Always on the cutting edge, the wealthy city of Dubai wants to further bolster its image. So last week, the metropolis in the United Arab Emirates hosted the largest-ever international robotics contest. The FIRST Global Challenge brought together talented young people from 190 countries—all trying to build a better robot.
The unofficial “Robotics Olympics” seeks to encourage young people to pursue subjects classified as STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Contest officials tasked teams of four or five students, ages 14-18, with seeking solutions to global ocean pollution.
Teams received kits of rods, wheels, wires, and other materials. From these, they had to assemble roving robots. The robots’ mission was to collect orange balls of various sizes from a playing field. The balls supposedly represented human-created pollutants in the ocean. Some contestants devised robots for scooping. Other robots snatched up and fired the balls through the air into receptacles.
The three-day tournament offered a festival-like atmosphere. Announcers analyzed the action in sports-broadcast style. Fans waved flags and banners supporting their teams. Overall, 1,500 students took part.
Robotics is a natural fit for Dubai. The city is already testing driverless cars and taxis. It’s also home to many international high-tech businesses. Next October, Dubai will host the Expo 2020, welcoming tech breakthroughs from around the world.
Dean Kamen (inventor of the self-balancing Segway PT) founded the FIRST Global Challenge. He says the Middle East represents a part of the world where “adults have not learned how to play nice with each other.” He views the robotics contest differently. “The thought is we get every kid in every country to focus on learning how to use technology, but focus on using it as a tool and not a weapon,” he says.
A team captained by Belarus that included Syrian refugees eventually won the gold medal. That group edged out a team captained by Israel in a dramatic final match.
But organizers stressed a message of unity instead of conflict. Kamen says, “The kids get it. To them this isn’t a competition; this is a ‘co-op-etition.’ This is a celebration of technology.”
Yamen Najjar manages Team Hope, which represents the Syrian refugees. He was part of the winning alliance. “It was a very difficult competition for us. We faced a lot of problems,” he says. “But we didn’t lose hope.”
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. — Philippians 2:3
(A team from Cameroon, right, competes with Luxembourg during the First Global Challenge, a robotics and artificial intelligence competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)