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“You are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty in the world. And from what I saw of these robots, I know you can do it.”President World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, at the #FGC2017 Award and Closing Ceremony.

Amajor international robotics event took place in the shape of the FIRST Global Challenge that Washington DC, in July 2017. The purpose was to bring together students — aged 15 to 18 years — to increase their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The mission of FIRST Global is to inspire the youth to become scientific leaders of tomorrow, who will work together to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as access to clean water, food security, cyber safety etc.

Teams from almost 160 countries travelled to Washington DC to participate in the inaugural event. Six bright students, the Team Alphabots, from Pakistan also travelled to the United States to participate in the FIRST Global Challenge 2017 (#FGC2017)

Meet Team Alphabots

The Team Alphabots consisted of three 15-year-old boys, namely Hamza Arshad Bhatti, Muhammad bin Mohsin, Ahmed Waheed, while Dawood Ahmad Kiyani (16), Syed Suleman Ali (14) and their spokesperson, Maryam Kiyani (17). These students from EMS High School, Islamabad, had been selected to represent Pakistan after winning a national-level competition arranged by Lets Innovate, in Islamabad, earlier this year in March.

These students, along with three other junior members, had also had the honour to represent Pakistan at the FIRST Lego League competition in Saint Louis, Missouri, in April, 2017. The team has been mentored by Islamabad-based STEM educators, RoboMinors, for nearly a year and has done brilliantly in other local competitions as well.

The Challenge

The theme of #FGC2017 was “Access to Clean Water”. At present, more than one billion people in the world do not have access to clean water and over half of them are children. More deaths are caused by lack of access to drinkable water than in the wars being raged around the world.

Talking about the challenge, Team captain Hamza said, “FGC2017 promoted global unity through this competition. Alliances of three countries were made for each game. Teams had to pre-plan, strategise and move their way to success together. The game field was designed like a river flowing between two banks, from where balls were being released. Blue balls represented clean water while orange balls represented contaminant particles. The task was to purify the river by removing the orange balls and depositing them in a repository on the bridge over the river.

“Our robot was designed to sort and release the balls into two different storages. The base for our blue ball storage was inspired by the traditional ‘Charpai’ in order to prevent the balls from moving out of position. We created the whole robot in less than two months, which was a great achievement for us. The Global Challenge award was presented to three teams that achieved the most combined match points throughout the duration of the contest.”

According to Muhammad Bin Mohsin, the team’s technician and recipient of “Youngest Mentor Award” for mentoring a team in HSRC, “The FGC competition was a huge learning experience for us. We learnt a lot. From coping with pressure, managing time, multi-tasking, cooperating with other teams, working under alliances to accepting defeat, the three days of the competition taught us that it’s not just about winning. We learnt from the challenges, and with each passing competition, we hope to get better. Our alliances were with teams from Oman, Laos, Mozambique, Namibia, Ukraine, Iceland, Peru, Brunei, etc. We got the opportunity to interact with many students from around the world and present a positive image of Pakistan in front of a global audience.”

Ahmed Waheed, a budding mathematician and robot programmer, loves making things that move on their own and hopes to achieve excellence in the field of robotics.

“We were more than just a team, we were a family. We stayed in George Washington University dorms during the competition. That experience on its own was very fruitful. We not only learnt to be responsible and independent, but our interaction with our dorm mates from other countries was very memorable too. From sharing information about our culture and people, to hearing appreciation about the Pakistan cricket team, it was truly amazing,” he added.

With a keen interest in global affairs and excellent communication skills, Maryam Kiyani was the team’s natural choice as the spokesperson. “On our pit area table, we did a cultural exhibition that included bangles, a truck, a rickshaw, Balochi topi, khussa, etc, and everyone loved it. At the closing ceremony, we gifted cards and chocolates to all the teams, and took a lot of pictures with them,” Maryam shared.

“At the end of the three-day event, we could proudly say that we put up a very good image of Pakistan on the international stage. We were also invited to the Pakistan embassy there at the end of our trip. Many Pakistani families in America also invited us for dinners and we were touched by their generosity and love for Pakistan while living abroad.”

Dawood Ahmed, a keen footballer, gamer and app designer, shared his views, “It was a global stage in which over 160 teams participated. People of all languages, cultures, races and religions united under the banner of FIRST and it was a beautiful sight to watch. We made new friends and had lots of healthy interaction. We got a chance to visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Capitol Hill and Columbia University. Overall, it was an amazing experience.”

The youngest member of team, Syed Suleman also talked about the lessons he learned from this trip, “I have realised that success cannot be measured in terms of trophies, medals or certificates. Success comes when we realise that this planet is our home and we are global citizens. We needs to exchange ideas, innovate and be responsible for our future.”

And last words from team captain Hamza, “I realised that in terms of talent, we are not behind any other team in the world. But we lack support, facilities and the resources to showcase our true potential. It is a great honour to represent Pakistan on an international level. The feeling of holding the green and white flag in front of such a large audience with Pakistani songs playing in the background will stay with me forever.”

Students in FGC2017 did a lot more than just compete in a robotics challenge. They learned that people have to be on the same team against common challenges. With the right use of technology, cooperation and communication, we can find solutions to the myriad of problems that affect our world today. The FIRST Global Challenge will be held in a different nation’s capital each year and with a brand new mission. Mexico will host the event in 2018.

Published in Dawn, Young World August 26th, 2017