ABU DHABI // The robot’s name was Marshmallow, but when it came time to battle, it was anything but a softie.
Built and operated by Glenelg School eighth-graders Ibrahim Nayfeh and Saif Al Nuwaimi, Marshmallow easily crushed the competition to take first place at the Sumo Robot Challenge held at New York University Abu Dhabi’s IDEA Lab.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Ibrahim, a 13-year-old American. “I was so surprised because during practice our robot kept falling apart. Basically, we added one or three pieces, and it started working and we started winning.”
Fourteen eighth-graders from Glenelg School took part in the competition, the final project of an eight-week pilot robotics programme offered by the university to engage schoolchildren in science, technology and the opportunities available in higher education.
The Lego Mindstorms robots were built to compete in a sumo-like challenge in which the robots faced off against one opponent in a ring. The winning robot had to push the opponent out of the ring.
“We’re all about creating connections from local schools to NYU Abu Dhabi from different pathways for kids to get here and get excited about higher education and the areas we work in, whether it’s engineering, biology, chemistry, English, you name it,” said Ted Bongiovanni, NYUAD’s director of primary and secondary education engagement. “Our job is to create programmes that activate their imagination and get them excited and turned on.”
The robotics programme was run in partnership with Glenelg School, but the university plans to expand it to more schools in the future.
The 14 students in the programme met every Saturday afternoon for eight weeks. They were taught by NYUAD engineering faculty and staff, but it was nothing like a traditional classroom, said Dania Mohaidat, 13.
“It’s kind of fun here. It’s entertaining,” said Dania. “You get to learn new things when you’re still having fun.”
Dania was in an all-girl team that built a robot called Obama because “it’s better than everybody else’s and we wanted to be at the top. It’s made with girl power”, Dania said.
Georgios Korres, a research engineer at NYUAD who led the course with assistant professor Mihalis Maniatakos, said for many of the children, this was a first introduction to robotics.
“They didn’t know what robotics are and now they know,” said Mr Korres.
Each week was dedicated to introducing a new challenge to the pupils, from building to programming to learning how to make the robot follow around a line. The students learnt using the same technology used to build modern-day, functioning robots.
“The same algorithm that was used to control a Segway is the same algorithm we used here to build our own self-balancing robots,” said Mr Korres. “The objective was to give them a flavour of robotics. They did well, they learnt a lot. I’m very impressed with the quality of their work.”