIX
Young engineer: Kamogelo Sihlangu, a Grade 10 pupil from Ivory Park Secondary School in Midrand, shows off her programmable electric vehicle in Houghton on Friday. Picture: MARK ALLIX

The GE Africa Innovation Centre in Houghton, Johannesburg, was abuzz on Friday as children — nearly all girls — tested their programmable electric vehicles, designed to explore Mars.

Made from materials such as plastic Coca Cola bottles, ice cream sticks, CDs, cardboard, glass and masking tape, an amazing array of battery-driven machines was on display, developed by grades 9 and 10 pupils from schools across SA.

"You program the distance you want to travel and the angles you want to turn," Kamogelo Sihlangu, a Grade 10 pupil from Ivory Park Secondary School in Midrand, said on Friday. "I want to study electrical engineering when I go to university," she said. "[The lack of women in engineering] was some kind of stereotyped thing, but now, that is changing."

General Electric (GE), a global supplier of power plants, aviation and marine engines and healthcare and industrial equipment recently launched an introduction to mechatronics programme with Digicate, a digital education academy that is "shaping digital minds".

Dimitri Quadflieg, founder and CEO of Digicate, said on Friday that children were good at using technology, but also needed to know how to code and develop it.

"We are combining the principles of ergonomics, design mechanics and computing in one field. GE has a big drive for skills development across Africa," Quadflieg says.

The firm sent out 600 GE-sponsored and co-developed kits to 30 schools — 80% of which were for girls — in five provinces. These included batteries, a programmable board and relevant software. The aim was to teach youngsters about robotics and electronics in the hope their "robots" would win a 3D printer for their school.

Thomas Konditi, CEO of GE SA, said the group wanted to give children exposure to technology. "Maths, physics, chemistry and the sciences," he said.

"Digicate came to us and said they want to reach out to kids — girls especially — and get them excited about technology."

Last Thursday, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told delegates at the sixth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research conference in Pretoria that for SA to compete with other countries, it needed innovative technologies.

He highlighted the challenges being posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

"A disruptive change is upon us. Therefore, we need to work harder, smarter and collaborate with experts … to take up new technologies and commercialise innovations to achieve and support industrial development."

Davies said electronic commerce in China was "sitting at 30% versus 2% in SA".

There was now a directive across government departments to increase localisation in technology, he said.

allixm@businesslive.co.za

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