These Schoolgirls Won Gold At A Global Robotics Contest – And They May Have To Thank A Guy Who Builds Stuff For NASA

By  |  May 28, 2019

A group of nine female highschool students from Ghana went to the U.S. as the underdogs in a global robotics competition that featured several teams from the U.S., South Korea, Mexico, and others. deriving inspiration from a Ghanaian who works for NASA, they beat the favourites to first place.

At the World Robofest Championship which took place in the United States nearly a fortnight ago, there was plenty of talent on show, and that was expected. This was a competition aimed at unearthing and rewarding some of the finest innovations in robotics by students from all over the globe and it didn’t take long before the usual suspects were strutting their stuff.

But the whole event had a plot twist coming and nobody saw it coming. Making the most of the ‘underdog’ tag that greeted their entry into the competition, an all-girls robotics team from Ghana defied the odds by beating teams from United States, Mexico, South Korea, and several other countries to the top spot in the senior division of the competition.

Robotics in Africa

Team Acrobot, as they are called, had nine girls from the Methodist Girls’ High School in Ghana’s eastern region putting in the work and together, they distinguished themselves in the 10 broad and challenging categories of the championship held between May 16th and 18th at the Lawrence Technological University (LTU), Southfield, Michigan.

Amongst the categories were Game (Complete robotic missions), Exhibition (Show off projects), Vision Centric Challenge (Develop robots to solve problems using cameras), Unknown Mission Challenge (Surprise missions), RoboArts (Robotics music, dance and arts competition), BottleSumo (Pushing bottle or opponents off a table), RoboParade (Parade of robots), as well as Camps, Carnival and WISER; a conference on STEM education through robotics.

The girls from Ghana were able to put together a robot with the ability and capacity to arrange boxes according to a binary number that was given to the team during the competition. All the missions and tasks requested of them were also completed by the students with aplomb and in good time too.

Team Acrobot sure got the limelight for their exploits at the competition and ultimately took home the gold but those nine girls from Methodist Girls’ weren’t the only ones representing. Ghana, again, featured in the junior division of the competition. Team Cosmic Intellect; a team of five boys from the Mikrobot Academy, also held their own to an extent – finishing in sixth place in a contest that drew participation from 52 teams.

Team Cosmic Intellect

Ghana appears to have been intensifying efforts towards developing the field of robotics in recent times and in January this year, both teams qualified from the national championship level called the Robotics Inspired Education (RISE) competition.

This domestic robotics contest was initiated by the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation (GRAF) and by seeing off competition from various teams on their homefront, they not qualified for the World Robofest Championship but also rode the crest of their domestic triumph to respectable finishes on the global stage.

Interestingly, GRAF was founded by Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu; one of the top robotics engineers on the planet who has even had some of his creations support expeditions into outer space. GRAF was an effort to inspire a new generation of young Africans to pursue developments in the field of robotics; one that has seen him even manage extraterrestrial exploits.

Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu

The Ghanaian robotics engineer works at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the Chief Engineer and Technical Group Leader for the Mobility and Manipulation group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is one of the lead engineers behind NASA’s Mars Rover and InSight projects.

Robofest has been on the scene for up to twenty years, offering students the opportunity to master principles of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) as well as Computer Science (CS), communication, critical thinking, teamwork, while helping students develop problem-solving skills through the design, construction, and programming of robots.

Since the competition debuted in 1999, Robofest claims to have drawn participation from over 25,000 students selected from 14 U.S. States, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, England, France, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Lebanon, Macau, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea. The teams compete in the junior, senior and college divisions.

The efforts of these young students could be viewed as an indication of the giant strides being made on the African continent in the field of robotics – an area that has been witnessing renewed efforts and remarkable victories in recent times.

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