Robotics Competition Aims to Increase Investment in Africa

26 May, 2017

Several hundred students spent last week building robots in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

The students are from middle schools and high schools in Senegal and neighboring countries.

The robotics competition takes place once a year. Contest organizers say their goal is to urge governments and private donors to invest in science and mathematics education throughout Africa.

Teams of young people gathered in Dakar for the Pan-African Robotics Competition. The theme of this year's competition was "Made in Africa."

The sound of machinery could be heard during the event. The students built small robots and used them to search for natural resources in the ground.

Students from CEM Serigne Bassirou Mbacke school in Kaolack, Senegal, test at their robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)
Students from CEM Serigne Bassirou Mbacke school in Kaolack, Senegal, test at their robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)

Sidy Ndao created the competition. He says the students were asked to show how robotics developed in Africa can help local economies.

"We have noticed that most countries that have developed in the likes of the United States have based their development on manufacturing and industrialization, and African countries, on the other hand, are left behind in this race. So we thought it would be a good idea to inspire the kids to tell them about the importance of manufacturing, the importance of industry and the importance of creation and product development..."

During the week, the students were separated into three groups. The first group created robots that would work in and organize storage centers. The second group created machines that would mine natural resources. The third one was asked to create an African product and tell how to build it.

Seventeen-year-old Rokyaha Cisse is from Senegal. She helped her team develop a robot that sends sound waves into the ground to search for metals and then begins digging.

She says it is very interesting, fun, and they are learning new things, as well as having their first chance to operate robots.

Aboubacar Savage from Gambia was part of a younger team. He said his team's robot communicates with computers.

"It is a robot that whatever you draw into the computer, it translates it and draws it in real life. It is kind of hard. And there is so much competition, but we are trying. I have learned how to assemble a robot. I have learned how to program into a computer..."

Seventeen-year-old Marieme Toure and her team built a robot that would be able to work in a mine.

She said, "this helps us get more involved in science. Learning to program robots allows us to develop a certain aptitude in robotics that will serve us in the future."

Ousmane Lo competed against Toure. He is also from Senegal. He says robots could solve agricultural problems in Africa.

"Right now, it's machines that dominate. What we can't do, machines can do," Lo said.

Sidy Ndao, who is from Senegal, is now a professor at the University of Nebraska's Lincoln College of Engineering.

"I have realized how much the kids love robotics and how much they love science, and you can tell because when it is time for lunch, we have to actually convince them to actually leave, and then [when] it is time to go home, nobody wants to leave..."

Ndao said he hopes the event will persuade African governments and private individuals to invest in science and mathematics education, especially in universities.

He said, "the idea is that we would have African universities that have similar or perhaps better standards than European and American universities so that the students who -- the thousands or the millions of them in Africa -- have the chance to have a higher, state-of-the-art education in the continent."

I'm Phil Dierking.

Ricci Schryock reported this story from Dakar for VOANews. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

natural resources – n. natural materials or substances that can be used for economic gain

themen. a subject of a musical or artistic work; the main subject being discussed

focus – v. to direct one's attention on something

inspire – v. to influence

translate – v. to change words into one's own or another language

assemble – v. to put something together

aptitude – n. the ability to learn something

dominate – v. to have power over; to be the most important part of something