Shaping the Future of Robotics and Automation in Egypt

 

Alaa Khamis

IEEE Robotics and Automation Society – Egypt Chapter

URL: http://www.ras-egypt.org/

Email: akhamis@pami.uwaterloo.ca

Mohamed Aboud

Hadath for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

URL: http://www.hadath.com.eg/

Email: maboud@hadath.com.eg

Abstract— The widespread use of robotics and automation in a developing country like Egypt still faces many obstacles. Apart from the high initial cost of adopting new technologies and the macroeconomic situation, there are two other culture challenges. The first is the common belief about the negative effect of modernizing factories with advanced technology and automation on the employment rate and the second is the stereotyped view of robots the society used to have due to media exaggeration that results in widening the gap between expectations and realities. Different activities in different directions have to be conducted to face these challenges and to promote the applicability of robotics and automation to pertinent areas of industrial and commercial importance. Despite the political unrest and economic instability in Egypt during the last four years, a number of initiatives have been established in order to shape the future of robotics and automation in the country. This paper summarizes the conducted activities in five main directions, namely, educating people on robotics and automation, outreach programs, research support, strengthening industry-academia collaboration and technology transfer.

Keywords—robotics and autoamtion, industry-acamedia collabroation, humanitarian robotics, robot competition.

                                                                                                        I. Introduction

Shaping the future of robotics and automation in a developing country like Egypt requires dedicating great efforts in different directions. IEEE Robotics and Automation Society – Egypt Chapter (recipient of the 2015 IEEE RAS Chapter of the Year Award and winner of the 2012 Chapter of the Year Award in IEEE Region 8) and Hadath for Entrepreneurship and Innovation established a number of initiatives to achieve this goal. This paper summarizes the conducted activities to promote the applicability of robotics and automation to pertinent areas of industrial and commercial importance in Egypt. As illustrated in Fig. 1, the conducted activities focus on five main directions, namely, educating people on robotics and automation, outreach programs, research support, strengthening industry-academia collaboration and technology transfer. The following subsections describe these activities.

                                                                                                  II. Educating People on Robotics and Automation

Educating people on robotics and automation is vitally important to raise the awareness about the role robotics and automation technologies can play in economic growth. In order to disseminate the robotics and automation knowledge among students, researchers, engineers and any person interested in robotics and automation, different instructional activities and constructional activates are organized. The following subsections describe these activities.robotics in egypt

A. Indstructional Activities

Instructional activities combine two types of activities based on traditional education model and Web-based model [1]. The former encompasses the traditional ways commonly used in any education systems such as lectures, laboratory sessions, seminars and invited talks. The latter involves online courses, webinars and technical support through social media networks. A free intensive course about how to build a real robot has been designed. The objective of this course is to teach students how to build a real robot that can achieve intelligent connection between perception and action. Without assuming any prior knowledge of robotics, the course provides an introduction to the key issues involved in the development of real robots such as locomotion systems, sensing the world, microcontrollers, etc. The course is available online and is delivered for free at number of Egyptian universities and schools. Four lectures supported by four lab sessions are delivered in four days. Materials are available online for free in English and supported by 21 articles in Arabic about how to build a real robot written by the first author of this paper.

Another course about optimization with its applications in robotics and automation has been prepared and given for free to postgraduate students. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to modern optimization techniques and highlights the power of these computational techniques in solving complex problems in robotics and automation. One-day crash executive course about UAV technology is also offered  covering different aspects of UAVs such as design, sensors, communication and data links, solar and fuel cell propulsion technology, reliability, navigation, sense and avoid systems, human machine interface, airspace issues, regulation and airspace integration and UAS autonomy and swarming.

Moreover, a number of webinars have been broadcast through a link provided by IEEE. These webinars cover different topics such as locomotion systems, positioning systems, environment perception, robot navigation, unmanned aerial vehicles and wireless communication. A number of invited talks, seminars and distinguished lectures have been organized and delivered by world-renowned experts covering different topics such as social robotics, pico-satellites for education and research in networked space systems, robots moving closer to humans, role of cooperation in multi-robot systems, neuro-fuzzy systems: trends and applications, active learning methods, unmanned aircraft: trends in design and innovation, machine intelligence and its role in strengthening industry-academia collaboration and using probabilistic algorithms for perception, navigation, target localization and autonomous robots.

