Silver lining for Cambodian robotics

Khmer Times

Team of five bags silver medal at the FIRST Global Challenge in Dubai.

A TEAM of five young members, Sou Many, Ho Chanponleusophea, Cheang Thornsopanha, Keb Sreynaj and Pun Solita, aged between 15 to 16 years old, have won recognition with a silver medal in their first robotics competition hosted by Dubai Future Foundation on Oct 25.

The FIRST Global Challenge (Oct 24-27) is an annual international robotics competition created for high school students from around the world to participate and display their robotics and mastery of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The competition, to address the greatest challenges facing the planet, is aimed at encouraging young people to use science, technology and STEM subjects to solve global problems. This year’s competition was focused on future access to clean water, with global pollution to be solved by young minds from 190 countries.

This year, the competition pushed another frontier under the theme of ‘Ocean Opportunities’. In this challenge, three teams (from different nations) closed their alliances to work together — competing with other teams — to clear the ocean of pollutants (yellow balls) from the ocean (blue boarding) to a safe zone within a limited time.

The ‘Robotics Olympics’ involving 1,500 students, is to challenge young minds to use STEM where teams of four to five students (aged 14-18), each had to assemble a roving robot from a kit of rods, wheels, wires and raw materials. The task was to collect coloured balls (human-created pollutants) of various sizes from a playing field (the ocean). Some robots were designed for scooping, picking or fired (the balls) through the air into receptacles. The teams then formed “alliances,” each with up to four nations, to fight their way into the final round.

With an interesting topic and enthusiasm to be tech savvy, the E2STEM students, with huge support from their teachers, first made headway to become eligible candidates for the 2019 FIRST Global Challenge. To become eligible contestants, each member in the team had to build up their own expertise and capacity in their field of talent to compete over nine matches.

Ho chanponleusophea who is team captain and also a robot player said that “In order to establish this robot, we needed people with different abilities in building robotics which includes a code writer, a robot builder, designer, and a robot player or driver. Each one of us specialises in a different field. That’s how we are formulated into a team,” he added.

It took two months for the group of five E2STEM students to build the robot, which has the ability to pick up objects. With the materials provided, the robot was built by technical and non-technical aspects. Technical aspect revolves on coding writing and building the mechanical structure while non-technical factor includes teamwork and effective communication in the team.

“We are able to accomplish this (winning silver) medal owing to the efficiency of our teamwork and good communication in building the material with our creativity. The competition doesn’t only push us to show our potential but also teaches us to work in a team,” said Pun Solita, an E2STEM team programmer.

Due to this being the first time that these young committed team had been able to break their glass ceiling in a global competition, it has been a rigorous challenge for them both before and during the competition.

Cheang Thornsopanha, one of the members renowned for his robotics driving skill and design, said “The competition has been a nerve-wracking moment for us. Since it was our first time, we had to sacrifice a lot of time coming to school and have daily meetings to think about how to produce our robot. In addition to that, even though we are in the same school, we have never known each other before so basically we had different ideas and had a lot of discussion to come this far,” said the 15-year-old.

“In a phase of match 6 during the competition, there was an accident in which the motor of our robot was broken and could not function. The whole team, against all odds, managed to fix it so that our robot could fight through the final stage,” said 16-year-old Ho Chanponleusophea.

For four days at Dubai, the competition played out on a great platform for the five E2STEM students to witness greater technology which they have not experienced before.

“There are some states whose advance technologies and innovative ideas are mind-blowing. For instance, China and Israel, even with limited building materials, they were still be able to produce a quality functioning robotics,” said Keb Sreynaj, a robotics builder and driver.

The team captained by Belarus, which included Syrian refugees, won the gold medal by beating a team captained by Israel in the final match.

Though the competition has come to an end, the vision to produce something with advanced technology to assist their nation is the Cambodian team’s immediate mission.

“I know that today is just the beginning. I hope in future I can create greater things to help my people. For instance, in the construction field, workers have to perform many risky tasks. I hope I can use my talents to help in their work one day,” said Cheang Thornsopanha in retrospect of their recent achievement.

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