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Getting enthusiastic about STEM subjects – with the help of ducks

The vehicles, the Duckiebots, were assembled and programmed by the students themselves. (Source: Freia Hardt)


April 14, 2020

The idea came from the renowned MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA: "Duckietown", a city inhabited by ducks through which autonomous cars move, the "Duckiebots". However, they first have to be built and programmed. Franceso Maurelli, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Vehicles at Jacobs University Bremen, used this teaching concept to introduce digitization to students he taught in a workshop at the MINT-EC Digital Forum in Berlin.

Ducks autonomously on the road at Jacobs University's Duckietown workshop at the MINT-EC meeting. (Source: Francesco Maurelli)

"Duckietown" is a platform that is vivid and accessible – and combines real scientific challenges of artificial intelligence and robotics with fun. The students assembled the vehicles themselves, developed algorithms and programmed sensors to avoid collisions between the cars, which move on a special rug. "Duckietown is a good example of how complex the issue of autonomous driving is," says Dr. Freia Hardt, Head of Teaching and Student Services at Jacobs University. "The teaching concept also suits us well because the duck is the heraldic animal of Jacobs University," she adds with a smile.

With ducks: Jacobs University's booth at the MINT-EC meeting (Source: Francesco Maurelli)

MINT-EC is the national excellence network of schools that promote the subjects of mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology. It is the German equivalent to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Across Germany, 325 upper high schools are members of the network. The annual meeting in Berlin brought together not only students and teachers, but also promoters of the network – such as Jacobs University. "We have been committed to the STEM subjects for years," says Hardt. "In order to be able to solve the future challenges facing our society, we need broad-based skills in these areas. But these are still underdeveloped in our country."