[Interview] Samsung CSR Awards Winner, Rohit Ail Inspires the Next Generation of Coders

on December 11, 2015
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Rohit Ail (left) explaining the remote-selfie feature at BBC launching event in July 2015.

 

In November, the Samsung CSR Awards announced Rohit Ail, Principal Engineer of Samsung Electronics R&D Institute in the UK, as a winner for his leadership and development of micro:bit. Volunteering his talent, Ail has been vital in providing expertise for micro:bit in efforts to promote the future of coding.

 

In close collaboration with the BBC, which reaches 98 percent of the UK population, micro:bit is a pocket-size, code-able computer that has been developed and is being distributed to one million children in the UK, free of charge. The vision is to inspire digital creativity and develop a new generation of tech pioneers. Each element of micro:bit is completely programmable via easy-to-use software on a dedicated website (microbit.co.uk) that can be accessed via PC, tablet or mobile.

 

Created in direct response to the growing digital divide and emerging ICT skills gap in the UK, micro:bit would not have been possible without Ail’s enthusiasm, passion and technological expertise. Ail recruited a team of seven engineers to volunteer, who have contributed over 1,000 hours of time. His team developed functions to enable a user to control their smartphones and tablets via coding on micro:bit and vice versa. Coding on micro:bit can launch mobile device cameras remotely, or act as a remote control to play music on devices.

 

“It only took an email explaining the whole project and our role in it to spark the enthusiasm and commitment of these seven engineers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anton Obzhirov, Tommaso Maestri, Mythri Venugopal, Frederic Ma, Kupesan Kulendiran, Nigel Cardozo and Balbir Sanghera for their contributions and support in this project. We also had wonderful support from my colleagues, Kit Lam, Soohyun Park and Minje Sung at every stage of this project,” said Ail of the team behind micro:bit. The application was built and shaped by the seven team members from scratch, entirely on their own.

 

The functions of micro:bit will help children understand the concept of IoT and develop their own projects in the future. Ail and the volunteer team also helped in developing teaching resources for use at schools and at home with parents. The project has been championed by UK government ministers leading the digital economy agenda and endorsed by key educational organizations and celebrity ambassadors.

 

Bridging the Digital Divide in the UK

 

Why is micro:bit so important? The UK is estimated to require an additional 745,000 digitally skilled workers by 2017, and one million tech workers by 2020. However, a large percentage of the population isn’t online and many students don’t have access to internet. The digital divide and the skills gap is a serious social issue in the UK.

 

Ail said, “We have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of computer programmers. Wearables, the Internet of Things and ubiquitous computing demand faster, smaller and better connected computers. The BBC micro:bit is just that answer. What also makes it so important is that it will be rolled out to all schools in the UK, and this is a fantastic opportunity to shape the future.”

 

When asked why he believes it is important for young people to learn coding, Ail responded by saying, “Look around. What do you see? I see a world of electronics; a digital age. We are surrounded by gadgets, computers and electronic services. The skill to harness the true capability of this digital world that we live in is a must. Learning to code will give our young generation a key tool to live in the future world. From what I believe, computing and coding is inevitable for our future generations. Being prepared will only help them.”

 

Connecting the World through Mobile

 

“Samsung has always been an expert in connecting the world through the power of mobile. We have done exactly the same with micro:bit. With the coding application, we have empowered kids to program on-the-go. They need not be in the classroom anymore for coding. They can take the experience with them anywhere they go.

 

“Further, we have also given micro:bit its first companion in the real world. Our application is able to communicate with micro:bit and allow it to control a few functions of the phone remotely.

 

“When we asked kids how they will use their micro:bit, we got some very interesting answers. All of them were designed around their simple needs and activities, like, ‘feed my pet, attach it to my shoes and count whenever I kick a football, take a photograph when we jump,’ etc. We couldn’t help but conclude that this is THE IoT device for kids.”

 

Ail recalled his own experiences with coding while growing up. “As a kid, I was always interested in knowing the internals of any toys. I used to open up all my toys and try to refit them later. I used to play with LEDs and AA batteries, making all sort of small gadgets of my own.

 

“I had my first computer when I was in eighth grade. Actually, it was for my elder sister but I was far too fascinated by the digital world and soon I was doing programs and installs that she was learning. Ever since, I have been learning and coding.”

 

Better Tomorrow

 

Ail has always wanted to support his community, using his skills and experience to do so. “I have in the past, applied for voluntary work in our local councils but never got the chance to execute it fully, due to time limitations and family commitments. With the BBC micro:bit, I have found the opportunity to give back to society. The micro:bit is all about inspiring the young generation to code, something which I had never thought of giving back to society on my own, although this is my core expertise. I believe this project has actually given me an opportunity to give back using my strongest skill, in a beautiful way. I can never be thankful enough.

 

“I think each one of us has a responsibility to the society that we live in. In our busy lives, we often tend to shift that responsibility towards government or other institutes. I am not asking everyone to go for compulsory volunteer work, but please keep an eye for opportunity. When it knocks on your door, give it your best.”

Corporate > Citizenship

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