by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 13 March 2015

Sunday saw the first year anniversary of the disappearance of MH370.  For conspiracists and critics of the airline/government(s)/military, this presented an opportunity to update and disseminate their theories.  Already, the publication of the 600-page interim report, with the revelation that the battery of the locater beacon had expired more than year before the flight, has provided further ammunition to this exercise.  For those who lost family members and friends, however, the day was much more about remembrance, seeking solace, and holding on to hope, as seen in interviews by international news media as well as those who attended the remembrance event at Publika.

However, I had promised to deliver a speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Malaysia VEX Robotics Competition.  The VEX Robotics World Championship takes place every April in the United States of America – and unlike the baseball “World” Series, teams from all over the globe really do take part.  In previous years, Malaysian contingents were selected by the local VEX partner, Robotics Learning Malaysia, due to the infancy of VEX robotics in the country, and thus a small pool of teams in the first place.  In 2011 a team from SMK Bukit Bandaraya went to Epcot in Florida, while in 2012 the Malay College Kuala Kangsar’s newly-formed robotics club went to Anaheim in California.  In 2013 and 2014, MCKK were joined by Kolej Yayasan Saad, and in both years they beat 200 teams to take home the Community Award.

This year however, for the first time, there was enough interest from schools around the country that a national-level competition could be held at the first time.  100 students forming ten teams from six boarding schools from all over the country – SMS Labuan, Tunku Kurshiah College, MCKK, Sekolah Tun Fatimah, SMS Kuala Selangor and Kolej Yayasan Saad (the sole private institution) – converged at The School in Jaya One, where a new robotics centre called Roboticist (owned and managed by Robotics Learning Malaysia) has recently opened its doors to students of all ages.  In a solid show of government support for a thoroughly private sector initiative in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, both the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (whose affable Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Abu Bakar was event patron) and the Ministry of Education endorsed the event.

The idea behind the competition is that two teams, each controlling a pair of robots (each unique, being designed and assembled by team members from toolkits), compete in an arena to programme and control their robots to assemble objects or move objects onto goalposts: either successful action gains the team points.  Of course, robots can be used to prevent other robots from completing these tasks, or to undo those tasks: it is essentially a more academic version of Robot Wars.  When time runs out, the points are tallied up, and then the teams play others in a league format.

The judges – which included representatives from international science-heavy firms such as Toyota, Safran and Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, and headed by a former Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Tenaga Nasional – assessed teams in accordance with five themes.  Each carried an award, but only one conferred the privilege of going to Kentucky to compete at the World Championship.  MCKK took that spot: I told the boys that the intense and boisterous school loyalty that they exhibited throughout the day (surely relatable by anyone who attended a boarding school) must now give way to a higher sense of patriotism when they fly the Jalur Gemilang next month.

Before I delivered my morning speech, I was reminded that it was International Women’s Day, and so I thought it particularly apt to commend the two entrepreneurs at the head of this entire endeavour – sisters Ilylia and Nabila Kamaruzaman, together with their parents – for being so determined over the past few years.  I have been witness to all the unsuccessful proposals and broken promises they endured – but nothing compared to the sudden death of their brother who was as equally a passionate contributor to the project.  Sunday’s triumph paid homage to Izmir Ali Jerrahi.

As the event concluded, the rain waylaid my plans to change into a red shirt for Redberry’s Chinese New Year open house, after which I zipped across town to the Royal Selangor Golf Club.  There, two women of international repute battled each other at the singles final of the BMW Malaysian Open, concluding a competition oft-interrupted by rain delays.  As I watched Caroline Wozniacki beat Alexandra Dulgheru, it was said that certain VIP guests were supposed to attend, but another gathering earlier trumped their plans.  At that event too, people were supposed to wear, but not see, red – especially in the political or economic sense.

Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS

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