Meet Africa’s ro­bot­ics pi­o­neer

Finweek English Edition - - ENTREPRENEUR - BY JON PIEN­AAR AND MANDY DE WAAL

Any­one who grew up read­ing Isaac Asimov, in­clud­ing his Robot se­ries fea­tur­ing I, Robot, will be familiar with ‘The Three Laws of Ro­bot­ics’ and has likely dreamed of own­ing one of th­ese au­ton­o­mous me­chan­i­cal mar­vels. But Sam Kodo, who hails from Togo, did much more than dream of own­ing a robot. He built his first one be­fore the age of eight.

Just in case you haven’t read Asimov, the three laws state that ro­bots must never hurt hu­mans, ro­bots must obey hu­mans and ro­bots must pro­tect them­selves. All th­ese laws are su­per­seded by the supreme rule that hu­mans are to be pro­tected and not harmed.

It has been over 20 years since Asimov’s death, and to­day ro­bot­ics is a key tech­nol­ogy for the fu­ture. Al­ready, much of man­u­fac­tur­ing is au­to­mated, and ro­bots are re­plac­ing hu­mans for me­nial, ‘mind­less’ work and in ex­treme con­di­tions. Ja­pan is look­ing at end­ing the short­age of care­givers for the el­derly with ro­bots, while Iran is testing com­bat ro­bots.

It is not sur­pris­ing to learn that one of the world’s most for­ward-look­ing com­pa­nies, Google, has been ac­quir­ing com­pa­nies that are use­ful in prac­ti­cal, ev­ery­day ro­bot­ics. Fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tems, ma­chine learn­ing sys­tems, nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing, ges­ture recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, ro­botic parts (such as arms, wheels and cam­eras), ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, im­age recog­ni­tion and de­sign – all fea­ture in ac­qui­si­tions by the com­pany over the past few years.

Most of th­ese com­pa­nies have been as­sim­i­lated into Google’s top-se­cret lab known as Google X, run by com­pany founder Sergey Brin. This is the di­vi­sion re­spon­si­ble for an­other vi­sion­ary con­cept: pri­vate space f light. Google is also the com­pany be­hind the devel­op­ment of

SAM KODO, A YOUNG MAN FROM THE WEST AFRICAN NA­TION OF TOGO WHO’S BEEN EX­PER­I­MENT­ING WITH RO­BOTS SINCE HE WAS A CHILD, HAS BIG DREAMS. HE HAS AL­READY DONE MORE IN THE FIELD THAN MOST PEO­PLE TWICE HIS AGE, AND WITH LIMITED RE­SOURCES. SHORT­LISTED FOR THE ANZISHA PRIZE, KODO IS PI­O­NEER­ING RO­BOT­ICS IN AFRICA.

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