Youngsters these days take to technology like fish to water. Kids as young as 3-4 year olds are completely at ease tapping away at their parents' phones and tablets, often teaching their parents some smart tricks and shortcuts.
MyGadgetsSecondLife is an initiative to get these youngsters to start thinking like creators of technology. We get youngsters to take their friendship with technology to a deeper level. Quite literally. At our workshops, we get them to open up gadgets of daily use, take them apart and see for themselves what is inside these gadgets and how stuff works. And in doing so, we highlight the principles of science and engineering that the gadgets teach us. For example, what is underneath the keys of a computer keyboard? Why does a speaker make sound? How do the hands of a clock move? Can I tweak them to move twice as fast? And so on.
We have been running our workshops at several cities across India and in Singapore. We offer workshops for school kids, as an enrichment program, and also for undergraduate engineering students. We typically work with kids older than 8 but interestingly, in our workshops, we have seen participants as young as five and as old as fifty five. The prospect of breaking stuff open seems to get everybody excited! Photographs from our past workshops can be seen here.
So what do youngsters gain by doing this? Well, they get to see and experience for themselves how technology actually comes alive. They see how principles of math and science are so fundamental to our lives and how engineers use these principles to create stuff of day-to-day use. They get to see how things were built in the past and how technology has evolved over time. In doing so, they slowly start learning how they may convert their own ideas into real products. In other words, by getting them to play with stuff and take it apart, we inspire inventors and creators of tomorrow.
But where do we get the gadgets that the participants take apart? Simple. Just take a look around your house. Chances are there are old, unused, even obsolete gadgets and gizmos lying around doing nothing. Rather than just junking them, we encourage people to donate their old gadgets to us. And we have been generously helped in our cause by a good number of people from Bangalore and Singapore, who have come forward and given us old cellphones, modems, keyboards, telephones, mouse, AC-DC adapters, remote controls, clocks and so on.
Old gadgets tell stories. They really are minefields of engineering knowledge and can trigger a whole series of investigative explorations, leading to new ideas and discoveries. What we are doing now is just the tip of the iceberg. Over time, we envisage MyGadgetsSecondLife evolving into a platform that inspires engineers at all levels. From youngsters, whose curiosity we pique; to engineering students looking for a truly experiential and holistic engineering education; to working professionals, who may want to reconnect with engineering. We want to create an ecosystem where engineering ideas are freely and thoroughly discussed, wide range of expertise is brought together, the fun of engineering is experienced, innovative prototypes and products are created and top-notch engineers are nurtured.
For now though, a loudspeaker we made during a workshop, with my four year old helping out, is not quite as loud as she would like. It is time to take some old speakers apart and learn what we may be going wrong. Time to hit the lab!
Vineet Srivastava is a hands-on engineer with a passion to communicate engineering ideas in a clear and inspiring manner. A communications, networking and signal processing engineer by training, Vineet holds Bachelors and Master of Engineering degree from The National University of Singapore (NUS). He has been a key member of several international technical teams developing complex semiconductor chips for a variety of products. MyGadgetsSecondLife is his brainchild, born out of the excitement and learning Vineet himself derived by taking old stuff apart and seeking out the engineering lessons therein. Vineet works with Dr. Mehul Motani from NUS on MyGadgetsSecondLife.