Friday January 19, 2018

Robotics Competition: Robots built by team of Young People Promotes Innovation for Economic Growth in Africa

Organizers of the annual robotics competition say the goal is to encourage African governments and private donors to invest more in science and math education throughout the continent.

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Dakar, Senegal (May 19, 2017) - Rokyaha Cisse, 17, from Dakar, adjusts her team's robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal. Their robot sends sounds into the ground, which detect the presence of metal.
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Dakara, May 24, 2017: The hum of tiny machines fills a fenced-off obstacle course, as small robots compete to gather mock natural resources such as diamonds and gold.

The robots were built by teams of young people gathered in Dakar for the annual Pan-African Robotics Competition.

They’re among the several hundred middle school and high school students from Senegal and surrounding countries who spent last week in Dakar building robots. Organizers of the annual robotics competition say the goal is to encourage African governments and private donors to invest more in science and math education throughout the continent.

Marieme Toure, from Dakar, adjusts her team's robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R.Shryock/VOA)
Marieme Toure, from Dakar, adjusts her team’s robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R.Shryock/VOA)

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‘Made in Africa’

The event’s founder, Sidy Ndao, says this year’s theme is “Made in Africa,” and focuses on how robotics developed in Africa could 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,” Ndao said. “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 split into three groups.

The first group worked on robots that could automate warehouses. The second created machines that could mine natural resources, and the third group was tasked to come up with a new African product and describe how to build it.

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Aboubacar Savage, 14, from Gambia looks at a computer at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)
Aboubacar Savage, 14, from Gambia looks at a computer at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)

Building a robot a team effort

Seventeen-year-old Rokyaha Cisse from Senegal helped her team develop a robot that sends sound waves into the ground to detect the presence of metals and then start digging.

Cisse says it is very interesting and fun, and they are learning new things, as well as having their first opportunity to handle robots.

As part of a younger team, Aboubacar Savage from Gambia said their robot communicates with computers.

“It is a robot that whatever you draw into the computer, it translates it and draws it in real life,” Savage said. “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.”

The event’s founder, Ndao, is originally from Senegal, but is now a professor at the University of Nebraska’s Lincoln College of Engineering in the United States.

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

Mohamed Sidy, 14 years old and from Dakar, holds up his team's robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)
Mohamed Sidy, 14 years old and from Dakar, holds up his team’s robot at the 2017 Pan-African Robotics Competition in Dakar, Senegal, May 19, 2017. (R. Shryock/VOA)

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Outsourced jobs cost Africa billions

A winning team was named in each category, but Ndao hopes the real winners will be science and technology in Africa.

The organizers of the Next Einstein Forum, which held its annual global gathering last year in Senegal, said Africa is currently missing out on $4 billion a year by having to outsource jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to expatriates.

Ndao said African governments and private investors need to urgently invest more on education in those fields, in particular at the university level. (VOA)

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‘Everyday Africa’ Project to shatter African Stereotypes

Everyday Africa, an Instagram community of photographers who strive to capture ordinary moments of life, such as children picking flowers in a field, or girlfriends chatting at a coffee shop.

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Breaking stereotypes, one post on Instagram ,at a time. Pixabay
Breaking stereotypes, one post on Instagram ,at a time. Pixabay
  • ‘Everyday Africa’ is an Instagram project which aims at eliminating African stereotypes.
  • They photograph everyday life of common Africans to succeed in their initiative.
  •  With approximately 370,000 followers, it is one of the biggest visual libraries of a continent.

When schoolchildren in Washington, D.C., are asked to say the first thing that comes to mind about Africa, they use words like hot, desert, sand, poverty, hunger, war and Ebola.

These are all accurate things to say about that part of the world — but they reflect an “incomplete” picture, says writer Austin Merrill, who together with photojournalist Peter DiCampo has set out to document African reality beyond common stereotypes.

They are the founders of Everyday Africa, an Instagram community of photographers who strive to capture ordinary moments of life, such as children picking flowers in a field, or girlfriends chatting at a coffee shop. Their Instagram following has topped 370,000.

Africa is no more the poor country we think it is, it is time to break the stereotypes.
Africa is no more the poor country we think it is, it is time to break the stereotypes.

In addition to the Instagram feed, the book “Everyday Africa, 30 Photographers Re-Picturing the Continent,” recently hit bookstores in Europe, the United States and certain countries on the African continent. The book is filled with images documenting life in Africa that aim to shatter misconceptions often found in Western media.

Readers see a teenager rollerblading in the streets of Dakar, a DJ playing music in Lagos, a couple looking at the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The book displays the full diversity and visual richness of African life.

Both DiCampo and Merrill invited a diverse “community of photographers” from all over the continent to contribute to the Instagram project and the book. Some are professionals, while others are skilled amateurs.

Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste prologues the book in an essay focusing on the power of the ordinary. “We sometimes forget that no matter what is happening in our lives, ordinary moments find a way to move forward,” Mengiste writes.

Normality

Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill, both Americans, met while serving with the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast. In 2012, they received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington to cover the aftermath of Ivory Coast’s civil war.

While they were interviewing refugees and soldiers, Merrill remembers that around them “the vast majority of life was pretty normal, but that wasn’t coming through in the story that we were trying to put together.”

“We were seeing all these other moments, that were many sorts of truer to our daily life experience in that part of the world,” says DiCampo.

So, they took their cellphones and started to photograph what was around them. They felt, says Merrill, that the normal, everyday scenes of life “might be the most important thing we had to tell about that place, about that moment, instead of the crisis story.”

Media organizations tend to focus on breaking news, often triggered by an evolving crisis. Africa has many of those; but, as Di Campo puts it, “It’s quite difficult to have a global understanding when all you see of other parts of the world are really extreme stories.”

This is the gap that the “Everyday Africa” book is trying to fill; to look at the continent from the inside and from different perspectives.

DiCampo and Merrill, with the support of the Pulitzer Center, have also created media workshops that train elementary school students in the United States on how to document their lives and recognize stereotypes.

“We use the story of how we created Everyday Africa,” said DiCampo, “to engage the students in a discussion of how media representation affects them, their lives and their communities and we use our photography to teach basic photography lessons, so that by the end of the workshop, they have an everyday project for their own school or community.”

This social media model has hit a nerve. “The Everyday Africa platform on Instagram may very well be the biggest visual library of the continent,” writes Ghanaian photographer Nana Kofi Acquah.

“To task African photographers with the burden of changing how the continent is perceived, might be overwhelming,” writes Acquah; but, he adds, “a picture of the real Africa” is slowly emerging. VOA