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Team Albania in Dubai
Nearly a year ago, my mother told me something right out of the blue. I was doing some homework at my desk, looking at the clock every few minutes out of sheer boredom, when she popped her head through the doorway. She looked at me with a mildly confused expression, as if she was wondering why I hadn’t made any noticeable progress on my algebra problems after 20 minutes.
She said, “Martin, your old technology teacher Besnik wants to talk to you about something important.”
I asked her, “What do you think it is?”
She told me, “He didn’t specify, so we should probably meet up in person.”
We agreed to meet up at a nearby cafe, where we then waited for him to turn up. During the ride there, I wondered what he could possibly want to meet up in person to talk about. My mother and I sat down at a table inside, ordered a few drinks, and waited. Once he arrived, we made some idle conversation: family, work, the usual things one talks about when they don’t want to get to the point right away. He then told us that he wanted me to join Team Albania’s robotics team to represent the country in a worldwide Olympics-style tournament taking place in Dubai.
Honestly, I was quite confused as to why he wanted me over anyone else. Immediately, thoughts started rushing into my head. Why me? What did I have to offer? Why was this so important that we absolutely had to meet up in order to discuss instead of just doing it over the phone like most things are done nowadays?
I finally decided to ask Besnik, “What exactly does this mean, and what do I have to contribute to the team?”
He told me that I’d have to give up a large portion of my summer working with other high-school students to design, build, and program a robot in order to enter in a themed competition taking place in Dubai during October. After getting a better understanding of what was needed of me, I agreed to join the team.
About three months later, we drove up to the European University of Tirana, a big building with blue walls, entry and exit signs on the doors, and cold, hard floors. I walked past some small crowds that had formed, which I presumed to be professors and faculty members at the school. As my shoes squeaked on the floor while I walked into the technology lab on the 2nd floor, I couldn’t help but wonder what was to come. Although I still didn’t fully understand what this whole deal was about, I convinced myself that it was going to be fine, and that I had nothing to worry about.
I met up with the other members of the team: Gianmarco, another TIS student and the only person I knew from before, Dea, a student at Qemal Stafa High School, and Igli, a towering young man who intimidated me at first, but soon showed us that he was actually a very kind-hearted guy.
We spent the first month or so looking for sponsors to cover the expenses of the tournament, but we didn’t have the best of luck. However, we managed to score a deal with a large company that loved to see kids in the STEM fields and was more than happy to provide for us. After that, we received the robot kit, which essentially functioned as a restriction on what we were allowed to use for our robots, and immediately started working. Progress went pretty smoothly for the first three weeks or so, then we started hitting roadblocks left, right, and center: some of our very few motors breaking and leaking oil, gears wearing down to the point of unusability, motors running at different speeds due to a production defect; if you could imagine a problem, it probably happened to us. The robot’s size limitations of 50x50x50cm didn’t help us either, as we had to think of ways to make the different mechanisms fit together without going over it.
Many of our next practices were a blur; at least, that was until we found out that our mechanism, made to shoot the balls into the goal, didn’t send them nearly high enough. I started worrying once again: did we have enough time to go back and redo it? What if our new mechanism was too resource-demanding? Fortunately, we had both ample time and a lot of parts, so we ended up revamping the design. Unfortunately, this meant we would have to strip the robot of almost all of the inner body to make space for the new shooter. Thankfully, the new shooter that we built was more than effective and so we didn’t need to do much else in that department.
We leave for Dubai, arguably the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates, to partake in the FIRST Global Challenge on October 24th. Albania has never really been known for innovation in technology; in fact, Albania recently measured as one of the last countries in the rankings of innovation and tech, so I hope that our team at least proves to the others that Albania does know what they’re doing. Who knows? Maybe we could even win the competition along the way, proving just how capable a country as small as ours can be.