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To Save The World, Superheroes Should Spend Less Time Fighting Crime And More Time Coding

Imagine the perfect superhero. 

Superhuman strength, the ability to fly, laser vision — it’s traits like these that make a superhero super, right? 

While fictional superheroes can use their otherworldly abilities, impressive gadgets, and tingling senses to save their universe, being able to save the real world takes more than being bit by a radioactive spider or calling Krypton home.

It takes coding. 

When you consider world-altering feats throughout recent history, coding has been the superpower used to change our society for the better. 

From the code-breaking machine that helped end World War II to complex programs that allow airplanes to fly, modern-day life wouldn’t be possible without the extraordinary programmers behind the scenes. 

That’s why our wonderful contributors at Sphero are here to shine a beacon in the sky for all the coding superheroes that have helped shape the world we know today. 

In this blog post, we’ll showcase some pivotal historical and contemporary events that you may not know were brought about by programming, as well as explain how conveniences of our daily lives are made possible by code.

Real-World Coding Examples: 4 Historical & Contemporary Events Driven By Code

When you look back on events that changed the course of human history, coding was the reason many of them were possible. Be it landing on the moon or detecting lead in drinking water, here are some of the most moving stories of how coding has changed our world:

1. Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Margaret Hamilton, a computer scientist at NASA in the late 1960s, led a team that developed the flight software that is credited with preventing the infamous Apollo 11 moon landing from being aborted. Her computing software was designed to pivot when an unknown problem occurred, which means it could interrupt an ongoing task to take on a more important one on the fly. This historical breakthrough was a monumental achievement at the time, as computer technology was still in its early stages.

2. The Enigma Machine

A brilliant mathematician, Alan Turing was tasked with deciphering military codes used by Germany and its allies during World War II. Focused on cracking the “Enigma” code (the code used by German armed forces to send secret messages), Turing and his fellow computer scientists invented the machine known as the Bombe. This machine significantly reduced the amount of manual work needed to decipher messages. With this tool — along with several complex code-breaking techniques he invented — Turing played a pivotal role in ending World War II early.

3. Perseverance Rover Mars Landing

Mark Ochs, a STEM Lab Facilitator in Nevada, points to NASA’s Perseverance as a contemporary example of coding.

Just this year, Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet. The world watched in awe as the rover touched down on the most challenging terrain ever targeted by a Mars mission, but flight engineers at NASA were on the edges of their seats during this “7 minutes of terror.” Each stage of the landing process — including deploying the parachute, choosing a landing site, and deploying the rover from the sky crane —  is made possible by code written by highly trained software engineers and computer programmers.

4. Gitanjali Rao’s Tethys

Chance Weir, Technology & CTE Teacher in Arizona, tells us about a very exciting modern-day example of code, too.

At just 11 years old, Gitanjali Rao was named as America’s Top Young Scientist for inventing Tethys, a device that detects harmful lead in drinking water, created in direct response to the Flint water crisis. Tethys is a 3D-printed box about the size of a deck of cards that contains a battery, Bluetooth technology, and carbon nanotubes programmed to respond to changes in electron flow when lead is present in the water. For this feat, Rao was also TIME’s first-ever Kid of the Year and featured in Forbes 30 Under 30. 

Everyday Coding Feats

Coding has played a direct role in major events throughout history, but it is also a part of our everyday lives. “There isn’t an element of daily life that isn’t affected by code,” explains Chris Schmitz, a computer technology teacher in Colorado. 

Because coding is essentially teaching a machine what to do and how to do it, there aren’t many things we interact with daily that aren’t controlled by computer programming

To help readers see how much coding is present in our daily lives, Chris, Chance, and Mark identify some of the most common objects controlled by coding below:

Traffic Lights

Many traffic lights are programmed to recognize and adapt to changes in traffic flow, which helps cars and pedestrians at crosswalks move efficiently. Known as traffic-actuated signals, these traffic lights contain a detector, a controller unit, and signal heads (the traffic lights themselves) that are programmed to calculate how many cars or pedestrians are present and time each traffic cycle accordingly. 

Coffee Machines

When you set your coffee maker to start at a certain time in the morning, you are programming an action to trigger. Most of these simple machines utilize microcontrollers and embedded systems to execute simple tasks — such as setting a timer — based on low-level coding language pre-programmed into the machine's memory.

Smart Lights

Smart lighting systems feature Bluetooth technology or a network-connected hub that allows you to control your lights via a mobile application. The computer programming used during these processes gives you the freedom to customize the lighting in your home remotely. Some lighting systems will even automatically adjust the brightness to the time of day.

Facial Recognition Doorbells

Facial recognition doorbells can detect and even recognize faces, determining which faces belong to who through machine learning. These smart doorbells use computer programming and advanced algorithms to pinpoint details about a person's face. This information is then converted into a mathematical figure and compared to data collected in a database.

Self-Driving Cars

Using a combination of lidars (light detection and ranging sensors), cameras, machine learning, maps, and radars, self-driving cars can move down the road and even parallel park on their own successfully. Machine learning plays a key role in helping computers in self-driving cars recognize things like lane lines, pedestrians, and more. 

Smart Ovens

Smart ovens allow homeowners to do things like preheating, set a timer, receive notifications, or turn off their oven while away from home. This process utilizes computer programming and Wi-Fi connectivity to trigger the oven to start or stop via mobile apps from anywhere in the world. 

Discover Real-World Superpowers with Coding 

When it comes to being a real-life superhero, coding could be your undiscovered superpower. From programming the machines we use in our everyday lives to writing code that changes the world for the better, coding is an instrumental process that helps innovate and advance our lives.

At Sphero, we make it easy to explore your coding superpowers with our programmable robots and coding kits. Using our play-based tools, you can teach and learn the fundamentals of coding, no matter your age. 

It’s our mission to inspire the creators of tomorrow to pave the way for future changemakers. There are so many ways we can all make a difference to change the world, whether through these groundbreaking coding-based technologies or by motivating kids today to find small, simple solutions to help their communities now and in years to come.
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