Team UK At FIRST Global Challenge in Dubai: “Tech innovation is the real issue in the UK”
The short-term political future of the UK may be uncertain, but its long-term technological future looks bright, if the UK team’s entry into the FIRST Global Challenge 2019 in Dubai is anything to go by.
“It’s tense, it’s real tense, especially because we’re due to travel on January 2020 – Brexit deadline day,” says 16-year-old Patrick Jordan, Coder for Team UK, about the atmosphere in his country before his team flew out to Dubai for the event.
“Having the distraction of designing, building and coding the robotics for this event is a refreshing break from all the noise in the news,” he adds with a maturity well beyond his years. Patrick and his team could be directly affected by the Brexit fallout as they travel home on the day slated for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“Events like this, on platforms like the one Dubai has provided, tell the story that we should be really be focused on,” says Muktar Ali, the 29-year-old mentor of Team UK and former robotics and engineering teacher of the five-member team.
“What we need to be focusing on is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and where we’re going with that. Look at the impact of AI and robotics already – this is where the future is headed. Instead of talking about ‘this is what we should be doing’, we should be focusing on what we can achieve with tech and AI.”
This is the team’s second shot at the FIRST Global Challenge. At last year’s event in Mexico City, they finished a valiant third, which has left them hungry for a first-place finish at this year’s tournament – the first to be hosted in the Middle East.
“Last year’s event was all about power, so we had wind turbines, reactors to place cubes inside slots, which was really relevant to us because so much of the UK’s trash is exported. This year is all about oceans, which is something that’s important not just for us – being an island nation surrounded by water – but also the wider world,” Patrick adds.
The robot Team UK has developed this year has a distinctively British look and feel to it – it’s a bulldozer with expandable wings that have red London buses attached. The aim of the wings is to push the balls into the goal nets to score points in the FIRST Global Challenge Olympics-style events.
“You get bonus points for clearing the entire floor, so we’ve designed something with the bonus points in mind – we’re here for the win,” Patrick says.
Touching on the importance of the FIRST Global Challenge, he adds: “Not everybody can be a footballer, and what’s the future for football and sports? This kind of work is the future: space exploration, automation – these are areas that offer careers. And it’s so important to give that a platform.”