FIRST Global is a US-based not-for-profit public charity set up to provide the framework for an Olympics style robotics challenge. Its mission is to ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) among more than two billion students across the world. FIRST Global invites one team from every nation to participate in an international robotics event that builds bridges between high school students with different backgrounds, languages, religions, and customs. By bringing these future STEM leaders together in an engaging and collaborative competition that drives home the importance, excitement, and applicability of STEM education, FIRST Global inspires students to learn the skills they will need to make the discoveries their parents and grandparents would consider miracles, impossibilities, or just plain science fiction. Last year, a demo competition was held in Washington DC to prove the concept and this year was the official launch of the global competition.
FIRST Global works with organisations that support the advancement of technology and innovation in their local communities. Aretha Mare, one of the co-founders at Impact Hub Harare is a pioneer of STEM education and she brought the programme to Zimbabwe in order to bridge the technological gap that exists between African countries and the rest of the world. African students are not as exposed to changes within the technological environment and for that reason; Impact Hub Harare, through the Zimbabwe Robotics Team, seeks to empower Zimbabwean students from all walks of life with the essential skills to foster innovation. Tadzoka Pswarayi, the team manager for the Robotics team this year explained, “The programme goes beyond the five children who participated at the global competition and aims to take high-tech education such as Robotics across Zimbabwe in order to leapfrog more developed countries and use STEM to develop our nation.” Furthermore, because the number of female students active in programming initiatives is low, Impact Hub Harare encourages girls to participate in the challenge. Impact Hub Harare provides training, mentorship and other resources essential for success at both the local and international stage. The training that students go through contributes towards shaping tomorrow’s scientists, engineers and innovators to be practical problem solvers. Zimbabwe has the potential to build the skills set required for a digital economy and can thus lure digital companies to invest in the country. Echoing FIRST Global founder Dean Kamen’s re-iteration of Franklin Roosevelt, Charles Matanga remarked, “we should not build the future for our youth, but instead build the youth for the future” and this is why Zimbabwe should focus on being part of the fourth industrial revolution.
The goal of the program is to enable students to:
- Design a prototype that can respond to software instructions
- Write program codes that can be deployed to robot control hubs
- Design innovative tools that can be used in schools, hospitals and local communities
- Create a firm foundation on which a national robotics program can be launched using tangible results
- Commit to train others and start robotics clubs in their schools and communities so that the effort grows organically and at a limited cost
The Zimbabwe Robotics Team is comprised of five students from the following schools; Bennedictus Chingodza (St. Georges) Tamuda Chimhanda (St. Ignatius), Danai Hakata (Tynwald High School), Gabriel Matemba (Harare High) and Letticia Vanganayi (Harare High). This year the students were accompanied by their Coach, Charles Matanga and Team Coordinator, Tadzoka Pswarayi the co-founder of Impact Hub Harare. The team was chosen through a paper-based and online open application process as well as interviews conducted by Impact Hub Harare and the Team Coach.
This year’s competition theme was Energy Impact because topics such as climate change have an impact on the sustainability of our world. The objective of the challenge was for the players to power the plant by delivering solar panels & activating wind energy to power the reaction plant.
Boxes denoted energy that needed to be deposited by the robot in order to feed the power plant. Once the solar panels (power cubes) were deposited, the corresponding points start to generate just as energy would. Points for the competition were based on the number of kilojoules per second. These mini-robots are prototypes that can be turned into large-scale machines.
There were two alliances per game (3 countries per alliance per match) a term FIRST Global calls ‘coopertition’; because although teams were competing against each other, they needed to cooperate with other nations in the alliance to advance to the next rounds where the winning teams faced off against each other in the finals.
Results and Awards
Last year, in Washington DC, a group of five students attended the demonstration competition and ranked 17 out of 163 countries. They defeated USA and Russia and ranked 3rd among African nations.
This year, Zimbabwe ranked 51 out of 193 countries missing the play-offs for the finals by a few points. Zimbabwe won five out of eight games and ranked 5th among African nations. The Zimbabwe Team also won a bronze medal (3rd place) in the “Courageous Achievement Award” which comprises of testing soft skills and technical skills as well as game performance in the matches.
