EMI­RATI WHO MADE A RO­BOT BUILT HIS FAME AND FOR­TUNE

▶ Ten years af­ter WorldSkills, Mo­ham­mad Al Shamsi is nur­tur­ing a new gen­er­a­tion, writes James Lang­ton

The National - News - - NEWS | EMIRATES -

Al­most a decade ago, Mo­ham­mad Al Shamsi was a ner­vous con­tes­tant at WorldSkills Shizuoka 2007 in Ja­pan, pre­par­ing to show his fledg­ling tal­ent in ro­bot­ics. What fol­lowed would change his life.

Re­turn­ing from Ja­pan and still barely out of his teens, Mr Al Shamsi es­tab­lished the Emi­rates Ro­bot­ics Club, of­fer­ing peo­ple with an in­ter­est in the field tuition and sup­port, and then his own ro­bot­ics com­pany, RoboHiTec.

Awards, ac­co­lades and recog­ni­tion fol­lowed: a gold medal at the 11th GCC Sci­en­tific Fo­rum in Dubai in 2009; first place in the Un­manned Sys­tems Rodeo com­pe­ti­tion in Abu Dhabi in 2011; and his nam­ing as one of the Top 100 Arab In­ven­tors in the Stars of Sci­ence com­pe­ti­tion.

If his love of ro­bot­ics be­gan as a child. “I al­ways had a ro­bot with me,” he says.

But it blos­somed when he started build­ing ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots for com­pe­ti­tions.

Mr Al Shamsi stud­ied mecha­tron­ics at Dubai Men’s Col­lege.

When Emi­ratesSkills, the UAE rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the WorldSkills or­gan­i­sa­tion, asked the col­lege to se­lect a com­peti­tor for Mo­bile Ro­bot­ics at the next WorldSkills Com­pe­ti­tion, Mr Al Shamsi’s name was on top of the list.

“I was very ex­cited,” he says. It had been his dream to visit Ja­pan and now he would be go­ing there with just a month’s warn­ing.

“It was very short no­tice,” Mr Al Shamsi says. “I didn’t have much time to pre­pare.”

Hopes for the UAE team, even among the ex­perts sup­port­ing them, were not high given the lack of prepa­ra­tion. But Mr Al Shamsi, now 30, was proud to fin­ish ninth.

“All the ex­perts said the UAE were one of the best teams be­cause we didn’t have much time to pre­pare and still com­peted very well,” he says.

Mr Al Shamsi cred­its Emi­ratesSkills, which has been in­spir­ing young Emi­ratis to em­brace skills and build a ca­reer in tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional trades since 2006, with help­ing him to get into ro­bot­ics

“Emi­ratesSkills def­i­nitely helped me get where I am to­day,” he says. “It can be very dif­fi­cult for some­one to find a skill that they love but Emi­ratesSkills pin­pointed this as a skill needed for the fu­ture.

“When they sent me to the WorldSkills com­pe­ti­tion I found that world­wide there is a trend and a re­quire­ment for this skill and there is a fu­ture for me in pur­su­ing this as a ca­reer.

“They helped me get more fo­cused on this skill and de­velop my abil­i­ties. Emi­ratesSkills gave me a lot of sup­port. They started me on this path and helped me be who I am to­day.

“Be­fore Emi­ratesSkills I was build­ing ro­bots and I liked it, but Emi­ratesSkills gave me di­rec­tion and sup­port and showed me the sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy be­hind it.

“Emi­ratesSkills is sim­ply the best pro­gramme and any­one who comes out from Emi­ratesSkills or WorldSkills will be fu­ture lead­ers.”

With the ro­bot­ics bug hav­ing firmly taken hold, Mr Al Shamsi de­cided that he wanted to in­crease the UAE’s knowl­edge of the sub­ject and en­cour­age other Emi­ratis to take an in­ter­est.

“I told my­self ‘I got a chance to rep­re­sent my coun­try, and while I didn’t get a medal, it doesn’t fin­ish here. I have to do some­thing’,” he says.

