x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE's eliminated Stars of Science contestant hopes to inspire

The Stars of Science innovation contest on MBC4 saw Emirati student, Aisha Saleh, eliminated in the previous round, but the final-year student as the University of Sharjah hopes other women will follow in her footsteps.

Although Emirati student Aisha Saleh, who had been doing well on 'Stars of Science' show, has been eliminated, she hopes to have inspired other women to follow in her footsteps.
Although Emirati student Aisha Saleh, who had been doing well on 'Stars of Science' show, has been eliminated, she hopes to have inspired other women to follow in her footsteps.

Sharjah // An Emirati student catapulted to fame by a television invention competition last night crashed out as her self-propelled bag failed to impress the judges.

But while Aisha Saleh's run in the MBC4 show Stars of Science is over, the UAE's other remaining entrant university lecturer Mohamed Watfa last night reached the final six.

Viewers saw Ms Salah, 21, a final-year student at the University of Sharjah, ejected as the last 10 were whittled down to six.

It follows a challenging few weeks for the civil engineering student, who invented a bag that recognises and follows its owner using heat sensors and a camera.

The problem, said the judges, was that the bag was just too heavy. The motor and batteries alone weighed 2.5kg - which, in a bag with a capacity of 10kg, was just too much.

Even in last week's show, judge Dr Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian-American scientist who helped plan Nasa's exploration of the Moon, was concerned about the weight of the motor.

And nor was the gadget quite working properly, which it should have been by now. "The time frame was not enough for me to accomplish that," admitted Ms Saleh.

Still, another judge, Dr Eyad Masad, a mechanical engineer at Texas A&M University in Qatar, praised the "novel" idea.

Ms Saleh says the experience has changed her life. "I was so shy before I did this," she said, "but now I really believe that I can achieve bigger things in my life on my own."

Now she hopes her 15 minutes of fame will inspire others. "I hope there will be Emirati women on the show next year," she said. "I couldn't have done this without the support of my parents but if I've even inspired one person, that would make me so happy."

The competition, funded by the Qatar Foundation, has been tough. Only 20 of the more than 7,000 entries made it to the televised series, competing for the Dh1.1m prize.

"I really wanted to get to the engineering stage," said Ms Saleh, which aired last night (thurs).

Once this university semester is over, she now hopes to spend some time trying to make the bag into a viable commercial product.

"The main thing is that I want to help people, which this invention does," she said. "Whether you're at school or travelling, every day we carry heavy things and people don't think about the damage it does to us in the long term."



Dr Watfa, from the University of Wollongong Dubai, meanwhile said he was relieved to have reached the final six with his virtual computer.

Designed to be used where resources are limited, the device allows up to 20 people to in effect have a laptop each. It does this by projecting a virtual touchscreen on to each person's desk. Different students can then use different applications, interacting with the screen using a special "pen".

Dr El-Baz said the invention was "unbelievable". "We've seen several other things but this, one projector run by one computer and each screen can do something different, is something new and really amazing."

The contestants were given just a month to turn their ideas into a working prototype. A key hurdle for Dr Watfa was making his system work with other developers' programmes, not just his own proprietory apps.

Dr Fouad Mrad, a jury member who runs a UN science and technology centre in Jordan, told him: "I'm already angry at Apple store and now you want me to go to Watfa store? It will be that I'm dependent on you."

Tricky, admitted Dr Watfa. "[Microsoft] Office was not designed to work on a desk like this, the technology is completely different.

"I had to show my invention worked with any application and software they gave me. It's been very tough as it's a one-man show. This is what whole companies do."

Reaching the final six was a huge relief, said Dr Watfa, who is from Lebanon but represents the UAE in the show. He hopes that once the show is over, UAE universities will be interested in his device.

"The thing with the UAE is that there's support for this kind of thing. In other countries, the support would be minimal, but here, I will get the opportunity for my invention to evolve and for it to actually become a reality," he said.

Next week, the field will be further narrowed to five, and the following week to four, as they hone their designs ready for the shop floor, and then thrash out business plans before the final live show on November 4.

The winner, chosen by a combined jury and viewer vote, will be announced on November 8.