Teen makes Tin Man talk

Teen makes Tin Man talk
BIG PICTURE: Kaitlyn Ng, 15, with the Tin Man cardboard robot that her team helped to programme.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Just as the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz had Dorothy, the Tin Man cardboard robot at Jurong Regional Library is also empowered by a girl.

Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) student Kaitlyn Ng, 15, fell in love with technology when she joined her school's Junior Inventor's Cluster at the start of the year.

And now, her robot takes pride of place in the first-ever heartland "lab" to help promote the wonders of technology.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has partnered National Library Board (NLB) to launch the third IDA Labs facility, at Jurong Regional Library yesterday.

It is the first in a heartland - the other two are in Bugis and Pasir Panjang - and Kaitlyn's talking robot was a key feature at the opening ceremony officiated by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

The collaboration is also the first dedicated space in a local public library that encourages hands-on experimentation and creation.

Open from Wednesdays to Sundays, from noon to 8.30pm, IDA Labs@NLB will house equipment such as 3D printers as well as curated technology kits for limited public use.

IDA and its partners will also host talks and workshops to familiarise students, families and young adults with the available technology.

Kaitlyn's initial involvement with the Tin Man began in August, when she joined Q Branch.

It is a club set up by IDA for students who are passionate about computing and programming but do not have the opportunity to pursue such interests in their schools.

Kaitlyn is part of a group of 20 members, aged between 13 and 15, who took on the 2.7m-tall Tin Man as their first project. They wanted it to interact with the public by narrating the story of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.

Kaitlyn said members of the public get to oil the Tin Man's limbs, insert his heart and "choose your own adventure".

Kaitlyn and her group started work on their project only late last month, after their exams.

Everything is programmed into a micro-controller, known as Raspberry Pi, and voice-overs are recorded for different parts of the story. The Tin Man's bow tie, adorned with LED lights, is powered by motors that make it spin.


Kaitlyn made an hour-long journey from her home in Jurong to the IDA Labs in Bugis, where the Tin Man was housed, about thrice a week to work on it for six hours each time.

She told The New Paper: "This is the biggest project I have ever worked on and I was excited throughout.

"Although we faced difficulties, I never thought of giving up because I wanted to get it done well. I hope everyone likes it.

"I was in charge of the third chapter. Creating the story was a challenge because none of us were familiar with working on such a complex story. Making it interesting and engaging was also a challenge."

IDA Labs director Lee Wan Sie said: "Kaitlyn and her team spent many hours and failed many times. But fuelled by their passion, they managed to successfully rig up the technologies to bring the Tin Man 'to life' for the opening.

"This spirit of creativity, inquiry and experimentation embodied by them is what we hope to instil in our youth with the IDA Labs initiative."

Kaitlyn dreams of joining Engineers Without Borders to help improve the quality of life of those in less developed countries through humanitarian engineering.

The IP student, who is working on a hexacopter drone, also attended a week-long Young Defence Scientist Programme run by local tech education firm Tinkertanker.

The camp, which included Victoria School and West Spring Secondary School students, taught participants basic programming.

They were given small projects to build, and the camp culminated in a puzzle-box construction based on what they had learnt.

Kaitlyn said: "From that workshop, I got interested in programming because it seemed very powerful to be able to type a few lines of code and have it do something like light up or create a game.

"Technology is something powerful and I think that the study of it is a worthwhile pursuit."

This article was first published on November 21, 2015.
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