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SWJTU Makerspace, China

An Arduino panda tracking collar and a Banana Piano were just two of the amazing projects I, Lucy Rogers, saw at the SWJTU Makerspace in the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of Southwest China. The SWJTU Makerspace is open to everyone - not just students. I met professors, teachers, students, children and also professionals from industry, including someone from Intel.  

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Many of the projects in this Makerspace were similar to those I had seen in the UK such as the LED cube, 3D printed items and the banana piano.

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When I was picked up, I saw a very large device that looked like a thick belt, complete with an electronics pack, in the car boot. I was told it was to track animals. I could not imagine what animal it would be used on. It was too large for the big cat tracking systems I had seen on TV, but didn’t think it would be an elephant bracelet. It should have been obvious, as I was in China, that it was for a panda.

The collar will be used to track pandas that are released from captivity into the “Environment Protected Area”.

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The collar is controlled using an arduino and the Chinese GPS system BeiDou. The silver block is the BeiDou transceiver. It is capable of receiving as well as sending location data, so the panda’s location will be known live, without the use of further ground stations.

I asked if the panda will be happy to wear the collar – apparently other Makers had also asked the same question. The answer was “we don’t know until we try”.

I was surprised, but pleased, that they felt comfortable to share their technical problems with me. The main ones were to solve the battery power, as pandas cannot be trained to plug themselves in, and making the electronics rugged enough for the environment. I was told “Pandas aren't as cute as they look – they are bears, with big claws and they run through the bamboo and trees - the collar must be able to withstand this.”

I discussed with one team member what BeiDou meant. He said it was the name of a star – to navigate by. I then drew a very rough image of the Plough and an arrow to Polaris, the North Star. He got rather excited and said "yes, that."– it was great to be able to communicate with astronomy – a reminder that we all live under the same sky. At least those of us in the Northern Hemisphere do.

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The Makerspace was very similar to others I have seen around the world. An electronics bench, 3D printers and a shelf full of resistors.

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Two of the Makers were making another 3D printer - powered by an Intel Galileo board,

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I shared with the group my work with the Raspberry PiNode-RED and dinosaurs. I was pleased to be asked about my other projects - such as the gravity cart vehicles - the dragonthe chariot and the duck. They have a lot of old bicycles and are thinking of holding a similar race.

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It was great to see the Raspberry Pi in use in their robot football team - and also the British Bare Conductive Electric paint on their shelf.


I also introduced the group to Sugruthe mouldable glue that turns into flexible rubber. They could not quite understand what it was, until I showed where I had used it on some electronics, in my boot and as a bumper on my phone! The team were excited by the product and think it has a potential use to waterproof the panda collar electronics.

The trip was amazing. I was made to feel very welcome and enjoyed sharing the "maker" spirit.

You can also read about my visit to the UESTC Makerspace in the same city. A special thanks to Liz Upton from Raspberry Pi Foundation and Catherine Sun from RS-Components) for making this happen.  

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I'm the Founder of the Guild of Makers (www.guildofmakers.org). and make bespoke items that solve problems. I'm a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and have a PhD in bubbles. I was a judge on BBC Robot Wars and "Inventor in Residence" on the "Josh Widdicombe will make your life better" show. I wrote the foreword to: “Robot: Meet the Machines of the Future” £14.99, published by DK (www.dk.com).

16 Dec 2014, 12:00