B. Constructional Activities

Constructionism is an active learning process in which students construct things that are personally meaningful to themselves or others around them [1]. Instead of being served information in the traditional one-way setting, learners develop their own knowledge and understandings of a subject through physical construction and implementation of their ideas [2]. For example in “how to build a real robot” course, a team-based competition project called NileBot is integrated as an essential part of the course. The idea of the competition is to design a robot that can follow a meandering path that mimics Nile river path from Aswan to Cairo accurately in the least amount of time. This project helps students to get hands-on experience in designing and implementing robotic systems and improve their competencies in communication skills, teamwork, and project management. RoboCamp is also organized as a constructional activity. It is 3 days camp, which teams of robotics geeks work on idea related to robotics and automation to convert it to a real prototype by the end of the camp. Field trips to industrial and research sites also allow learners to be aware about the different real-world problems and the strength and weakness of the current implemented solutions.

                                                                                                    III. Outreach Programs

Outreach activities for pre-university, university students and continuing education learners include organizing and/or sponsoring design competitions, giving orientation sessions and panel discussions in a number of scientific events and creating Women in Robotics and Automation group to support current female engineers and university students. The following subsections summarize these activities.

A. Robotic Competitions

Robotic competitions provide inspirational and motivational platforms for students, researchers and laypersons alike, to present their work to a wider forum with extensive media coverage. Robotic competitions can also be used as constructional activities in both traditional and self-learning process. These technical competitions improve participants’ practical skills and hands-on experience. Given that fact that robot design activities are highly interdisciplinary, these hard and soft skills included engineering design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, sensors, systems engineering, project management, teamwork, and creative problem solving. The following two main competitions are organized annually beside other competitions such as Egyptian Engineering Day (EED), “Blastoff!”  Science Fair, Egyptian Robot Olympiad:

  • Minesweepers: Towards a Landmine-free World (http://www.landminefree.org/): is the first international outdoor robotic competition focused on humanitarian demining. The competition aims at raising the public awareness of the seriousness of landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination and fostering robotics research and its applications in the area of humanitarian demining in the world. In this competition, each participating team constructs a teleoperated/autonomous unmanned ground/aerial vehicle that must be able to search for underground and aboveground anti-personnel landmines and UXOs. The position and the type of each detected object are visualized and overlaid on a minefield map. The robot must be able to navigate through rough terrain that mimics a real minefield. This competition was initiated in Egypt by the first author in 2012 [3]. The last edition of the competition was hosted by Institute for Systems and Robotics, University of Coimbra under the auspices of IEEE RAS Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (RAS-SIGHT) in 2014. The fourth edition of the competition will be organized at Catholic University of the North in Antofagasta, Chile in August 19-21, 2015.
  • Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Egypt Regional Competition (http://www.rovegypt.org/): The Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center established ROV competition to engage students in STEM and expose them to science and technology careers, encourage students to develop and apply technical, teamwork, and problem solving skills and to provide funds, materials, and technical expertise to support student learning provide industry with skilled individuals who can fill workforce needs. ROV Egypt regional competition is organized to raise the awareness of the Egyptian students about the new technology related to the underwater technologies and ROV technology and to reinforce the collaboration between the working companies on underwater technologies and the Egyptian universities and schools. Teams compete in designing and building ROV that can achieve under water missions.

B. Orientation Sessions and Panel Discussions

Different orientation sessions and panel discussions are regularly organized at schools, universities, industry and conference to raise the awareness about robotics and automation and to encourage people to participate actively in activities related to these technologies. Recent orientation sessions were delivered in Google I/O, International Conference on Engineering and Technology (ICET) and International Conference on Industry-Academia Collaboration (IAC). Panel discussion entitled “Robotics Education: From Schools to Academia and Industry” was organized in ICET and another panel discussion entitled “Strengthening Industry-Academia Collaboration in Robotics and AI” is organized in IAC 2015. A technology day was also organized at Suez University in collaboration with Google and Microsoft.

