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