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Young Emirati inventor refuses to sit on laurels

Young Emirati inventor refuses to sit on laurels
24 June 2024 23:09

SARA ALZAABI (ABU DHABI)

For Fatima Alkaabi, the young Emirati inventor, who has numerous accolades to her name, it was her family's unwavering support that fuelled her passion to explore a diverse set of interests and chase her dreams.

From a very young age, Alkaabi explored languages, sports and music. However, a turning point arrived when she encountered robotics.

After seeing robotics on television for the first time, her parents presented her with a robot-building kit. This experience fuelled her passion for innovation, motivating her to explore new frontiers in technology.

Alkaabi has won many awards for her achievements, including the Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance in 2014, winner of the UAE Robot Olympics in 2014, the UAE Pioneers Award as UAE's youngest inventor in 2015, the Arab Award for the Best 10 Inventors and Innovators of 2015, the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak International Award for Arab Youth in 2017 and the Abu Dhabi Awards in 2018.

In an interview with Aletihad, Alkaabi said that her innovative journey got a boost when, at the age of 10, she was nominated to be part of a summer camp with Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance.

"Basically, they had a summer camp where you had to be nominated and then pass an IQ exam or something similar. So, passing was enough, and that is when I joined my first summer camp."

There, she learned about various topics, including astronomy, sports, science, art, and robotics. She also met one of her mentors, Emirati inventor Mohammad Al Shamsi, who conducted a robot workshop, which sparked her interest.

At a Dubai children's talent conference, she presented her first invention, a robot. She expressed gratitude for the awards she has won, which serve as motivation to continue advancing her work.

The Abu Dhabi Awards honours extraordinary individuals for their contributions in building and supporting the community of Abu Dhabi.

Upon receiving the award, she said, "It meant so much to me coming from President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, hearing him speak and receiving his advice. Sitting next to him and hearing how he encouraged me to continue my studies abroad and pursue my degree was incredibly meaningful. This award did not just recognise my inventions but also honoured the volunteer work I did to teach kids through my inventions."

The UAE Pioneers Award also holds a special place in her heart.

"This award is very special to me because it was the first recognition I received from the government for my work. It was the day I officially earned the title of the youngest inventor. Standing on stage with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, hearing his words, and receiving the medal meant so much to me," she said.

Alkaabi has been creating social platforms for innovation and creativity for over four years. She also started a project to teach young children in local schools about innovation and creativity.

"My favourite medium is storytelling, that is how I got interested in science. I watched shows where they tell you the stories of inventors like Thomas Edison and how he tried so many times to invent and create electricity and the light bulb, among other ideas. I used to watch these in cartoon form, retelling the stories of these inventors and scientists, and that really engaged me," Alkaabi said.

In 2016, Alkaabi obtained an internationally accredited certification for peer-to-peer training and counselling. This has solidified her credibility and enhanced her capacity to communicate effectively with her audience.

Alkaabi also represented the UAE's youth at numerous international conferences and forums.

"It is always an honour to go and speak. It makes me very happy to be chosen to represent my own country and my people at different events. I always make sure I leave with new knowledge and maybe new connections."

During the Cisco's Girls Who Code event in 2018, she spoke to girls worldwide, demonstrating the broad appeal of her inventions.

In Alkaabi's opinion, among the challenges young inventors and innovators face is the difficulties in finding guidance, role models, and resources.

However, progress has been made through accessible resources, communities, and online groups, she added.

Alkaabi also has a word of encouragement for aspiring inventors and innovators.

"I have come to realise the best advice I can offer others, as well as myself, is to simply enjoy it. Have fun with it. Now when I am building something, I am not thinking, 'How can I make this the best invention in the world?' Instead, I ask myself, 'How can I make it enjoyable? Follow your passion and find ways to embrace it in small ways – building things for yourself, your family, or your friends," Alkaabi said.

Alkaabi, who graduated from a US computer engineering college, plans to serve her country in the fields of engineering and space technology.

She also intends to make artificial intelligence and inventions more accessible to children, expanding their reach and understanding.

Alkaabi encouraged Emirati students to cultivate curiosity, push themselves to learn and explore new experiences.

"And this is something I try to tell my younger siblings and even remind myself: you do not want to grow up one day and regret that you did not try all the things you wanted to try. Always remember your community needs you. Your younger siblings look up to you. People in your community need you. Your country needs you. The country has given us so much, and it's our time to give back," she emphasised.

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