Robotics lab: A place where five-year olds develop games

Published: June 5, 2012

PHOTO: MYROBOTICS.NET

KARACHI: 

After serving high-tech firms in Silicon Valley for 13 years, electrical engineers Afaque Ahmed and Yasin Altaf returned home to connect with their families. Although the family reunion was the real motivation to move back in 2004, the decision is benefiting the country in multiple ways. They have created a platform that prepares future scientists, app developers and also earns foreign exchange.

“We might have been able to earn a lot more in San Jose, California but the satisfaction of staying close to our family and making some tangible contribution to society and the economy is unmatched,” said Ahmed.

“Both Yasin and I were of the opinion that Pakistan is a wonderful place to do business and especially in something related to information and communications technology,” Ahmed said, adding, “yes, there were and are problems but the opportunities like quality human resource, low cost business operations and others outweigh those.”

In 2007, they launched Cloud BPO – a high tech IT outsourcing company that serves international telecom operators. The start-up grossed Rs80 million in revenues at the close of last business year.

While their company is earning valuable foreign exchange for the country, the two are determined to pass on their expertise to the next generation.

“We also wanted to share our technical expertise and experience with our upcoming generation like our nephews, nieces & siblings, which had never been possible with us living in the valley,” Ahmed said.

The two set up a robotics lab, the only modern scientific learning centre in Pakistan, in December 2011, according to its director Afaque Ahmed. The science-based lab that uses robotics to train young children about practical science is a fresh concept even in the US, Ahmed said. It helps young children – from 5 to 16 years of age – to learn about cutting-edge technologies such as Robotics, Programming, iPad Game Development, 3D Scanning, 3D Modeling and 3D printing.

The purpose is to expose children to the practical science, Ahmed said, through the use of state-of-the-art equipment including laptops, robotics kits and high-end software. A single visit of the robotics lab alone speaks volumes about Ahmed’s claim of being the only modern scientific learning centre. As one enters the lab, there is a showcase of 3D objects – replica of robotics kits, parts of machines and toys – which students created using high-end software and a 3D printer. A student can scan a 3D object, improve on the software and print it to his own desire within minutes.

From developing games for iOS – a trillion dollar market for software applications – to creating different machines with the help of robotics, students spend hours in the lab and refuse to go home.

Their Programming Adventure course, Ahmed said, enables students to upload their final project on ‘MiTs’ scratch website – a programming language that makes it easier to create one’s own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art – and share their creations. A five-year-old has developed his own game and uploaded it on Scratch, he said.

Interestingly, what drove Ahmed and Altaf to developing the robotics lab was their own desire to admit their children in a science based summer programme. “After exhausting all options in Karachi, we realised there wasn’t a single place where we could send our kids to learn about science,” said Yaseen Altaf, the co-founder.

There were programmes in arts, painting, karate and music but nothing based on science, Altaf said, which actually led us to launch robotics labs.

They held some demo classes in local restaurants, according to Ahmed, the idea clicked and demand was created. Some of the city’s top schools have already signed up with robotics for summer programs, Ahmed said.

Admitting, the courses are very expensive and only serving children in the upscale neighbourhoods of Defence and Clifton, Ahmed said, they have already trained student from the Deaf Reach and The Citizens Foundation schools.

“Out goal is to push this science lab to TCF schools, a nationwide school network covering about 150,000 underprivileged students.

“We’d like to start the roll out by end of 2012,” Ahmed said. Funding, however, will be a challenge as each student works on equipment worth $1,200, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Imran Con
    Jun 5, 2012 - 7:32AM

    It’s rare that I get a comment through that refers to the picture but it’s actually sort of relevant to the article at the same time. That’s a Sega Genesis controller. A Sega Genesis controller picture with a “state-of-the-art” caption. That thing came out in the 1980s. (yes, I double checked just for this comment,)
    That’s probably only funny to gaming dorks. But, eh, guilty as charged.

    Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 5, 2012 - 10:58AM

    Hmm, just wondering, why do we need a 5 years old to develop games etc. Writing computer software is not that everybody should be doing unlike using computers for content access.

    Recommend

  • Jun 5, 2012 - 2:29PM

    This is something really interesting, I appreciate the work done by the experts..thumbs up !

    Danyal Sandeelo
    http://lolngags.com

    Recommend

  • messed
    Jun 5, 2012 - 2:42PM

    @faraz: seriuosly dude!

    Recommend

  • Maz3tt
    Jun 5, 2012 - 4:14PM

    @faraz i think that we should start appreciating the good work being done and raise our limits in thinking. indeed there are lot of challenges for both the gentleman but they are doing something. failure or success is not in their hand. but at least they are tying to do something for themselves which they will indeed benefit and for their country as well.
    they are not just sitting and cursing the politicians which we are all doing .Recommend

  • Anon
    Jun 5, 2012 - 5:59PM

    if only there was a platform to sustain and keep polishing their research habits. Without any extensive platform this will only be something about which children in future will say ‘been there done that’. It should be a proper evening school rather than just a camp

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  • Farhan
    Jun 5, 2012 - 6:39PM

    The idea is good and its good to see that it is already receiving encouraging results. We should not undermine abilities of today’s generation. Young kids are much more smarter then we thought they are.

    Any such small training may instill a deep desire in kids to study latest scientific things, and may get interested in pursuing a career in it.

    I wonder why some of our commentators here are so negative and pessimistic about our future that they even fail to appreciate a genuinely nice idea.

    Recommend

  • Mujtaba
    Jun 6, 2012 - 2:26AM

    @Imran Con….I have come across a lot of stupid comments on ET (mostly by Indian trolls…which I’m assuming you are) but your comment easily makes it to the top 3…..

    Look if you teach a 5 year old something you start with basics…for example if u teach a 5 year old mathematics, u start with teaching them how to add like 2+2 etc and then build on it….you dont start from teaching them advanced calculus

    Similarly from the picture which you so “intelligently” deduced that they were learning about something from the 80′s….well maybe they are but that is pretty sweet if you ask me, heck I would love to learn myself how to program a controller ANY controller (considering my field is investment analysis so I do not have much exposure to that sort of programming)

    Whats funnier is that you went through all the double checking etc for such a silly argument!

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  • Nyla Adamjee
    Jun 9, 2012 - 8:22PM

    Initially it was hard to believe that someone has established a lab where 5 year old can come do programming. Well seeing is believing and I have seen this with my own eyes. Kids were very much into Robotics and iPad Game Development however the people at the lab were generous enough to spread the message about making kids learn Robotics.

    Instead of criticising the effort of the two people who came up with this great lab idea (and did the practical implementation), you all should visit the place see it your self. I am positive that you’ll start writing good words about them from next day.

    I am not someone who gets impressed easily and when I met these people, the instructors and the teaching assistance… I was impressed!Recommend

  • Jun 9, 2012 - 9:28PM

    Robotics Labs is a high-tech initiative aimed at imparting practical sceintific knowledge to the young generation of Pakistan. We have a dedicated, purpose-built facility where kids come and learn in a fun and engaging environment. Our flagship course is Robotics that involves working with Lego based kits and VEX Robotics kits to teach kids the mechanics and programming concepts. Apart from Robotics we also teach iPad Game Development, 3D Scanning, 3D Modeling, 3D Printing & Programming Adventures.

    Since our inception we have been successfully conducting Winter & Summer Camps, Field Trips and After School Workshops and trained more than 2500 students. We also hosted field trips for The Citizens Foundation Schools, Citizens Archive of Pakistan and Family Educations Deaf Reach schools. We have also partnered with schools to teach Robotics in the academic year starting Aug 2012. The children and teachers who have visited us have appreciated and motivated us for having established such a resource where kids can gain hands-on scientific knowledge that instills in them life long skills.

    For more information please visit our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/robotics.labs
    And our YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/roboticslabsRecommend

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