Cyber-physical, sounds new? Given the ‘new normal’ this year’s FACT programme went for a contemporary twist, having SUTD students physically present in class communicating with the students at home in China through zoom. Hesitant at first, I embarked on this programme sceptical of the outcome. However, no matter the distance, we were able to complete our project and pick up many essential skills about the Internet of Things (IOT) and of course, make new friends, whether it be physically or virtually.
On the first day, we played a virtual ice-breaker game where one SUTD student from each group had to fly a drone through SUTD, completing tasks along the way. We had to answer questions about our race, and dialect and shared some of our favourite food in our home country!
During the workshop, we were given wires and breadboards to play around with. This hands-on experience definitely beats watching lectures and tutorials of professors demonstrating the real-life applications of IOT. Furthermore, since all the SUTD students were present physically in the lab together with our professors and teaching assistants (TA), we were able to consult them immediately when we face an issue in our code or in our wiring.
After learning the basics, we were given some time to brainstorm with our groupmates, both physically and virtually. It was tough to communicate at first, given everyone’s hesitance to turn on their cameras and unmute themselves to speak. But after conversing on the chat, we decided to take our discussion onto Line, where we could update one another on our progress even after the Zoom meeting has ended.
As we hashed out our ideas, we soon came to the conclusion of merging our ideas together, which was to make a refrigerator LED display that could measure the humidity and temperature of the interior of the fridge and maybe even adjust accordingly to prevent food spoilage. Having our solution set in stone, we agreed that moving forward, we would do our own individual research and meet back again the next day to report our findings.
Having no background in IOT or Arduino, scouring the internet for a set code that can work for our LED screen was a hassle. Who would have known that googling would take us hours with little to no result? Luckily, members from the other groups were also searching for the same code and were eager to help us. The prof was also searching for an answer together with us, making it seem like a treasure hunt to see who finds the code and runs it successfully first. However, before we could even run the sample code to check if our LED is working in the first place, our China counterparts were already 10 steps ahead of us! They had managed to display the readings on the LED and even downloaded an application that could store the data and report it in a graph.
Even after we requested the code from our China groupmates, given the different types of LED and wiring, it was not a simple copy and paste of their code onto our system. Our prof had to help us troubleshoot the code for an hour before it could run successfully.
Overall, this workshop was truly an eye-opening experience. Even though we were unable to successfully code our own prototype with no external help, I learned that it was equally rewarding to seek help from my peers and professors as I can so much to learn from them, especially from my Chinese groupmates that tanked the project! Ultimately, it was not a competition of who can create the best prototype within the shortest period of time. The connections made with those within our school and abroad have definitely widened my social circle, but ultimately, after this programme, I know that I can turn to and count on any of them whenever I run into any difficulties throughout my school life.
Foo Wen Xin
Class of 2025