Silas Adekunle, grew up in a well-off family in Nigeria but lacked exposure to technology until his family moved to the UK when he was 10 years old. According to a Forbes interview, the young Adekunle would tinker with amateur robotics, getting ideas from YouTube and dabbling in code before he went on to do programming in C++ at university.
Through training and constant refining, Adekunle improved immensely from his teenage experiments, which included (as detailed in the Forbes interview), a robotic hand made out of baked beans cans, and a robotic face (based on the Kismet robot of MIT’s Dr Cynthia Breazeal) that had tennis balls for eyes and rolled-up pieces of paper for ears.
In 2013 Adekunle met Christopher Beck, co-founder and CTO of Reach Robotics. They partnered up to develop Mekamon, the world’s first gaming robot.
“When I went into robotics, I really loved motion,” Adekunle told Forbes. “People are used to clunky robots, and when you make it realistic, people either love it or they’re freaked out.”
To this end the gaming bot has a special feature that allows the user to customise it to perform personalised functions. Its initial launch saw the sale of 500 bots, generating US$7,5 million.
“Everyone told us it was too complicated and expensive and no one would buy it,” Christopher Beck told Forbes. “Toy manufacturers who were stuck in their ways were saying ‘You have to make it as cheap as possible. People will play with it for five minutes, then break it.’”
No one, he adds, has dared to be as bold as they have been. “There are a few legged robots but they scuttle and don’t walk,” he continued. “Or they walk in a way that you can’t animate. We animate this robot.”
— Ian Hales (@ijhales) September 1, 2018
Reach Robotics is on course to sell many more Mekamon robots thanks to an exclusive distribution deal signed in November 2017 with Apple Retail. The tech giant deferred to the impressive quality of the four-legged “battle bots”. which also have the ability to show emotion with subtly calibrated movements, placing them in nearly all of its stores in the United States and Britain, priced at an affordable US$300.
“The partnership with Apple has been fruitful,” said Adekunle, adding that he is looking to continue the relationship. “We have many more products to bring to market.”
Adekunle has also received support from various organisations, including London Venture Partners to the tune of US$10 million (N360 million).
STEM for the future
One portion of the Mekamon clientele includes parents who are trying to encourage their children towards the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – and what better way than an interactive game bot.
This is a payoff that Adekunle hoped for back in 2013, when he became a team leader of the Robotics in Schools programme. This programme encourages and pays attention to promising students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He said that it was during this time that he decided to develop robotics that would make education more entertaining for potential or practicing STEM students.