Saiestha Govender (pictured above) from Danville Park Girls High School in Durban, South Africa won the grand prize at the Intro to Mechatronics (i2M) grand finale that was held on 6 October 2017 at the GE Africa Innovation Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Saiestha was one of 600 school children from 30 schools all over the country who participated in the i2M programme.

She was the ultimate winner of the grand finale and won a MakerBot® Replicator® Mini Compact 3D Printer as well as a MakerBot® Replicator® 2 3D Printer for her school.

The programme is a GE Africa initiative that started in August and involved the learners building their own Mars Rovers that could successfully navigate an obstacle course. GE Africa and its partners, Digicate, Ryonic Robotics and Makerbot provided support for the learners throughout the programme.

The learners were provided with a basic robotics kit that included a 3D-printed chassis, wheels, a controller, computer board and batteries. All the learners were also provided with online coding training as well as other elements required to work on the movement and building of their Mars Rovers. Once learners had built their Mars Rovers, they then had to upload videos of their fully functional robots. From these videos, 30 of the best robots were chosen based on creativity, movability and unique interpretation, and implementation of recyclable materials.

The top 30 participated in the grand finale event,  where the rovers were judged on overall creativity, innovation and movability.

All the students were excited and most of them, especially the young women, indicated that the programme had opened up new career possibilities for them in STEM-related fields.

17-year-old Jessica Mhlanga from Waverly Girls High School in Johannesburg said: “I have learnt so much from this programme. You would think that it would be simple to build a Mars Rover, but it’s definitely not. It has been an exciting challenge that has made me more aware of the importance of using recycled materials and the career options that are available to me.” Jessica said that she would like to pursue engineering as a career, something she did not think about before.

The i2M programme is a response to the need to ramp  up skills development and interest in STEM-related fields especially for young women in Africa. Dimitri Quadflieg, founder and CEO of Digicate, said that 80% of the participants were young women. The programme also aims to expose students to mechatronic engineering and robotics, create enthusiasm in engineering as a profession, develop fundamental skills and fortify a local technology market.

The keynote speaker at the event, Thomas Konditi, CEO of GE South Africa said:  “GE is committed to skills development in Africa and the Intro to Mechatronics programme is one of the many ways in which we are empowering South African youth with valuable skills. We are especially pleased to have worked with local partners to execute such an impactful project that encourages high school students to take an early interest in STEM careers. This will ultimately drive long-term growth  in the country.”

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