“When I came back to the UAE af­ter Ja­pan, Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed [Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Com­man­der of the Armed Forces] led a cel­e­bra­tion for us in Abu Dhabi, and I had a chance to meet him. I could not ex­plain how I felt.

“He thanked me for rep­re­sent­ing the UAE and said I had done a good job and, in a way, a lot of dreams be­came true. I felt like hav­ing the chance to en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion changed my life and now it was time to give some­thing back to my coun­try.”

Within three months, he had in­vented his first ro­bot.

“You could video-call it from your phone and see what was hap­pen­ing in your home, mov­ing it for­wards and back­wards by typ­ing com­mands into a key­pad,” Mr Al Shamsi says.

“The idea was that if some­thing hap­pened at your home and no one was pick­ing up, you could use the ro­bot to see what was go­ing on.”

It earned him gold at the GCC Sci­en­tific Fo­rum and a rank­ing among the Arab world’s best in­no­va­tors. But he wanted more.

“I was look­ing for more Emi­ratis with an in­ter­est in ro­bot­ics but I couldn’t find many with the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence,” Mr Al Shamsi says. “I felt it was the time to build a com­mu­nity for those in­ter­ested in ro­bots. I wanted a group where we build ro­bots and learn from each other.”

The re­sult was the Emi­rates Ro­bot­ics Club, whose first in­ven­tion – a po­lice ro­bot for re­mov­ing dan­ger­ous ma­te­ri­als, such as chem­i­cals or ex­plo­sives – was cre­ated within the year.

Mr Al Shamsi ex­tended his com­mit­ment to rais­ing aware­ness by vis­it­ing schools, host­ing work­shops and speak­ing to young Emi­ratis.

“It is im­por­tant to sup­port young, up-and-com­ing tal­ent,” he says.

He also be­gan to re­ceive re­quests from peo­ple look­ing to buy ro­bot parts lo­cally, and com­pa­nies want­ing to com­mis­sion ro­bot­ics for spe­cific work. See­ing this gap in the mar­ket, Mr Al Shamsi es­tab­lished RoboHiTec.

In one project he cre­ated a drone for de­liv­er­ing med­i­cal sup­plies. RoboHiTec also sup­plies ro­bot parts and dis­trib­utes kits for pupils, aim­ing to in­spire them to be­come com­peti­tors at a na­tional level, just like the com­pany’s founder.

His work led to a medal from the emir of Kuwait in 2014 for his con­tri­bu­tion to GCC so­ci­ety. That year, Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid, Vice Pres­i­dent and Ruler of Dubai, awarded him an­other medal as an Emi­rati pioneer.

“His High­ness told me ro­bot­ics are the fu­ture and that the coun­try is proud of what I am do­ing,” he says.

If Mr Al Shamsi is liv­ing the dream, it all be­gan by tak­ing with the WorldSkills com­pe­ti­tion.

Now his dream is to help an Emi­rati se­cure a WorldSkills mo­bile ro­bot­ics medal, some­thing that would be par­tic­u­larly spe­cial if it hap­pens next month when the WorldSkills com­pe­ti­tion comes to Abu Dhabi and the Mena re­gion for the first time.

The en­tre­pre­neur, so un­sure of what to ex­pect from WorldSkills al­most 10 years ago, is now es­tab­lished.

“By en­ter­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, their lives could be changed too,” Mr Al Shamsi says. “Our coun­try has done a lot for us, and now it is our time to do some­thing for our coun­try through learn­ing new skills, de­vel­op­ing our tal­ents and giv­ing back.

“I be­lieve WorldSkills is the best com­pe­ti­tion in the world, and ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pates is a fu­ture leader in their field.

“Ev­ery­one can emerge from WorldSkills with the abil­ity to change so­ci­ety and im­prove the fu­ture of their coun­try.”

Stu­art W Con­way

Mo­ham­mad Al Shamsi has al­ways loved ro­bots and wants to share his pas­sion

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