Canine robots preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow

After surgery, stuck in hospital, you’re bedridden and bored. You’re not expecting visitors for a few hours and there’s only so much daytime television you can watch. Now, imagine a robotic dog trots into your room. The computerised canine sits, dances and deftly manoeuvres into a handstand at your command, charming you until a friend drops by.

Welcome to High Tech Hospital. And to pull this concept out of science fiction into reality, students attending the Yarra Ranges Tech School are learning to code robots to lead rehabilitation and provide welcome entertainment to future patients. Officially opened in April, the Yarra Ranges Tech School, located at Box Hill Institute’s Lilydale Lakeside Campus, is one of 10 state-of-the-art Tech Schools to open in 2017 and 2018.

These Tech Schools are not technical schools of old; nor will they take enrolments. Rather, partner schools can send students to their local Tech School to participate in innovative, industry-led programs focused on science, technology, engineering and maths - all free.The programs, which last a day or two, give students a real-world problem - such as providing entertainment and rehabilitation for inpatients - to solve using creative strategies (known as design thinking) and the latest technology.

For students visiting the Yarra Ranges Tech School, this means virtual reality, 3-D printing - and robotics.

Before participating in a pilot High Tech Hospital program in December 2015, Lilydale Heights College student Faith Williams hadn’t considered a career in coding. But afterwards, she says, “I definitely thought I was capable and interested in programming”.

So while humanoid and canine robots might not be trotting around hospitals just yet, they’re preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow. The $128 million Tech Schools initiative is part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to creating the Education State, and provide the advanced education and training that Victorian school students will need to flourish in the rapidly changing global economy.

As featured in Leader Newspapers on 8 May, 2017.