Major technology event this weekend
With the sixth edition of the Malta Robotics Olympiad just round the corner, National Education Officer James Catania tells Iggy Fenech all about producing Malta’s main technology event.
The fact that Malta has no natural resources – bar the sun and the sea, which we have still to make full use of – has always meant that we had to rely on people to unleash our full potential in various areas.
Technology, however, has aided us immensely: with communication at the click of a mouse button bringing us closer to the world around us and making information more easily accessible.
Nevertheless, the only issue with technology is that it changes incredibly quickly and the powers-that-be must be constantly on the ball to ensure that we don’t lag behind. And the Ministry for Education and Employment, thanks to Minister Evarist Bartolo and Permanent Secretary Joe Caruana’s vision, is at the forefront of this.
So much so that Malta is the first country in Europe to install two 3D-printers in each secondary school to allow students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the latest technology. Malta’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum has also been fashioned in a way that teaches pupils the principles and fundamentals of the business, so as to help them adapt with any change that could come about in the future.
National Education Officer James Catania – who has worked in the industry since the age of 17 with and in some of the biggest ICT companies in Europe, the US, Canada and North Africa, as a consultant to Siemens AG, the United Nations and Patek Philippe, among others – knows about this all too well.
“When I came back from Libya after the Arab Spring, I thought it was about time to give something back to my country,” he says. “Now, as a National Education Officer, the department I work in manages the curricula of Computing and ICT.
“People are born into technology nowadays,” he continues, “so moving the subject forward is the hardest part of our job. Students are changing and times are changing. We have to use what students know and take it to the next level by giving them a clearer idea of what is out there in terms of technology, job opportunities and needs.”
The Malta Robotics Olympiad (MRO) is part of that promise, and by bringing together everything from gaming and robots to design expos and themed talks, the team behind Malta’s biggest technology event is exposing students and the general public to the wide-ranging nature of technology in business, education and lives.
“I took over MRO last year, right before the fifth edition,” Catania explains. “Back then it was still a small event aimed at students but I wanted to give it a push in both quality and prominence, so we got working on having more and bigger exhibits. Last year, in fact, we had 25 exhibitors while this year we have 55. And we’re hoping they’ll go up to 60 by the time the event opens.”
The MRO, which will take place on Friday and Saturday at the MFCC in Ta’ Qali, will be divided into six major events. These will include a Computing and ICT Area, where participants can build robots and have them fight each other in the Legosumo Challenge, and a Design and Technology Expo, where production and product design, as well as manufacturing techniques, will take centre stage. Meanwhile, the EDx Conference part will have talks by professionals in the industry about IT, artificial intelligence ethics, and freedom of information, among other subjects.
“Yet technology can even be a source of entertainment and sport, so we are also including three events that will give audiences the chance to watch enthusiasts and professionals showcase their talents in the IT department. The first is the MRO Big Challenge, which is being supported by GO. This will see four teams, one of which made up of a group of fifth form students, race their autonomous robots through an obstacle course.
“Then we also have the eSports Arena, supported by gamers.com.mt, where semi-professional gamers will be playing Overwatch. Such tournaments abroad attract large, international audiences and we want Malta to be at the forefront of that wave. Finally, we are also organising a drone race as part of the ERSA Drone Nationals. In fact, Malta has now become one of the earliest stops in the European Championships.”
Nevertheless, the star of the show is set to be a moving replica of Wall-E, which has taken over three-months to build. Supported by the University of Malta Artificial Intelligence Department, Wall-E is the result of some incredible teamwork, and has been built with the help and advice of Mike Senna and Michael McMaster, who worked on Wall-E replicas in the past for Disney and Pixar.
“The point of the MRO is to popularise technology and to bring it closer to both prospective students and the general public. We aim to inform and educate - in fact, every display and workshop has an educational purpose: even the Drone Nationals will include a display of flying dynamics.”
Aiming to be a fun day out for all the family, the team behind the MRO has also ensured that getting to the MFCC is as easy as possible. Having teamed up with eCabs, complimentary transport will bring people from the bus stop near the Millennium Stadium, the BOV Adventure Park, and where the open market is usually set up to the MFCC stand every 15 minutes.
“If the MRO inspires people to take up jobs in industry, or even just to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was happening in Malta,’ then we’ll have achieved our aim,” Catania concludes.
The Malta Robotics Olympiad will take place on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 March at the MFCC in Ta’ Qali. The event is sponsored by GO, and is being organised in collaboration with eSkill Foundation Malta, the Valletta 2018 Foundation, Forestals, Trelleborg Malta, and the Malta Communications Authority.