Kids + Programming = Autonomous Cars; AutoAuto

It is estimated that as of today there are about 18.2 million software developers worldwide, and that number is expected to increase by about 45% by the end of 2019. To meet this growing demand in the programming and software world, it will become increasingly important to give young students the opportunity to try it for themselves. AutoAuto is part of the initiative to teach kids how to program, specifically, they program their own miniature self-driving car. By providing a fun goal, students have the opportunity to learn Python programming as well as A.I. and Machine Learning concepts in a gradual and tangible way.

A white AutoAuto self-driving car sitting on a table

Ryan Henning is a member of the Quansight team and a founder of this unique company and program. Of their group, he said, “All of the founders had a love for computers, programming, data science, and technology in general. We felt there weren’t enough engaging products on the market that taught rigorous, real-world skill sets and inspired young kids to further pursue STEM fields.” (STEM refers to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.) From the ground up they have worked hard to invent something that would both educate and engage. When doing research, they found that many of the current options either lacked depth or were just plain boring. The miniature self-driving cars were a natural fit because not only are they entertaining, but programming them to drive by themselves is directly relevant to real-world problems that automakers are facing today and tomorrow. By allowing students to accomplish a task with tangible applications, it can help them feel empowered and builds their self-esteem.

Currently, the program caters to the eight to fourteen-year-old group. The team from AutoAuto makes appearances at after-school programs and summer camps and uses a learning workshop model. With the deep availability of powerful open source tools, the AutoAuto program utilizes only free data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence software which means that the learning does not have to end when the workshop is over. Students are able to go online and download all the same software that is used in the workshops and there is no cost to them. Eventually, this program may provide valuable learning opportunities not only to children but to adults as well.

Two children sitting on the ground programming a car near two green cones

By expanding this program, AutoAuto wants to change the way that people perceive software developers. In their own words, “we strive to make it ‘cool’ to be a programmer, ‘cool’ to know a lot about computers and about technology.” While the stigma which often surrounded technology experts in the past has largely subsided, the world still has a long way to go to eliminate biases that remain in who can be a software developer. Going forward, the world will need more and more people from all backgrounds and genders to learn the language of computers.

Aside from diversity and culture, many students may have the idea that they simply aren’t smart enough to go into programming. Creating positive first experiences in technology is at the core of what they are doing at AutoAuto. When young students enjoy programming their own self-driving car on the first day, it can help begin the process of breaking down the mental barriers to success. Kids come from many different socioeconomic backgrounds, and might not have examples in their lives of people who have worked in this relatively new field. Once they have a chance to do it for themselves, they realize that it is possible because they are smart enough. Helping kids find their potential and realize their capabilities is what this program is all about. Ryan puts it this way, “Every time we hold a workshop, I see kids high-fiving and they get so excited because they wrote a computer program.”