The team is grateful to POTRAZ who sponsored the entire team, We Dance For Africa for dancing in Oakland to fundraise for the team, our sponsors on crowdfunding campaigns, our anonymous donors, Harare High School and Tynwald High school for partnering with Impact Hub Harare, parents and FIRST Global Zimbabwe for making it all happen. The team is also grateful to Higherlife Foundation for sponsoring a student.
Thanks go to Vimbayi Mwayera, a participant in the competition last year who volunteered this year as an ambassador for both Zimbabwe and Jamaica.
“Going to Mexico to represent our nation for robotics was quite an experience. The whole point of the competition was to promote cooperation between teams so we were a group of three countries in a team for every game we played. It was wonderful getting to learn about other countries’ traditions and the differences and similarities between our cultures. You realise that through this sort of exposure you understand the world around you better. The competition also taught me negotiation skills that will be useful in the future when we are leaders. One thing I can take away from this competition is how other people tackle the same problem differently, getting to see different ways of thinking is beneficial because when tackling problems you can attack the problem from any angle.” – Bennedictus Chingodza
“Being in Mexico was a great experience for me. It was more than I expected. What I loved most were the solutions. Most of which could be applied in Zimbabwe because my dream really is to change the life of an ordinary Zimbabwean. I saw solutions which can be applied in Agriculture for example, drones that can be used to apply pesticides with added knowledge like temperature and humidity sensors. I saw solutions which could be used in mining, that is, robots that go underground and do most of the activities reducing the risk of people being trapped underground and then they can work in safer areas. I was asked in one of the interviews where I see robotics twenty years from now. Twenty years from now I see robotics growing and the ordinary models that we’ve been working with being applied in industries in Zimbabwe. I see robotics being funded like any other sport in Zimbabwe. One day I would like to see the ordinary boy in the rural areas being able to model robots as well. It was such an amazing opportunity for me and given that I would want to go to less developed places like the rural areas to teach robotics and make sure that robotics is accepted and is practised from grassroots. The co-Founder of FIRST, Dean, mentioned in one of his speeches that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and I believe one day robots will be working hand in hand with humans in Zimbabwe.” – Tamuda Chimhanda
“I was really excited about going to Mexico City and it was a great experience. Meeting many people from different nations and cultures was absolutely amazing .There are many lessons from the journey and the competition itself. Firstly, I learnt that patience and being observant are key skills when travelling because the boarding gates might be changed and flights might be delayed but knowing that we have to reach our final destination would make us pull through. FIRST is all about cooperation: working as a team might seem difficult and you may have different ways of doing things but a compromise goes a long way especially for maintaining peace. From the Olympics, I learnt that it’s not about winning the competition only, but it’s about working together to solve a global problem which is how we can get more green energy. Each team had a unique robot, all built from the same kit. That made me realise how important it is to always think outside the box. After observing the different robot designs and mechanisms used by fellow students, I would like to help the next Zimbabwean team build an efficient robot.” – Danai Hakata
“I really enjoyed being a volunteer for FIRST Global this year! I learnt how to work with different characters. And more so, team work. As I was Team Ambassador for Jamaica and Zimbabwe, I learnt how to help people with different problems. I would like use my skills to help other children who can’t speak for themselves. Robotics has given me the platform to be around different types of people (the easy-going and the hard-headed). – Vimbai Mwayera
“It was always my wish to raise our flag so high.I had the chance to and I worked very hard with my teammates to come up with the best out of our work. It was not easy to archive our goal as a team but we had to unite and stand as warriors. We worked together peacefully and shared ideas with each other to come up with the best. I’m so excited about our results in Mexico City and I had a lot of fun and had had time to explore other places I never had been like Dubai (United Arab Emirates).I leant many things through FIRST Global like co operation among team members and other countries ,Unite with my team mates and our alliance members ,Coming up together and hard work to solve global problems. I thank our mentors who were very supportive to us in every area and our sponsors who supported us and it mean a lot to us.I also thank our schools and parents who made our dream a success.After the competition there is still a lot of pressure on us to teach and introduce the young generation robotics and programming and also to give tips and help to the next team that is going to represent us next time.” – Gabriel Matemba