x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pupils given a fun lesson in engineering at Khalifa University’s Stem summer camp

For the past week, youngsters have been taking part in Khalifa University’s first Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) summer camp at which they were challenged to build a high-tech machine.

Sana Al Marzooqi, 14, left, and Eman Ahossani, 18, were teammates during the robots competition at the Stem summer camp hosted by Khalifa University. Delores Johnson / The National
Sana Al Marzooqi, 14, left, and Eman Ahossani, 18, were teammates during the robots competition at the Stem summer camp hosted by Khalifa University. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // They may be not much bigger than a tissue box, but there was more than meets the eye to robots created by pupils on a summer course.

For the past week, the youngsters have been taking part in Khalifa University’s first Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) summer camp at which they were challenged to build the high-tech machines.

In six teams of five, they had to build two different robots.

The first had to be designed to push a rival out of a ring in a sumo-style contest.

The second robot had to be capable of navigating its way through an obstacle course of ramps and barriers without human assistance.

The robots had sensors attached to their front and back that could detect colours and patterns, which then triggered certain actions programmed into the robot. So, just as important as the design of the robot was its computer coding.

The pupils needed to make decisions on distance, angle, rotation and speed to determine the response to whatever the robot encountered. Unfortunately, none of the six robots made it through the obstacle course without a bit of human interaction.

But Sana Al Marzooqi, 14, said this was to be expected as they had only one week of training.

“In the past week we learnt all the basics of robotics, then we got into programming to tell the robot how to do basic things,” Sana said.

Five of the six teams were made up of girls, including the winners.

Sana, from Glenelg School Abu Dhabi, said she looked at the summer camp as an exciting opportunity to learn about computer programming as she intended to study the subject at university.

She said the course allowed all youngsters with a variety of skills to contribute.

“I like working in a team because some people are better at building the actual robot and problem solving, whereas others were better at programming,” said Sana.

“Now you hear about robots helping doctors and I think that they will be used a lot more of the future.”

Hamad Khaled, a Year 11 pupil from Horizon Private School Branch, was delighted to win the sumo competition and finish second overall.

“It was amazing, I learnt a lot for programming and other stuff. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me and it’s given me a lot of direction for the next few years,” Hamad said.

He said that the robots from all the groups were very essentially similar but he believes his amendment to the mechanics gave his team’s machine the winning edge.

“They are mostly the same but we made it simple. All we did is change the direction so that it would move backwards, generating more power and allowing it to move faster without interfering with the sensor,” Hamad said.

Although pupils were given the pieces to assemble, the teams ran into several problems with machinery not working or commands going haywire.

Dr Bayan Sharif, dean of engineering at Khalifa University, said getting young people interested in the science and technology was main aim of the programme.

“There is an idea that the studying the basic sciences in college is made to produce teachers, but there is a lot of maths and physics that go into engineering so we want to attract students who are good at the sciences to get them interested in engineering,” said Dr Sharif.

“We want them to become the future leaders of the UAE in engineering, which is basically one of the main pillars of a knowledge-based economy.”

One of the teams has now been chosen to enter a robot in the annual RoboCup competition in Thailand next year.

“We are thrilled with the outcome of our first Stem summer camp and we are very much looking forward to seeing how our UAE representatives perform at the RoboCup next year,” said Dr Sharif.

The team that finished first consisted of Amira Obaid, Noura Al Ghafri, Sheikha Al Mujaini and Fatma Al Amri.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae