The team called ‘The Transformers’ from Dubai College build their robot at the World Robotics Olympiad held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Students had two hours to create a robot from scratch. Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A group of nine-year-old students were given two hours to create a robot from scratch as part of a competition to show-off the talent of students across the Arab world.

The team of four nine-year-old boys, Emirati student Mohammad Jaber, Mourad Hassan from Jordan, Abdullah Tarek from Egypt and Omar Al Sayed from Egypt, all from the Al Salah Primary School in Al Ain had to assemble their Lego pieces to come up with a robot called the "Maze Solver".

This was part of the first Arabia "World Robot Olympiad 2011" (WRO), which kicked off last Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.

"Don't let the Lego pieces fool you; this robot requires a lot of technical work, which the young team is carefully assembling. The name of the game is to come up with an ultra sonic robot with sensors, which can find openings to a maze through a forward, reverse movement. The robot must figure its way out-of the maze in approximately two minutes. There are three ping-pong balls that the robot is required to pick up on the way," said their teacher, Mohammad Jaber.

He added: "I'm nervous because my team of boys are young, yet very eager to win the competition. As per WRO regulations, teachers are not allowed to assist them, they're completely on their own," said the concerned coach, who kept looking at his watch worried that time would run out. "They only have 25 minutes left to finish their robot, and from what I can see from this distance, the boys are managing very well."

Mike Smith, a teacher advisor for four different public schools in Abu Dhabi, was judging the 25 "Maze Solver" robotic teams who arrived from the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria.

Even though he was not allowed to comment on the performance of each team, the senior advisor told Gulf News that he was impressed with "how well the students were cooperating with one another."

Smith added: "Not only are they involved in creating a robot from scratch without the assistance of an adult, but at such a young age, they're able to problem solve and work as a team under pressure, which I'm very impressed with. The whole idea is to get through the maze in two minutes, which is worth 70 points, and having the robot pick up the ping-pong-balls on its way — worth 30 points," he told Gulf News.

‘Green City'

Ahmad Baker, a 17-year -old Palestinian in Grade 11, and his class and team-mates Abdullah Nasser and Mohammad Mazen, all from Zayed The First School in Al Ain, were participating in the "Green City" competition, a project that involved four to six hours of daily hard work for a month prior to the WRO.

"We can use this robot to collect power supply through solar light, which can help save energy. I've worked on a previous project where my colleagues and I developed a robot that collects garbage disposals from the streets. Developing a robot from scratch with the idea of creating an environmentally friendly end-product is a fun thing to do, and a hobby of mine that I've developed through time, and these days' school teachers encourage students to develop their skills, which have helped our team a lot," said Baker.

Team judge, Bittu Scaria, who works as a customer support engineer in a private company, and was in charge of judging 60 different "Green City" teams, explained that each of the teams had six different tasks to accomplish. They are: activating a wind turbine, while designing a green house, a trash container, a dam, and a smoke detector.

Even though the Indian judge is used to the robotic initiative in his own home-town, he was impressed to see this part of the world anxious to compete and show-off their modern tactics.

"This competition portrays the brilliant young Arab minds out there, all eager to take part in an invention. Not everyone will be fit to make a career out of technology and robotics, but I can see that at least ten out of 100 students will help make a difference in the future. It's great to see youths across the Arab world that are this eager to learn and excel," said Scaria.

Fatima Botan, an 18-year-old Somali student at Qatr Al Nada Secondary School in Abu Dhabi was up until 1am trying to fix her robot before the competition.

Despite being pressed for time, Botan spoke to Gulf News as she was eagerly assembling her Green City robot. "I'm nervous, and I'm on very little sleep. Our robot's battery died out, but we have a spare battery which will hopefully be ready by deadline.

"My team and I have worked [hard] for the past month to win this competition, and despite wanting to become a lawyer in the future, today's experience encourages me to learn more about what robots can do. It's a hobby that I've developed in school, and one I don't want to give up on," said Botan.


Students in Grade 11 at the Al Falah School in the Western Region, Ahmad Hassan, 17, an Egyptian and his team mates Monzer Gharaibeh, 16, a Jordanian and Basel Ashraf, 16, also Egyptian were announced winners at the WRO football competition, which involved two separate robots, a goalkeeper and a player. It took the team three hours to design both robots over the two-day period.

"We won because we designed our robot sensors in a way whereby the football can be kicked in the right direction, and that's towards the goal.

"Our goal-keeper robot was the right weight, we made sure it wasn't too heavy, as not to knock off our opponents forcefully, which could lead to being disqualified."

"...Apart from winning the robotic football competition, each of them are A students," said their proud IT teacher, Ahmad Al Delemi.