Ghana Sectech represents Ghana at 2018 Robofest World Championship

Ghana Sectech represents Ghana at 2018 Robofest World Championship
Source: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com additional files by Tetteh Abbeyquaye
Date: 25-06-2018 Time: 05:06:17:pm
Prof. James Heffernan of QCC shows other types of robots that can sense and avoid obstacles

Giantbot1 from Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) in Takoradi returned from Southfield, Michigan after representing Ghana as one of three teams at the 2018 Robofest World Competition. 

GSTS,  Opoku Ware Secondary School’s (ROID) and Right to Dream Academy’s (Shut Up) from Ghana rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s best robotic teams from countries such as China, Hong Kong, the USA, Canada, and India. 

GIANTBOT1 competed in the senior division of the main contest called “the Game” and finished with a ranking of 12th out of 23 teams.

All the Ghanaian teams did well in the actual competition with, Right to Dream Academy ranking 8th and Opoku Ware Secondary School ranking 14th.

Gt. Irving Nemi of the GSTS Alumni Association (GAA) noted that “we are happy with the performance of our team considering this is the first time GSTS has participated in any team event or sport internationally.  We are taking back with us some lessons and hope to do better next year.

Placing 12th among some of the world’s best robotics teams is a good achievement especially on our first try”.

GSTS is currently the 2017 Gold, Silver and Bronze Autonomous Rescue (ARC) National Champions in Ghana. Encouraged by the GSTS Alumni Association, this technically-minded school that has produced perhaps more engineers in Ghana than any other school did not get into robotics to merely participate in competitions.

Giant Henry Boafo, an architect and Head Coach of GiantBot1, stated that “we hope to start producing the next generation of innovators, scientists, technicians, entrepreneurs and engineers to spearhead the development of Ghana”.

GSTS was founded in 1909 as the Government Technical School. It is the first purely technical school, the first hybridized secondary technical school, and the third oldest Secondary School in Ghana. The core mission of its founding was to provide the technical foundation for the industrialization program of the British colonial government.

It was later moved from Accra to Takoradi so that it would be close to the industrial heart of the then Gold Coast. Many industries in Ghana were run by graduates of GSTS. The railways, mineral mines, Volta River Authority, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the technical branches of the Armed Forces all owe their preeminence to graduates of GSTS.

Unfortunately, as most alumni of the school would complain about, technical education in Ghana has not be given the priority it deserves for decades now,  which has ultimately affected the industrial base, and the maintenance culture of the country, as our infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

 “No country can develop if it does not have well trained technical people. We are literally going to be wasting money if we don’t seriously consider investing in technical education or STEM” remarked Gt. Samuel Akuamah Boateng’79’82.

Giant Wing Commander William Kekrebesi (Rtd)’70’72, President of the GAA added that the GAA is ready to partner with any entity to revive technical education at GSTS and in Ghana, “we pray that the government and the private sector partner with us, we have the expertise; what we need is help with capital and space. We have waited for too long and can’t wait anymore hence our decision to support robotics at GSTS which is a new technology.”

“The idea that students have to wait until university to the first experience or learn about these new technologies is unfortunate. In some countries, students in first-grade children are already doing robotics and some schools even have it as part of their curriculum” added Giant Joseph Papa Amuah PhD.

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A student at WTSH explaining something to the Giantbot1 team members

Visit to Worcester Technical High School

An important aspect of the GSTS team’s visit to the US was the educational tour of the Worcester Technical High School (WTHS) and Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) in Worcester, MA.

The team’s invitation was a follow up to last year’s visit by the Headmaster of GSTS Mr. Samuel Essel at the invitation of GSTS Alumni Association of North America.

During that visit, the Headmaster got the opportunity to tour these same schools as well as others in New York City.

 “Apart from the competition, we wanted to expose our students to the other possibilities out there”, Gt. Idun Lee PhD ’80’82 (President, GAA-North America). WTHS shares a lot with GSTS.

Both schools were founded around the same time, both started as technical schools and both now pursue traditional academic subjects like the sciences, social sciences, mathematics, and English in addition to technical subjects.

Where the similarities end is: while WTHS is very well equipped and takes its technical curriculum very seriously, GSTS has seen a dramatic decline in its technical program and its technical facilities currently lie in ruins.

The three hour tour of WTHS saw the team visiting the school’s robotics and automation technology, advanced manufacturing, auto tech/collision, drafting, welding technology, carpentry, electrical, painting/design technology, and programming/web development departments.

Giantbot1 also had the opportunity to visit the biotechnology labs and a new veterinary assisting program which is run in collaboration with Tuft University School of Veterinary Medicine.

At the advanced manufacturing workshop, the students were shown a number of precision manual equipment including lathes, grinder, and milling machines. They also got the opportunity to see equipment that used precision CNC and CAD/CAM programming. Students at WTHS also discussed their projects and walked the Giantbot1 team through the operation of some of these equipment. One area that got the team very excited was the tour of the Additive Manufacturing section of the workshop. In this area, 3D printing and 3D scanning technologies were being used to fabricate all sorts of items. Although Giantbot1 members were eager to try their hand on 3D printing, time was not on their side as they had to fly to Michigan later in the day.

