If you are tired of theoretical learning, and marvel about the Transformers and Iron Man, then 2017 FIRST Global Challenge might be your cup of tea. The world’s first International Robotics Olympiad for high school students was launched recently in Washington D.C, USA. Initiated by FIRST Global, a none profit organization, the event was aimed towards kindling youth passion towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Armed with the vision of creating young scientific leaders who will collaborate to create a better tomorrow, the FIRST Global Challenge competition saw youth taking on an Olympic-style robotics challenge. The event encourages the youth to think of STEM rooted solutions for global challenges. For 2017 FIRST Global Challenge the youth leaders needed to design, construct and program a robot which will be able to differentiate between clean and dirty water and ultimately provide access to clean and potable water. This is known as one of the ‘14 Grand Challenges of Engineering’ as claimed by the US National Academy of Engineering, UK Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chinese Academy of Engineering.

More than 160 nations took part in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge. A dynamic youth team from Elizabeth Moir School was selected to take part in the event. Youth from many diverse nationalities and walks of life took part in the competition which redefined global robotics and bridged diversity among high school students.

Ishini Gammanpila, Akash Gnanam, Ali Anver and Vinidu Jayasekera made up the Elizabeth Moir School team which ventured on to USA to represent Sri Lanka in the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge. They were mainly selected to take part in 2017 FIRST Global Challenge mainly due to the facts that they were able to meet the tight deadline as well as the enthusiasm that they displayed in taking part in the event.

Collaborating with Tech Assured Holdings (Pvt), the youth worked tirelessly for long hours trying to build a robot that can meet the given expectations. Backed by Dilum Rathnasinghe and Shivashankaran Satchithananthan from the academic staff the youth worked with their toolkit that was provided by FIRST Global Challenge. This huge box which was equipped with essentials provides each team with what they need to make their robot so that each and every entry is manufactured using a uniform set of instruments. This also makes sure that all are on equal grounds on what kind of tools and materials they use to make their product and their work will be judged purely on talent and creativity. Thus Don Pablo Gasper Telliez was born. His name was a combination of their favourite television series ‘Narcos’s Protagonist Pablo Escobar and their French teacher Isabelle Telliez who has lent them her classroom to work on the project during the afternoons.

Team Sri Lanka for 2017 FIRST Global Challenge comprised a mixed bag of talent and skills. Akash Gnanam (18) is the school’s Drama Club President. He is also a programming guru.

Sharing his experiences about being part of 2017 FIRST Global Challenge Akash said, “Overall the competition was just amazing. Firstly, it was extremely challenging because there were all sorts of problems you don’t run into until the actual competition. This meant we had to do a lot of repairs there but when Pablo succeeded it made it all the more satisfying. As the competition progressed our robot got better and better and that was really cool to see.”

He notes that apart from the actual competition it was amazing to meet so many people from different countries.

“They were all extremely cool and seemed to really like our design. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the saddest moment was saying goodbye to everyone, including Pablo who we had to semi-disassemble for the journey home,” he said.

Ishini Gammanpila (16) has been building remote controlled boats with her father since she was eight years old. She was also one of the leads in this year’s school play – ‘Rumours’. She is a full scholar at the school who has excelled not only academically but also in swimming, singing and dancing.

“Before we left Sri Lanka we expected everything to be friendly and calm at the competition. But we were completely mistaken. It was so much more intense than we had thought it was going to be. What was amazing was that the team never gave up whenever something went wrong. Mr Dilum was especially supportive throughout the competition. He was always there to help us. Even though the competition was intense, we managed to make friends with so many teams and got their signatures on our FIRST Global t-shirt as a memento. All in all, it was an incredible experience!” she enthused.

Ali Anver (17) is a big thinker. He believes that STEM related advances are accelerating at a speed that frankly scares him. But instead of shying away from these advances he wants to be part of it.

“I’d never known that you could create so much variety in robots out of one single kit! Frankly the creativity of the robots belonged in the future. Each and every team approached the same problem with different solutions based on their ways of ideas and thinking. Every team could complain and laugh about their robot to everybody else. The humanity in the robotics was just so noticeable... and you couldn’t help but cheer everyone on. That’s how I’d like it to be remembered - not as a massive competition but just people building something more than robots together,” Ali said.

Vinidu Jayasekera (16) is a master of coding and imagines herself in a job that allows her to pursue Artificial Intelligence. She believes that team Sri Lanka performed exceptionally well despite the relatively short time period they had to build the robot.

“We worked well as a team and supported each other in every way. I believe we had amazing teams in all our alliances throughout the competition. It was very easy to get along with them and that helped to achieve the second goal of the competition which was to create bonds between different countries. For me, personally, the best part of the competition was meeting people from different cultures. It felt like the whole world was together. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed that we didn’t win any award because we had already received the biggest award we could hope for: friendship,” she opined.

The team’s message to other yoiuth who wish to excel in their talents is just be passionate and pursue their goals.

“Always research and read. Practise building and coding, Just keep on working on getting better. Then when you get the chance to be in a competition like this one, you will be good,” they echoed.


Add new comment

Or log in with...