“In the past, we witnessed the computer revolution, then the internet revolution; in the coming years we will be witnessing the robot revolution." This quote does not belong to a Japanese scientist or an American engineer, but to a Lebanese high school principal. It may be some time before the “robot revolution” takes Lebanon by the hand into the future, but the first steps are being taken as we speak, and those steps have been getting faster and stronger year by year.

(Photo via Facebook)

In 1998, a partnership between education and technology organization FIRST and toy manufacturer Lego gave birth to the FIRST Lego League, an international annual competition that aims to teach young people about robotics in a way that is both exciting and educational.

The concept of the FLL is simple: A team of up to 10 young people (between ages 9 and 16) and an adult coach, who is not necessarily a robotics specialist, but merely guides and mentors the kids, construct and program a specially manufactured autonomous robot to accomplish certain challenges on a themed playing field. These tasks could involve making the robot follow a certain path, entering certain marked areas, or transporting certain objects from one area to another. Past themes have included nanotechnology, space exploration, and nutrition.

Every year, a new theme is announced with a corresponding robotics kit, and teams from all over the world go head to head. Lebanon wasn’t in on the FLL action until around 2006 when Ghazi Mtaweh, the principal of the Cedars Cultural School in Aleih and FLL Operational Partner in Lebanon, decided to import the concept to Lebanon. At first it was applied on a smaller scale, with the first competition taking place in the CSS in 2006.

Organizing a national championship proved to be rather difficult given the tense political situation at the time, but after reaching out to schools across Lebanon, the first National Championship in Educational Robotics was finally held in 2010 at UNESCO Palace, with 15 teams from schools across Lebanon taking part. The second national championship was held in 2011 in the same venue, now with 26 teams taking part, and the third in 2012, this time in the Lebanese American University in Beirut, with 33 teams competing.

“In 2010, the concept was foreign to people, it was new. They didn’t know their own abilities and capabilities, whether they were fit to compete or not,” says Mtaweh, adding: “After the first year, the teams who participated were very excited, because the championship isn’t just about the scientific fields involved, it’s also fun, and the students get to know one another and form bonds that last beyond the championships”.

(Photo via Facebook)

Lebanon further cemented its credibility in the world of educational robotics when it hosted the 5th annual Open Arab Robotics Championship in LAU’s Byblos campus. The winning team, Dawn of Innovation, flew to the FLL US World Festival 2012, where they came in 5th place in the Missions category.

Charbel Najjar coaches Fast and Curious, who were formed almost a year ago. “When we first competed internationally, we were unprepared for the Robot Performance category; we were weak, and you couldn’t blame us, because we had no experience at all. Last year, Lebanon ranked third after the US and China which is a very high achievement, so Lebanon already passed Germany, Britain, Japan, all these technologically advanced countries with all their material and government support, which is what we didn’t have. I see Lebanon is in a very advanced ranking now, and hopefully we can always be on the podium alongside the best of countries.”

The upcoming national championship will take place on March 1, and registration is open throughout the entire month of December. To sign up for the upcoming FLL championship in Lebanon, whether you are a school or an independent team, get in touch with FLL Lebanon who would be more than happy to give a workshop on the FLL at any school interested in participating and supply all the necessary robotics kits.

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