Pupils send their robots into battle in Dubai

More than 1,500 pupils take part in Dubai robotics competition that seeks to clean the world's oceans

Orange plastic balls sailed through the air on Saturday as pupils hurriedly tweaked the robots responsible for flinging them.

This wasn’t a malfunction, it was the goal of the First Global Challenge, a three-day robotics competition held in Dubai at the weekend.

More than 1,500 pupils descended on the Festival Arena for the second day of the challenge, which called on participating children from 191 countries to create robots that could help clean up pollution in the world’s oceans.

You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife as teams ran around backstage, making last minute alterations and repairs to their robots in scenes that were akin to Formula One pit stops.

“I feel great pride to be representing the UAE here today,” said Shouq Saeed, 17, who was part of the host team.

“It is a huge responsibility not just for me individually but also as a citizen of the UAE.”

The pupil from Dibba and Fujairah School said the competition at the event was fierce with no margin for error.

“We have had 45 days to prepare so the timeline has been very narrow,” she said.

“We are doing everything we can and there is nothing more we can do except hope that people pray for us and that God is with us.”

The opening ceremony for the competition on Thursday was attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, and featured a performance by American musician Will.i.am.

Dubai became the first city to host the competition outside the Americas, signalling the emirate’s growing reputation as a global hub for artificial intelligence and technology.

The competition required teams to assemble their robot, which would hoover up plastic balls of different sizes, before launching them at baskets on either side of the arena.

The game court represented the ocean, with the balls, made from recycled plastic, said to be the pollution found in the world's waters.

For the majority of the young competitors, it was a theme very close to their hearts.

“The environment is something that impacts everyone in the end as it is all around us,” said Annamei Chan, 17, representing Ireland.

“We only have one planet so we have a duty to look after it.”

It was only last month that teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg made headlines by addressing the United Nations with an impassioned plea to get serious about the impact of climate change.

Her message was not lost on the competitors at the First Global Challenge, who shared more than just their age with the Swedish environmental activist.

“There has been a lot of change in recent years to try and reduce the amount of pollution and save the planet,” said Ms Chan.

“At the end of the day it is our home and we all have to play a part in maintaining it.”

The teams featured in the competition were selected based on their performances in a series of qualifying events that took place over the past year.

Each team received a robotic kit and were then tasked with assembling and maintaining it.

The game itself featured three teams joining forces against another three sides on the opposite side of the court.

The teams with the highest scores would proceed to the final day of the competition on Sunday.

One of the teams competing this weekend was made up of young Syrian refugees who were keen to show what they were capable of.

“We are proud to be able to have the opportunity to represent the 70 million refugees across the world,” said high school pupil Amneh Kabobur, 15, who was currently living in Lebanon.

“It is exciting and stressful to be competing here today but we are loving the challenge.

“We are determined to show we are here on merit and to help play our part in fighting pollution.”

The Syrian refugee team did have one member who stood out for their distinct appearance – Robogee the robot.

“This is a robot that answers questions that people might want to ask about refugees,” said Ms Kabobur.

“He is able to translate from Arabic to English as well.”

Updated: October 28, 2019 04:20 PM

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