Armenia’s TUMO Team Takes Bronze Medal
Special for the Armenian Weekly
“We are few, but they call us Armenians.” These words by Paruyr Sevak rang true at the FIRST Global youth robotics competition held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., where Armenia’s TUMO Center for Creative Technologies team took home the bronze medal.
FIRST, an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was established in 1989 and has organized local robotics competitions for elementary and high school students for many years. However, this year marked the first time they held a global competition, with teams representing 150 countries, six continents, and Team Hope, representing refugees.
“I am so proud of them!” exclaimed Hayk Voskanyan, the team’s mentor and TUMO Center robotics workshop leader, as he watched FIRST founder Dean Kamen bestow the medals on his protégés. The TUMO Center in Yerevan was the home of Team Armenia where they designed, built, and tested their remote-controlled robot in preparation for the competition.
The initiative brought attention to the global challenge of providing clean drinking water. Robots needed to collect plastic balls from the center of the field, sort the blue ones (representing clean water) from the orange ones (representing contaminants), and deposit them according to color.
Although more students were involved during the preparation stage in Yerevan, seven 15-18-year-olds were selected to travel to Washington for the competition, including Levon Balagyozyan (Team Captain), Lilit Tarumyan (Spokesperson), Maria Ter Minasyan (Spokesperson), Ashot Tarumyan, Tigran Sahakyan, Davit Hovhanisyan, and Aram Madantsyan. They shared the champions’ podium with Team Europe and Team Poland who won gold and silver respectively.
The event attracted national headlines when President Trump made an exception to the travel ban to ensure that Afghanistan’s all-female team would be admitted to the U.S. and able to participate. It started with an Olympic-worthy opening ceremony on July 16, as teams entered with their national flags, cheered on by the many ambassadors and even one head of state, Canada’s Governor General-designate Julie Payette, who were in attendance. The closing ceremony two days later was equally impressive and included a keynote speech delivered by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
The TUMO students had a local fan club cheering them on, consisting of the staff and interns at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) D.C. office. Before the competition, they visited the ANCA headquarters to share their experience and career ambitions.
“It’s incredible what you guys are doing,” said Aram Hamparian, ANCA Executive Director. “When you’re done here, consider how your skills might contribute to the cause of Artsakh’s security by designing gunfire locator robots that can be deployed—as part of the Royce-Engel peace proposal along the border with Azerbaijan.”
The young robotics team took a brief respite from competition preparations for sightseeing, including a U.S. Capitol tour graciously hosted by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), who had visited the TUMO Center in Yerevan in 2016. The group was welcomed their first evening in D.C. by families of the local Hamasdegh Armenian School.
The second FIRST Global challenge will be held in the summer of 2018 in Mexico City.