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A2RL STEM Competition: UAE’s brightest young minds gear up for autonomous racing challenge

A2RL STEM Competition: UAE’s brightest young minds gear up for autonomous racing challenge
7 Mar 2024 08:32

Mays Ibrahim (ABU DHABI) 


ASPIRE, the programme management arm of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), launched a new STEM programme under the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) on Wednesday, poised to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. 


The A2RL STEM Programme is supported by YAS in Schools, a youth-focused initiative that offers schools project-based STEM learning programmes, and Autonoma Labs company.


The programme sets the stage for young minds ages 16 to 21 to compete in teams to programme autonomous scale race cars. This endeavour is a prelude to the highly anticipated A2RL, hailed as the largest autonomous racing league globally.


The A2RL STEM Competition is scheduled for April 27, in parallel with the inaugural A2RL race. It will witness UAE’s brightest students engaging in coding, calibrating, and operating autonomous vehicles inspired by A2RL’s Dallara Super Formula SF23 race car. Eighteen schools from diverse backgrounds will partake in this transformative event, epitomising the fusion of technology and motorsports.


A2RL is a new race series featuring eight teams from across North America, Europe, the UAE, and Asia, competing with fully autonomous race cars for a share of the $2.25 million prize fund. 


“The series aims to accelerate autonomous development and innovation, pushing the technology forward for the eventual benefit of road safety,” according to a statement by ASPIRE sent to Aletihad. 
Before the main A2RL competition, 173 students enrolled in the A2RL STEM Programme will participate in customised challenges and races. These students represent 18 diverse public and private educational institutions, encompassing high schools, universities, robotics institutions, and one international team from the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit in the US.


“Throughout the Programme, teams will be tasked with developing the systems to automate control of a one-eighth-scale, electric-powered, four-wheel-drive race car,” the statement said. These vehicles boast top speeds of 100 km/h and can handle up to 1.6 G of acceleration. They incorporate advanced technology and control systems to enable autonomous racing. 


Stephane Timpano, CEO at ASPIRE, said: “To meet the challenges of humanity’s future, we must inspire, nurture, and invest in, the next generation of STEM talent. We have been thrilled with the engagement and excitement of students in response to our A2RL STEM Programme. It is an exhilarating and practical way to teach, learn, and discover some of the fundamental technologies behind autonomous vehicles and the fast-paced world of motorsport.”


In an interview with Aletihad, Timpano noted the critical role autonomy will play in shaping the future of transportation and technology, stressing the importance of engaging young minds in these cutting-edge fields.


He noted that the competition isn’t merely about racing; it’s a platform for showcasing Abu Dhabi’s technological prowess on a global scale, and propelling the UAE’s vision for a brighter, technology-driven future, with its youth leading the charge. 


The STEM programme isn’t limited to Abu Dhabi alone; it embraces teams from Dubai and even extends its reach to the US, exemplifying its commitment to fostering global connections and collaboration among young innovators, said Timpano.


Young innovators participating in the programme also shared their stories and ambitions with Aletihad.


Ahmed, a 14-year-old student from Al Ghad Charter School, embarked on his coding journey at the age of 11 when faced with a hacking incident. Transitioning from Kali Linux to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and eventually Linux, Ahmed’s passion for coding blossomed.


“In the future I want to use my coding skills in cybersecurity. I’m currently working on developing a system for my school to streamline attendance and grade logging processes,” said Ahmed, who dreams of working for tech giants like Microsoft or Google.


His teammate Khalid Mohammed, also 14, found his coding niche at 13 through a school competition called Games4Change. Inspired by the challenge of “creating something out of nothing”, Khalid clinched international recognition with his game designs.


“When I grow up, I want to become an astronaut, because I’ve always loved physics and chemistry,” said Khalid, noting that his coding skills will be a vital tool for furthering his future in astronomy.
Aletihad also spoke with Raja’, a student at Qatr Al Nada School, who leads a dynamic team of aspiring coders, aged 15 to 16.


United by their passion for cars and determined to challenge gender stereotypes, they entered the competition to prove their fortitude. With interests in Formula racing and AI, they’ve honed their coding skills since fifth grade, winning accolades in various competitions.


“We’re here to win, and to prove that girls can do it too,” said Raja’, who dreams of a future in Formula racing or pediatric neurology, in a conversation with Aletihad.


The A2RL STEM Programme includes 19 workshops is intended to give teams the skills and knowledge to develop control systems for their small-scale autonomous race cars. The curriculum is comprised of 11 online lectures ranging from the “Fundamentals of Autonomous Vehicles” to “Strategy, Race Control, and Decision Making” while eight practical exercises will reinforce learning using a state-of-the-art cloud-based simulator, according to the statement by ASPIRE. 


In the middle of April, a number of teams will be selected to officially compete in Abu Dhabi. Their control systems will undergo rigorous testing during a qualification phase and race day on April 27. This event is set to take place at the A2RL Fan Zone as part of the main A2RL event, featuring autonomous Super Formula race cars tackling challenges at speeds of up to 300 km/h on the renowned Yas Marina Circuit.

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