x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Adnec is taken over by robots

A robotics competition drew teens who designed machines that can help people live their daily lives.

Ahmad Al Hashem shook his head in frustration as his team's robot refused to move in the right direction.

"The starting position wasn't right and that affected everything else," the 16-year-old pupil said. "It wasn't a programming error, but our mistake. A human error because we were nervous."

As the team's robot started heading in the right path to complete the assigned task, the robot would suddenly go off course. Ahmad's teammate, Azzam Al Ali, 15, shared the team's frustration.

"We went from scoring the highest on the first mission, to scoring the lowest," Azzam said.

The students were among 1,500 participants in the eighth World Robot Olympiad that began at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) yesterday.

Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court, inaugurated yesterday's event. And with more than 34 international teams on the scene, the competition was fierce.

The theme of this year's competition was "Robots for life improvement". The tournament was split into four categories: football, green city, regular and open.

As part of the green city category, Ahmad's team, all pupils from Al Ittihad Private School, had to successfully perform seven missions to demonstrate eco-friendly tasks. These included building solar power panels, closing a dam, and creating a windmill.

After winning the highest score in the first set of missions, Ahmad and his teammates were determined to succeed. They refused to let three months of hard work and perfecting their robots go to waste.

"We will practise all night if we have to," said Mohammed Abu Al Rub, 16. "We'll do what it takes to prepare for the final round tomorrow."

The young boys were not alone. On the opposite end of hall, in the "open" category, were Aswin Balasubramaniam, Karun Mathew and Athul Krishnan, from Our Own Indian High School.

Inspired by the recent nuclear disaster in Japan that were triggered by an earthquake in the country earlier this year, the team decided to develop a robot that could measure samples for nuclear exposure.

"The robot can measure the amount of nuclear activity in those samples and report it back," Aswin said. "It can be used to monitor the level of nuclear activity in an area to prevent future disasters from happening."

In addition to being able to measure random earth samples for levels of nuclear exposure, the robot can also float on water and adjust its temperature according to the environment. "There is a coolant installed on the robot which automatically switches on or off if the temperature falls or rises," Karun said.

Another robot the team developed was one that ran on solar energy to perform agricultural tasks, including seeding, plumbing and harvesting. "While the UAE's infrastructure is excellent, we noticed that it's suffering in terms of agriculture, mainly because workers fall sick when they have to work in the heat," Karun said. "That is why we thought of creating a robot that can adjust to the environment and is not affected by the heat."

Anthony Hill, a lecturer at the Emirates College for Advanced Education, said that in addition to teaching students the value of teamwork, the competition also enhances essential skills.

Mr Hill was a judge for the "regular" category, in which each team's robot had to perform basic, yet challenging, tasks, such as going up a series of stairs, or carrying items from one point to another while retaining balance of the carried objects.

"Students learn how to operate together, working on each other's individual's strengths," he said. "It also helps them develop innovative ways of problem solving with fixed resources, and doing so with speed and accuracy. We're happy to see these students break boundaries."

And students were doing just that.

When Sooud Mohammed and Saeed Ghanam, both 18, went to purchase an automated wheelchair for their cousin, they were shocked by the Dh12,000 price tag. So the duo from the Secondary Technical School in Al Shahama decided to take matters into their own hands.

"We bought a manual wheelchair for Dh600 and decided to turn it into an automated one," Sooud said.

After purchasing a 1.5 volt motor, wiring and several Lego parts, Sooud and Saeed successfully converted what was once a manual wheelchair into a fully automated device.

"It only cost us Dh1,000," Sooud said. "So that's a drop from Dh12,000 to Dh1,600. Imagine the savings that would mean to those who need it the most.

"We use technology every day to make our lives easier, so why not use it to improve the lives of those with special needs?"

Winners of the competition will be announced today.