When Isaac Asimov wrote his science fiction book titled “I, Robot” in 1950; he had little knowledge of what the 21st Century was going to bring forth but nonetheless dreamt forth an elaborate futuristic human society that had embraced robotics into their daily lives and adapting accordingly.
As a technological leap is happening in today’s information age, we are seeing extraordinary work being done by US based Double Robotics and Ekso Bionics among many who are turning that science fiction into reality. Robotics industry in Bangladesh is still in its infancy which has huge potential for startups to startup and build businesses.
Although the industry is pretty nascent in Dhaka, there have some excellent initiatives being taken locally to boost the interest of young minds and even send them to international platform to compete. In the following sections we will highlight the important milestones that were crossed and the future potentials that is yet to be harnessed.
ESAB and Global Robotics Challenge 2016
Engineering Students Association of Bangladesh (ESAB) has been at the forefront of bringing robotics to the aspiring students in universities and challenging them to compete amongst each other. The Global Robotics Challenge Country Round that took place on the 12th of February of this year, which opens up opportunities for local student innovators to come up with interesting projects.
As a platform, ESAB has the foresight to keep robotics in their events which help launch local teams into the international arena such as TechKriti which is held in IIT Kanpur of India. As a world renowned engineering college, IIT Kanpur provides students innovative ideas and incubates budding engineers into challenging their understanding of robotics with others around the world.
ESAB hosts similar events and also provide local students to interact with investors and companies to push their projects to the mainstream.
One Hit Wonders of Bangladeshi Robotics: Feroz and Shiblee
As a developing nation; Bangladesh is known for coming up with frugal and innovative inventions to the mainstream society, even though eventually they do not progress the later stages of development. These projects are essential as a testament of ingenuity of Bangladesh student with limited technological resources and provide inspiration for a future generation of innovators.
Feroz Ahmed Siddiky’s “IRobo” was a humanoid robot capable of doing household chores at voice commands, spatial intelligence which let it maneuver a normal household terrain without tumbling down. This robot was envisioned to cost around US$ 1000 in 2007, even though the project was picked up the international media circuit; regrettably, it did not progress towards the commercialization stage.
Shiblee Imtiaz Hasan and BRAC University’s Team came up with a simple Tele-Robotic Lunar Excavator which competed at the 2nd Annual Lunabots Mining Competition in 2011 at NASA Kennedy Space Centre. This project was also another frugal attempt by a resource strapped nation’s student innovators coming up with a cost effective lunar mining excavator. The project, despite its team effort, did not progress beyond the competition but was a crucial milestone in setting the tone for future endeavor in this field. These ventures would be a reference point to come back to when robotics industry finally kicks off in the country.
Planeter Bangladesh: A Commercial Robotics Startup based in Chittagong
Planter Bangladesh, which officially started in 2012 from Chittagong, started with a vision to train the youth in robotics courses in the hope that they can independently build their own robots. This training feeds into the robotics competitions being held nationally. They presented their venture in TedxDhaka 2014 which helped them gain valuable traction nationally.
Their telepresence robot “RIRA” is the most commercial robotics endeavor in the local market, as it let a person have a presence in the office remotely which can be viable commercial interest in the corporate office culture. They also recently forayed into the smart security system; which was made locally by them. It was installed in a major pharmaceutical firm which shows their willingness to diversify their portfolio while keeping true to their interest in robotics.
Future of Robotics in Bangladesh: Off to a Good Start
As these initiatives showed, the Bangladesh robotics is off to a good start, even though it is lacking behind in entirely robotics based startup but these initiatives should point the innovators in the right direction. Engineering departments in private and public universities do research in robotics but to push up to the par of Indian IIT’s which leads in robotics research in this region would be challenging.
As termed by World Bank, as a Developing Country Bangladeshi endeavors in science often do not get the developmental priority like other sectors. In the recent years, the trends have been changing as the government is taking an active interest in the technological industry which includes the Robotics. This provides the ample investment climate for prioritized investments in this field and as human resources such as engineers are graduating in the thousands every year; the hiring climate for startups would be competitive in that way.
Lastly, we move back to the science fiction because that is where our current robotics industry finds its roots. As Asimov wrote in his famous novel “I, Robot”; “... you just can't differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.” This quote encapsulates the potentials that we seek in our robotics industry and the illuminated future that we strive for as a nation.