Maker Stories from MENA: Startups Animate Region’s Youth for Careers in Robotics and STEM Subjects

Maker Stories from MENA: Startups Animate Region’s Youth for Careers in Robotics and STEM Subjects

July 22, 2015 at 07:07pm

The word “robot” conjures up images of automobile factories and sci-fi movie villains. But in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), entrepreneurs and startups are using robots to spark young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, and to prepare them for the Future of Work.

Take the instantly engaging CORD, an Egyptian science-education startup that has created a game called “Robot Fights.” These demonstration battles between remotely controlled robots are designed to draw kids back from their increasingly “virtual” gaming world to real-world games, while also demonstrating the appeal and approachability of physics and engineering.

Another example of the widespread commitment to robotics in the MENA region is the International Robotics Academy in Amman, Jordan. This organization is working with regional schools and other partners to bring robotics and STEM enrichment programs to schoolchildren, with the goal of inspiring them to pursue studies in relevant STEM fields.

Two other startups, one with origins in Lebanon and the other in the UAE, are developing kits that let young people (and adults) build their own robots. littleBits, a hardware startup from Lebanese founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir, provides a range of kits for do-it-yourself creativity to make simple robots and other contraptions. As Bdeir says, littleBits helps “unleash the creativity inspired by understanding electronics, so that everyone can become an inventor.”

GE uses littleBits in GE Garages, its platform for demonstrating the possibilities of Advanced Manufacturing and localized prototyping technologies such as 3D printing and scanning, and CNC milling and injection molding. Together, Advanced Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet, and the Global Brain comprise the three disruptive forces behind the Future of Work, which is transforming the way we work.

The second kit-maker is Junkbots, a UAE-based startup that is developing a do-it-yourself hardware kit that helps people make real life working robots from everyday items like water bottles, coffee cups, old CDs and cardboard.

Beyond kit-making, there are several initiatives looking to build interest among young people in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, including the Google-supported Innovation Lab in Abu Dhabi and the recently launched UAE AI & Robotics Award for Good, which aims to encourage local and international research and development in innovative solutions for artificial intelligence and robotics. In a similar vein, researchers at the Abu Dhabi-based Petroleum Institute are exploring the use of robots in the inspection of oil and gas assets.

GE, too, is supporting this field, having hosted in June the first in a series of GE-designed workshops to strengthen students’ problem-solving and creative-thinking skills in the STEM field. The four-week, five-session workshop covered 3D printing, Advanced Manufacturing and culminated in the construction of a working robot car.

With so many startups and other initiatives in MENA working to drive interest among young people toward a career in robotics, artificial intelligence and other STEM fields, the opportunities are huge for important innovations to emerge from this region.

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