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Participants from around the world take part in the FIRST Global Challenge, a robotics and AI competition hosted by Dubai Future Foundation under the theme ‘Ocean Opportunities’ on Friday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The Dubai Festival Arena erupted in cheers on Friday as enthusiastic students from 191 countries battled it out in the FIRST Global Challenge to recover “trash from the seas” using robots.

This year’s Challenge, an annual international robotics and artificial intelligence competition being held for the first time in Dubai, puts the spotlight on the more than eight million tons of plastics and other pollutants that make their way into the oceans due to human activity every year, killing marine life an affecting global populations.

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Involving the youth to take action to preserve our oceans and wildlife will enable them to learn about real-world challenges and eventually be inspired to become the change makers of their generation.

Team South Sudan exchanged high-fives as soon as they won their match with team Bahamas.

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Team South Sudan with their robot Ramceil Botics, which did well despite losing one of its chains during the contest. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Team work

James Madut, one of the team members, said the most important lesson he learned was team work. “As a youth, our main point is to unite and make a change and work with the community to clean the oceans. We can do it together,” Madut told Gulf News.

Adau Deng Kuol, also from South Sudan, said the competition “gave a voice to people who can do something about the problem”.

Their robot Ramceil Botics did well during the match although one of its chains fell in the process.

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From left: Team Canada’s Trace Black, Gregor Mcivor, Tara-Shay Black and Tristan Morris from Canada pose with their I’myanistsitapikoan robot, which means ‘Many People in One’ in the Blackfoot language. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Team Venezuela’s KaiBot, which is “sun” in the Wayuu language, was a powerful workhorse. It recovered 10 micropollutants and managed to deposit it onto the topmost or reuse level of the processing barge, earning them 60 points.

“Our shooter is so unique. It works really well,” Kimberly Ferrer, 17, said.

“We were so nervous because we weren’t able to practise in the morning because the control hub malfunctioned. There was a pin that got loose and so the robot was just dancing,” Maria Victoria Boscan, 17, one of the drivers, said.

Design process

Team Slovakia also managed to collect and deposit micropollutants despite encountering problems with Alexander their robot.

“The hanging mechanism arms got stuck. We’ll figure out what went wrong, repair it and learn from it,” Adam Kuchera, 18, said.

David Kolembus, 16, said they designed Alexander as a team and the design process was the most challenging part. “But we managed. When you have good cooperation in your team, you can achieve anything.”

The Alliance of Korea, the Philippines, and the UAE also won one of their matches for the day with 105 points.

Abdullah from the UAE said: “Our robots could collect small and big pollutants. We talked to the Korean team and the Philippine team to score at the first and second level, and we scored at the third level.”

Team Canada’s I’myanistsitapikoan robot, which means ‘Many People in One’ in the Blackfoot language, had a disconnected cable during the match unknown to its drivers.

Tristan Morris, 16, who was wrapped in the Canadian flag during the match, said: “We found out the cable was disconnected after the match. But it was good. You do what you can with what you have.”

Tara-Shay Black, 15, added: “It was challenging. But you just keep rolling and you learn from your mistakes.”

The matches will continue on Saturday and the finalists will compete at the closing ceremony on Sunday.

How to challenge works

Three country teams known as clean-up crews will form an alliance and work together to use their robots to recover all macro and micropollutants in the ocean for a given time. Points are given for each pollutant captured and deposited either in the reduction processing hub on the sides or on the processing barge at the centre of the “ocean”. The higher the pollutants go, the higher the score they get.