In the Robotics and Automation Technology department, Giantbot1 members had one on one interactions with their peers who explained to them various projects from the design stage using Computer-aided Design (CAD), to prototyping and finally fabrication using 3-D printing. They also discussed and showed them projects involving programmable logic controllers. Each department presented our students with new exciting experiences and knowledge which was the exact purpose of the visit. They realized that the skills learned in their robotics club were being used by students of the same age to solve real-life problems. 

After the WTHS visit, Giantbot1 visited Quinsigamond Community College where they toured the chemistry department and the school’s advanced manufacturing lab as well as robotics lab. At the robotics lab, Gianbot1 members were introduced to the different types of robots. These included industrial robots as well as robots made from scratch by students at the college.

Together with Robofest 2018, these tours were eye-openers for the team members as they came to realize the utility of robotics as an extracurricular activity worth their time, and the need to combine it with a strong technical background. We (the GAA) hope that a light has been lit in the minds of these young folks and that, this is the beginning of many such exchanges as well as great things at GSTS. We also hope that, as a country, we would at least start a conversation on this topic among the relevant stakeholders - schools, alumni, parents, industry and government.

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Giantbot1 members observing an industrial robot at work during the tour of QCC

The GiantBot1 team was made up of Masters Kelvin Aboagye, Kelvin Nketia-Achiampong, Kofi Erzuah Buah, Abeiku Nyarko-Lartey and Ainstein Anomel; and is coached by Gt. Mr. Henry Boafo, an alumnus of GSTS and lecturer at KNUST, Assistant Coaches Prince Odame, and Gt. Obed Amoasi with Gt. Joseph Mensah as the Master-in-Charge.  GSTS has a robotics club with approximately 160 members.

A little bit of history

In the end, the educational trip of Giantbot1 to the US was not only about STEM. They capped off their trip with a surprise invitation to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture located in Washington DC. This Smithsonian museum dedicated to African-American history comprises of 85,000 square feet of exhibition space. It houses approximately 3000 historical objects, 12 exhibitions and multiple interactive stations. Giantbot1 were extremely fortunate to be able to visit the museum at such short notice due to the high demand for tickets. Apart from that, they were also fortunate to be treated to a guided tour of the museum. It must be said that, even though the focus was on history, the integration of information technology into the operation of the museum was not missing on the team member.

Exemplary teamwork and appreciation

Perhaps the untold story of this trip is the role played the GSTS Alumni Association (GAA). Simply put, it was teamwork at its very best. In spite of pressing projects that are currently being undertaken at GSTS, the GAA felt that it was equally important to support this trip as a means to encourage more students to become interested in technical/STEM education again. Apart from donations, the role played by various chapters, year groups and individuals Giants in sending off, receiving, hosting, feeding, and supporting the team at and before the competition was in itself spectacular.

According to the Head Coach Gt. Henry Boafo, “I really did not feel like I had travelled. We were sent off from Takoradi by Gt. Ebenezer Koomson (Secretariat Coordinator) and GAA-Takoradi; received in Accra by Gt. Emmanuel Owusu, Gt. Dr. Samuel K. Kwofie and Gt. Sam Akuamoah-Boateng (GAA 1st Vice President) from GAA-Accra Chapter. After a reception hosted by Gt. Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu (Vice-Chancellor) and GAA-University of Ghana Chapter, we were seen off at the airport by GAA-Accra. Upon arrival in the US, a welcoming team from GAA-North America made up of Gt. Irving Nemi, Gt. Kwabena Nkansah and Gt. Victor Gorman met us at the airport and took us to our hotels. The next morning it was to Boston, and Worcester, Massachusetts where we were met by Gt. Tony Ashon and Gt. Dr. Tetteh Abbeyquaye and then to Detroit, Michigan where Gt. Leo Wilson met and hosted us. At each stop, we were met by members of the GAA. The GAA organization was simply superb. We got home and GAA-Accra was there again to welcome us and check us into a hotel for the night. Our Giantbot1 students were amazed and I was simply proud to be an alumnus of GSTS. GAA, Giantbot1 and GSTS appreciate and thank everyone for what you have done for us, especially those who quietly worked behind the scenes”.

Not every person that joined this effort can be mentioned in this article, we, therefore, thank all Giants, the entire GAA, and especially the GAA Executives led by Gt. Wg. Cmdr William Kekrebesi (Rtd). To all the GAA Chapters, Year Groups and especially their Executives/Leaders/Fundraisers who spearheaded and assiduously raised money for this trip, we extend a gigantic thank you. Giantbot also sends its special thanks to the fundraising committee and volunteers especially Gt. Samuel K. Kwofie, Gt. Sam Boateng, Gt. Samuel Bunyan, Gt. Tito Kingsley Ampiah, Gt. Joseph Amuah and Gt. Yaw Domena.  Also grateful and thankful to are the members and leadership of GAA –Kumasi, GAA- Accra, and GAA- North America for their warm reception and hospitality.

Finally, the GSTS and GAA say they would like to express their deepest appreciation to the Ministry of Education, the United States Embassy, the Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation, Principal Kyle Brenner (WTHS), Assistant Principal Michelle Phenix (WTHS), Ms. Allison Wilcox (National Museum of African American History and Culture), Gt. Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu (Vice Chancellor, University of Ghana), Gt. Mr. Enoch Cobbinah, Chief Director (MOE), and the Honorable Minister of Education Dr. Matthew Prempeh, for their unflinching support and personal interest in technical education and robotics. 

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