Posted on April 16, 2016

The air was filled with flying machines as 28 Qatari students from schools across Qatar navigated their drones through an obstacle course to show off the exciting aspects of engineering and science they learned last week through Engineering Heroes Drone Camp in Education City.

His Excellency the Minister of Energy and Industry Dr. Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Sada attended the final day of Engineering Heroes to watch the students navigate through the obstacle course competition. Engineering Heroes is a unique and innovative academic outreach initiative that teaches principles of aviation, programming and power electronics as students are immersed in drone technology and its diverse applications.

Dr. Hassan S. Bazzi, assistant dean for research and executive director of development, engagement and outreach at Texas A&M at Qatar, said the program demonstrated the diverse applications for engineering and science in Qatar’s pursuit of a knowledge-based economy. “Engineering and science are essential for Qatar’s oil and gas industry, but the value of such expertise extends much further, particularly in defense and national security,” Bazzi said. “Through Engineering Heroes, these Qatari students saw a broad range of career opportunities that await them after university studies in engineering and science.”

Maersk Oil Qatar is the exclusive sponsor and industry partner for Engineering Heroes, which was organized by Texas A&M University at Qatar. Engineering Heroes is just one of the many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs put together by Texas A&M at Qatar and Maersk Oil Qatar through their Dhia: Engineering Leaders partnership, which delivers strategic educational outreach programs to motivate young Qataris to choose educational pathways for careers in fields related to STEM.

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Throughout the week, faculty, staff and researchers from Texas A&M at Qatar and Hamad bin Khalifa University led students through exercises and design challenges to prepare them for the final challenge the drone obstacle course competition in which the students applied what they learned to simulated real-world problems that drones can solve. An added challenge for the students was learning to program and navigate in three dimensions — not just forward and backward, and right and left, but also up and down — using cameras mounted on the drones.

The seven teams, each of four or five students, were coached by officers from the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Center of the Qatar Armed Forces. The student teams were required to fly their drones through an obstacle course that included a model of the Zubarah Fort and a Maersk Oil Qatar platform in the Arabian Gulf — and to land their drones safely after particular tasks were completed. Winning teams were chosen according to their performance in the obstacle course and their application of programming skills developed over the course of the week.

Lewis Affleck, managing director of Maersk Oil Qatar (MOQ), said, “It’s been a privilege to host some of Qatar’s brightest eighth and ninth grade students at the Engineering Heroes Drones competition. I would also like to congratulate the winners and all the participants on the exceptional effort they put in during the five-day event. The atmosphere was fantastic and I’m very proud to see the enthusiasm and dedication displayed by both the students and their instructors.

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“Initiatives like this play a big role in inspiring the younger generation of students to explore STEM disciplines and develop the necessary skills to become Qatar’s future technical workforce. As an engineer myself, I truly believe that engaging students in hands-on exercises plays a critical role in shaping minds and encouraging youth to pursue STEM education further. As part of MOQ's continuous support towards the Qatar National Vision 2030, we will maintain our focus on supporting STEM initiatives and encouraging young people to drive the development of this country.”

As part of the Engineering Heroes Drone Camp, students also had a special opportunity to preview drone technology recently adopted by Qatar’s military forces during an exclusive presentation earlier in the week by officers from the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Center. General Khalid Ahmad Al-Kuwari encouraged the students to study hard to attain the knowledge needed to support technology for Qatar’s national defense, saying that engineering is a calling for Qatar.

Jowaher Al Marri, outreach and development manager at Texas A&M at Qatar, said encouraging Qatar’s best and brightest young minds to study STEM disciplines is critical to building the human capacity required to drive Qatar toward the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030. “These young Qataris are the future of our country,” Al-Marri said. “Our work is to motivate them to succeed academically and to understand the many ways they can serve Qatar by earning an education in engineering or science.”