The UAE children aiming to make robots a part of the homes of the future

Daniel Bekai joined his school's robotics club as he wants to fulfil his dream of seeing robots used for everyday tasks in the home. Now his school plans to take part in a national robotics championship.

Pupils Sebastian Thaeron, 14, Christian Warren, 14, and Marnix Roelfs, 14, show off their winning robot, Arken Olympus, at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi. Sarah Dea / The National
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ABU DHABI // If Daniel Bekai has his way, robots will be common features in homes of the future.

Daniel, 16, wants to live in a world where humans command robots to perform the mundane tasks that an artificially intelligent machine would be better at anyway.

“Suppose you’re in your house and you want some yogurt, you can build a robot that gets yogurt from your fridge to your room,” said the Lebanese-American Year 10 pupil from the American Community School of Abu Dhabi.

“If you look at the modern household you will see computers and electronics everywhere but not robotics.

“And I’m thinking maybe I can do something about it. How can we introduce robotics into real life?”

With the help of his classmates, Daniel recently took the first step towards realising his dream world.

He joined his school’s robotics club and enrolled in an engineering class where pupils used an educational program called Lego Mindstorms NXT.

It allowed them to build and program small robots that could carry out basic tasks such as lifting a ball and placing it in a basket.

“Ever since I was a little kid I loved Lego and I liked Lego robots, so I thought I’d buy a kit and experiment with it,” Daniel said.

“Basically, robotics is about problem solving. If you’re having a problem you try to solve it by using your robot.”

The 11 students in ACS’s four robotic teams recently won gold and silver medals at the regional World Robot Olympiad.

The school will now for the first time send its teams to compete in the annual WRO-UAE national competition in the capital this weekend.

“For the high schoolers, it’s all our first time in the robotics competition,” said Ethan Humphries, 15, also in Year 10.

“It’s good experience and it’s exciting, too. I guess we’re going to have much more competition than we did last weekend because more schools are going to be there.

“I presume it will be a lot more hectic. It’s going to be much more tough than the last one.”

The number of pupils competing in the Olympiad has been steadily growing, says the Abu Dhabi Education Council, which is the national organiser.

Only 29 teams took part in the challenge when it was introduced in 2008.

Last year there were more than 400 competing.

The winning team at the nationals earns a spot at the international tournament in Sochi, Russia, from November 21 to 23.

Marnix Roelfs, 14, said he would like his team to advance to the international level but admitted he felt a little intimidated by the quality of the global competitors.

“It’s just the brainiacs from all across the world,” said Marnix, a Year 9 pupil from the Netherlands.

“But we’re braniacs as well,” Daniel reminded his friend.

“We’ll be happy to represent the UAE if we make it,” said Christian Warren, 14, a Canadian in Year 9.

“If we make it, we’ll definitely try our best to represent the UAE.”