C. Women in Robotics and Automation

The Egyptian Women Engineering Day is to be established as extension of Egyptian Engineering Day (EED) in order to encourage and promote an environment where Egyptian women can pursue scientific activities in the area of robotics and automation as the role of the female engineer in oriental society is not recognized yet. The Egyptian Engineering Day (http://www.eed.eg/) is an annual summit that facilitates the opportunity for the best of the engineering graduation projects from all over Egypt to be implemented. The Egyptian Women Engineering Day will show the model of women in engineering besides that connecting the academia and Industry for entrepreneur women for holding their own business.

                                                                                                      IV. Research Support

IEEE RAS Egypt Chapter and Hadath for Entrepreneurship and Innovation have established a national research group on robotics and intelligent systems to conduct multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research and development activities in the area of robotics and autonomous systems. This research group is directed by a group of internationally recognized researchers and experts in the field of robotics, computational intelligence, intelligent data analysis and industrial automation.

RASTalks are also initiated as a series of seminars that aims at providing a communication point for students and researchers to share ideas and learn about robotics and automation in an informal manner. The talks are also widely open to all interested people. RASTalks have been successfully organized in a number of Egyptian universities and we are planning to extend the idea to the secondary schools and science and technology clubs.

                                                                                            V.         Strengthening Industry-Academia Collaboration

Robotics and automation is a promising field that can bridge the gap between academia and industry through bringing industry personnel in the classroom/research lab and academic students/researchers in the industrial workplace in an interactive, collaborative and participative relationship replacing the traditional technology donor-recipient relationship. Industry will benefit from this win-win relationship through getting access to the latest, most up-to-date knowledge base and state-of-the-art facilities, creating more opportunities, getting better guidance for the direction of technology development, creating innovative solutions for their industrial problems, increasing productivity and improving the quality and the competitiveness at both local and international levels. Academia will also benefit from this active partnership through educating students/researchers on real-world problems and applied research, getting funds to support the research activities, getting access to real data and spinning off research to companies to create viable products and services.

In order to strengthen industry-academia collaboration in the area of robotics and automation, a robotics and artificial intelligence track has been established as one of the main tracks of international conference on Industry-Academia Collaboration (IAC: http://www.iacconf.com/). This track aims at providing a platform for researchers, engineers, academics and industrial professionals to present their recent research work in robotics and artificial intelligence, their challenging problems and their applicability.

                                                                                                      VI. Technology Transfer

EG Robotics (http://www.egyptrobotics.com/) is an initiative launched by Hadath Egypt for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that aims to build new scientific and business communities in the emerging field of robotics in Egypt and MENA. What began as a series of robotics competitions for students in Egypt has evolved into a roadmap for long-term growth: students from the competitions became graduates, and now these graduates are eager to build an industry. The hope is that each generation will build on the successes of the generation before it, creating a value chain that is able to take advantage of a growing pool of talented human resources. Achieving this goal requires continuous support for the various elements of the ecosystem, from pre-university STEM education, to engineering students, to research and development, entrepreneurship and support for robotics startups, to the industrial sector (both vendors and system integrators) and, finally, to the various types of consumers. EG Robotics aims at stimulating interdependence between all of these elements. In addition, it targets to build bridges and to foster technology transfer between the Egyptian market and other international markets.

                                                                                                      VII. Conclusion

This paper summarized the different activities conducted by IEEE RAS Egypt Chapter and Hadath for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to shape the future of robotics and automation in Egypt. These activities focus on five main directions, namely, educating people on robotics and automation, outreach programs, research support, strengthening industry-academia collaboration and technology transfer. The activities resulted in raising the public awareness about the role of robotics and automation in solving different challenging problems and improving work conditions, productivity and product quality. A noticeable increase in number of people engaged in robotics and automation activities from both academia and industry and a growing number of small and medium-sized Egyptian startups are witnessed. The number of research and prototype grants offered by governmental and private funding agencies and dedicated for robotics and automation projects has recently been increased as well.

References
  • Khamis, F. J. Rodriguez, R. Barber, M. A. Salichs, “An Approach for Building Innovative Educational Environments for Mobile Robotics”, Special Issue on Robotics Education, International Journal of Engineering Education”, TEMPUS Publications, 22(4):732-742, 2006.
  • Papert and I. Harel. Constructionism. MIT Press, 1991.
  • Khamis, “Minesweepers: Towards a Landmine-free Egypt”, Journal of ERW and Mine Action, 17.1 Spring 2013 issue.

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Developing Countries Forum – 2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Seattle, Washington, USA, 2015

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