Interview: Teaching future generations to be innovators

Posted on 1 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

Embracing the skills of the future is fundamental to business’ innovation, though integrating this into everyday learning is no easy task. One company has created a modular robot that aims to transform the way we learn, from programming to problem-solving.

Digital skills shortages are increasing - image courtesy of Shape Robotics.
Fable is manufactured in Denmark – image courtesy of Shape Robotics.

Moises Pacheco, co-founder and CTO of Shape Robotics said to TM, “We have essentially made big, powerful bricks that are filled with sensors. The idea is that you can quickly build something intelligent.”

Pacheco co-founded Shape Robotics in 2015, a business that has created a modular robot to encourage children to learn skills of the future.

He said to TM at the ExCel London where the company were exhibiting at The Bett Show, “We decided to create this because we are living in an industrial revolution, in the coming decades it is very likely that a lot of subjects being studied now, people who will graduate as lawyers, designers, bankers, by the time they retire, those careers won’t exist anymore.”

Digital skills shortages are increasing, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of unfilled positions in the ICT sector rose by almost 25% in Q3 of last year, compared with the same period a year ago.

By 2028, the UK will miss out on almost £22bn of value as a direct result of digital exclusion, a report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research found.

TM met Fable

Named Fable, the robot is a modular construction set that students can use to create their own version of the robot in just a few minutes. Students can click the different modules together and programme its senses, mood and movements.

Depending on their experience level, the students can programme the robot with visual blocks (Blockly) or a text language (Python), and this can work to solve real-world problems.

Everyone needs to be an innovator

“We need to know how to innovate because the market is changing really, really fast. The way to do that is to teach problem-solving and systematic thinking. It doesn’t mean everyone is going to be a computer scientist, just as we all read and write, we are not all writers – these are tools that kids need for the future, they need to be able to innovate,” Pacheco said.

He explains of one example, “We had one school that set a project where the kids visited a retirement home, and they learned about the problems the elderly have. If they dropped a remote control and couldn’t pick it up for example, so they brainstormed solutions using Fable.

“Then one of the teams came up with a robot configuration that could feed a woman who had Parkinson’s disease, they then went back and gave a pitch. It was so interesting to see how they approached problem-solving.”

fable robot digital skills
Moises Pacheco is pictured – image courtesy of TM.

When people are presented with Fable, Pacheco says that they do not expect such advanced technology to be so easy to use, learn and build on, as often they see a lot of robots that are comparatively very basic.

He says that their research found that “there are many people who also need to have a relationship with robots” and “when things don’t have a face, kids especially feel like something is missing, therefore we knew we wanted to give the robot personality.

“Our additional app allows you to customise the eyelids and iris colour, it allows you to build your own robot, and programme emotions and movements.

“You can also monitor where you are pressing on the screen of the app and it can track up to 10 fingers at once, so you can trigger behaviours. If I put two fingers in a certain place, I want Fable to spin etc, this enables children to understand the technologies even further.”