Seychelles’ FIRST Global Challenge launched, team members unveiled

The National Institute for Science, Technology and Innovation yesterday officially announced the launch of their participation in the 2020 FIRST Global Challenge and unveiled the six-strong members of Team Seychelles who hope to fly the Seychelles flag and improve the country’s ranking in the yearly international event.

The chief executive of Nisti and team manager Xavier Estico unveiled the members of Team Seychelles in a short ceremony at the Blue Economy conference room at the Oliaji building.

The challenge, which will this year take place virtually because of travel restrictions and other measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, is being observed under the theme ‘Connecting Communities’ and comprises three months filled with challenges, talks by STEM professionals, and technical training sessions, all while connecting the FIRST Global Community around the world. The challenge, which aims to ignite a passion for STEM amongst the world’s youths, is due to close on September 26.

Since the official launch of the international challenge on June 27, challenges have been released weekly on social media platforms, for national teams to complete and engage with. For this year’s season, national teams are required to complete two types of challenges – social media challenges that require submitting content in response to various prompts, as well as technical challenges – both of which can earn teams points.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Estico noted the importance of global connectivity and connectedness in times like these when the entire globe is battling against the pandemic.

“Now and while we are transcending this global pandemic, it is vital that we keep our global connectivity while global mobility has almost grounded to a halt. We are much grateful for the power of technologies at our fingertips. This is why for you all, the digitally-savy cohorts, you should take advantage of the digital platforms to remain connected to the global network of people of your generation. This is what the 2020 FIRST Global Challenge is offering now during this pandemic, as we cannot gather in one place, as was the case for the last three editions. However, we can continue to promote STEM virtually. You are called to represent Seychelles in this challenge by using your creativity, innovative talents, abilities and motivation, to make Seychelles proud on a global level,” Mr Estico said addressing the six students selected to be part of Team Seychelles for the challenge.

Mr Estico further highlighted that Seychelles is ranked 121st of 161 countries, although the aim is to improve the ranking this year and in upcoming years.

“As a small island state, we are not performing too badly. Last year we were first in the Indian Ocean but it is not enough, we want to go further and it is not impossible for a small island state to reach the finals, although it is challenging and requires a lot of preparation. To get there doesn’t depend solely on Nisti, but rather is dependent on all of us as Seychellois,” Mr Estico added, noting the biggest challenge for this season is a lack of physical space, as Nisti’s premises is currently occupied by students of Belonie secondary school.

Unlike previous seasons which were mainly focused on the application of robotics to solve the world’s greatest challenges, those taking part will this year make use of resources available locally to produce content for digital platforms as required. Nisti has already sought the support of a videographer to help the students and teach them the art of creating interesting content for digital platforms.

Programming-enthusiast Miguel Malbrook, who last year took part in the robotics challenge held in Dubai under the theme ‘Ocean Opportunities’, is excited to be part of the challenge for the second time, regardless of the fact that the travel element has been scrapped.

“It was a really unique opportunity and I hope that this year there is another element to do with programming. I am interested in engineering and these competitions serve as a good starting point for my career. Last year was my first time and I was a bit shy but this year, I have more confidence,” he said.

The FIRST Global Challenge is an annual robotics event that seeks to highlight the greatest challenges facing our planet, including the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering. Each year, a different challenge takes centre stage as the theme of that year’s FIRST Global Challenge, which will be held in a different country each year.