October 3 was a very exciting day for Oracle Academy. From the Oracle OpenWorld main stage, in front of an audience of 8,000 people, Thomas Kurian, Oracle’s president of product development, announced that Oracle Academy will join forces with the Bloodhound Education Foundation.
Richard Noble, director of the Bloodhound Project, whose ambitious goal is to break the world land-speed record (763 miles per hour) on its way to exceeding the 1,000-mph mark, underlined the importance of the relationship to Oracle, to Bloodhound, and to students and teachers worldwide. “This collaboration is going to be really, really huge,” he said.
We couldn’t agree more.
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One of the main challenges in teaching computing is in making the subject matter tangible for students. As with its cousin STEM disciplines, math, and physics, computing makes use of algorithms, equations, and functions to describe, explore, and manipulate the world around us. The challenge in teaching those subjects to middle and high school students is that it’s very hard to connect what is on the paper or in the code to something they can see or touch.
It’s one of the reasons so many students give up on studying STEM subjects.
Almost since its inception 10 years ago, the Bloodhound Project has aimed to change that dynamic for students of math, engineering, and physics. With the new Oracle Academy relationship, together we now aim to change it for students of computer science, too.
Born of the Space Race
There is a compelling story behind the Bloodhound Project that I didn’t know about before beginning this collaboration. Inspired by the Space Race in the 1950s and ‘60s, a small group of people set themselves a challenge to build a car that could be driven faster than the speed of sound.
Noble, a Scotsman, was one of those people. Working with a team of engineers and other experts, he succeeded, first driving the Thrust2 car to a 633-mph world record and then leading the Thrust SSC team (SSC stands for “supersonic car”) to be the first to break the sound barrier on land in 1997 at a still-record speed of 763 mph.
The Bloodhound Project was initiated not only to surpass that land-speed record, but to put it entirely out of reach by driving its SSC faster than 1,000 mph—faster than any car or, for that matter, low-altitude aircraft has ever gone.
The team must consider all kinds of variables: On what kind of surface does the car need to travel to optimize speed? How do you engineer solid wheels since the centrifugal forces at these speeds make the use of regular tires impossible? How do you manage fuel flow to maximize thrust? Which kind of fuel do you use? How do you design the car for maximum aerodynamic efficiency? How do you keep the car from catching on fire and, most important, how do you keep the driver safe?
The dream of designing and building a car to go faster than 1,000 mph will likely become a reality thanks to expert engineering, a mastery of the principles of physics, the driver’s and team’s raw courage, and (through the work with Oracle) leading-edge computing and data analytics technologies.
But the Bloodhound Project isn’t only about going fast. From the outset, it has aimed to accomplish what John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon did for children in the 1960s: Inspire them to study math and engineering and become the inventors and innovators that lead society into the future.
At the urging of the UK Minister of Defense in the late 1990s, Noble led the vision to bring the project’s ongoing development challenges to students across the UK. Project organizers estimate that in 2016 more than 129,000 students in the UK had face-to-face access to a variety of instruction materials related to the project’s data feeds.
As part of its collaboration with Oracle, Bloodhound will stream data during its test runs from the more than 550 sensors and cameras on its car to Oracle Cloud. It plans to deliver that data to students and other enthusiasts in 230 countries.
Machine learning algorithms will support data modeling in helping the team predict what will happen to the car and driver as the vehicle nears and then breaks the sound barrier. “Once we go faster than 800 mph, we are truly entering the unknown,” says Mark Chapman, the project’s technical director. “We may discover challenges and barriers we haven’t even thought of.”
The augmented reality simulation of the car traveling at 1,000 mph—developed by Bloodhound students and interns, using Oracle Java Cloud and real car data, and shown at Oracle OpenWorld on October 3—is mind-blowing. It’s so good that it’s simultaneously like being in the driver’s compartment, inside the car engines (there will be three of them), and watching a movie of the car in motion.
It takes everything that is abstract and makes it very exciting and very real.
Oracle Academy Vision
The goal of Bloodhound and Oracle Academy joining forces is to make the project’s data available to students for learning, both in the form of structured, controlled coursework and eventually in the form of raw data.
Oracle Academy’s role will be to help as many as 3.5 million of our students and their teachers worldwide understand and explore how computing technologies enable such a project. The first two projects leverage Alice and Greenfoot, educational Java development environments, to encourage students to explore and design a base camp for test runs, as well as to modify car design and driving variables to make their simulated cars exceed 1,000 mph. Additional projects are currently being considered.
The collaboration between Oracle Academy and the Bloodhound Education Foundation has the power to bring all the difficulties and excitement of a real-world, unsolved problem to classrooms and students worldwide. It will give students and teachers the opportunity to ask their own design questions, consider their own variables, and eventually test their own theories and designs using real-world data.
We’re delighted to become part of this 21st-century engineering challenge.