Technion-coached High School Students Win Silver at FIRST Robotics Olympics in Dubai

November 18, 2019
By: Jennifer Frey

Five Israeli high school students, coached by Technion robotics experts, competed and won Silver at the Global FIRST Robotics Olympics held in Dubai in October. The contest, thought to be the largest-ever international robotics contest, was comprised of 191 delegations from as many countries. The Israeli team paired with a delegation from Uganda to win the silver medal in the final after finishing the preliminary stage with the highest points ranking and a perfect victory score. But in a dramatic final match, a team captained by Belarus, which included Syrian refugees, won the gold.

Noa Duman, Yuval Perry, Ron Perry, Itay Ziv, and Omri Baram

“The project is part of the Technion’s pre-academic educational activities aimed at encouraging youth to study science and engineering,” said Technion Professor Alon Wolf, academic director of the FIRST program in Israel. “This is to ensure that Israel continues to lead technologically and be at the forefront of global research,” he said.  Researchers from Prof. Wolf’s Biorobotics and Biomechanics Lab mentored the Israeli delegation. The Technion has partnered with the FIRST program since its inception in Israel.

The Israeli team received special security clearance to enter Dubai, which as one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not recognize Israel as a state. While Israel and the UAE do not have diplomatic or economic relations, FIRST demonstrates that science has no borders. “This globe of ours is on life support,” FIRST founder Dean Kamen told the Associated Press (AP), ticking off pressing world challenges such as climate change. “So the thought is we get every kid in every country to focus on learning how to use technology, but on using it as a tool and not as a weapon.”

The recent FIRST Robotics Olympics addressed the challenge of ocean waste and environmental protection. The student teams received a kit of rods, wheels, wires, and other raw materials. They were then tasked with building robots that would roam the competition arena, scooping up “ocean pollutants,” represented by various sized orange balls. The robot that collected the most balls won. 

The three-day tournament had a festival-like atmosphere, with commentators analyzing the action in sports-broadcast style and fans waving flags and banners supporting their teams, the AP reported. The arena floor was filled with facts about ocean pollutants and featured slogans such as “united by land, connected by oceans.”

Mr. Kamen has made cooperation a key ingredient of his competitions, and the Israeli team received a special medal for exceptional help given to the other groups. “The kids get it,” said Kamen, who also invented the Segway scooter. “To them this isn’t a competition; this is a ‘coop-etition.’ This is a celebration of technology.” Major General (res.) Avihu Ben-Nun, chairman of FIRST Israel added, “The delegation’s achievements are a source of pride and respect for FIRST Israel and the entire state of Israel.”

Mr. Kamen founded FIRST, an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, in the United States in 1989 to provide a framework for Olympics-style robotics challenge. Its aim has been to connect youth with science and technology, and build bridges between students with different backgrounds, languages, religions, and customs. Some 1,500 students participated in the Dubai event, while more than 570,000 youth participate in FIRST programs worldwide. Former Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie is the chairman of FIRST Global.

The five Israeli youths who participated hailed from the Megiddo Regional High School. They were Noa Duman, Yuval Perry, Ron Perry, Itay Ziv, and Omri Baram. They were accompanied by mentors Osnat Duman and Nissim Levy as well as security personnel. Their trip was sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, the Megiddo Regional Council, and the Tama Company. “Through the process of participating in FIRST’s programs, we have learned the importance of teamwork, and now we know better how to be true leaders for our team,” said Noa Duman.

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