This week we had a chat with Sandy Enoch, founder of Robotical and maker of Marty the robot, to discuss his work with schools across Scotland, how to fill skills gaps in the industry and tips on forging a successful career in robotics.
How did the Robotical journey start? What gave you the idea to create Marty the robot?
I did a PhD in robotics, making walking robots, and I have nieces and nephews that are growing up so I was thinking about toys I could get for them that could help them get into engineering. But most robots out there were disappointing for me, they were novelty and limited, so I thought I could have a go at making a real robot that’s the price of a smart toy for a young people’s platform so that they could actually get into robotics in a fun way and learn about coding and programming. So I was going about making a popular walking robot that could appeal to that demographic and get more kids excited about science and engineering.
Marty is suitable for 8-18+, what are the advantages for each age group using the robot?
Marty as a platform has quite a range of skills so for younger ages you can get started with something called Scratch, which is a graphical language, there are lots of blocks that you click and drag around, so it’s a very easy way to get into programming. The great thing about doing that with Marty is that it really brings it to life and takes it off the screen, so you’re controlling this robot that’s walking around. You can create dance routines, make it kick a football and it has very expressive eyebrows as well so it’s a great way to get kids engaged.
But beyond that you can move onto real languages like Python, so we’ve provided this progression where kids can move on from the basic concepts and learn useful skills, all the while getting a real world experience.
Morrison Media - Marty's Coding Party - Draft 4 -29062018 from Solo Creative on Vimeo.
Are these robots used in schools?
Yeah, we have quite a few schools that we are working with. So we had a competition recently among a lot of the Edinburgh schools, about thirty take part. They programmed their Marty to do dance routines and send in videos they made. We invited six of them along to a final stage where they had to get their Marty around an obstacle course and perform a dance routine live. It was great; we had lots of cool costumes for the Martys and lots of good programming.
What first got you interested in robotics?
I’ve always been one of those kids that liked to take things apart and see how they work and I’ve always enjoyed making things. At school it was the subject that was the most interesting to me, creating things in tech studies. I thought it was amazing to see stuff move around in the real world, it was quite exciting as an engineer. But it was also quite a pragmatic decision because there’s such a skills gap in this area that if you develop skills in engineering it’s a great area for young people to be getting into.
Do you think having Marty in schools will help fill those skills gaps?
That’s the idea! We do need another generation of engineers and people to be getting excited by those things. You have to get them at that stage since by the time you’re going into S3 you’re starting to specialize in sixth year subjects. So if we can make engineering fun, especially with Marty, if you haven’t considered programming or engineering it could be something that could appeal.
Do you have any upcoming plans for Marty in the next few years?
Definitely, we’re continuing to grow, there’s about five of us full-time and we’re hiring a couple more people at the moment. We’re adding new features and functionality to Marty, and we’re working on our educational platforms, so more lesson plans, more materials, making it as easy as possible for teachers and other educators to use Marty to help in their classes. We’re keen to expand on that and become an international company and take Marty to the next level as a great Scottish tech company inspiring people around the world.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in robotics?
Start with being curious about everything, wondering how things work and how to make things. At school do science and maths, and you can go off to uni and study maths or computer science or robotics, those are all useful areas for a job in robotics. There are so many fascinating areas to work in; you can work on hoovers or big robots in cars, robots that improve quality of life or robots that clear the ocean of plastic. It’s a great time now that if you’re just getting into the area, you can come up with an idea and try and make it happen - there’s a lot of potential.