Interview: Building for the future – Silas Adekunle, founder of Reach Robotics20th June 2014
Still in his early twenties, Silas Adekunle is already making waves in the Bristol robotics scene with his innovative teaching program and production company, Reach Robotics. We spoke to Silas about teaching tech and his place in a fast-growing industry.
TechSPARK: Silas, tell us a little about where you’ve come from and where your interest in robotics started.
Silas Adekunle: I grew up in Nigeria and moved to the UK with my family when I was 11. I did my GCSEs and A Levels in Kent where I developed a real interest in the sciences. Moving into robotics seemed like the ideal way to combine physics, biology and maths in one subject, so I went on to study robotics at UWE here in Bristol.
TS: Why UWE?
SA: Having spent time researching robotics undergraduate courses up and down the country, I was impressed by a video of the work being done in the labs here in Bristol – especially what was being done here with legged robots. That was what I specialised in while studying the degree course.
TS: While you were an undergraduate you started your own outreach program – tell us a little about that.
SA: At the end of my first year, myself and another student created a program to take robotics into local schools. Robotics is the perfect combination of the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, English and Maths – which younger students might not think to combine. The program expanded to four schools in Bristol in four years.
“Our teaching program was called ‘Reach’ – it symbolises our approach of using robotics to further people’s aspirations”
We did this by helping students in the schools to teach their classmates – in this way, the students were developing entrepreneurial skills as well as the ones needed for a future working in robotics. We really gave them a boost for their CVs. The model we created was so successful that we’ve had interest from schools in London to expand the program to them.
TS: You’re now working on another scheme, Reach Robotics. What’s involved?
SA: Reach Robotics came out of our work with schools. The teaching program was also called ‘Reach’ – it symbolises our approach of using robotics to further people’s aspirations.
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During my degree year in industry I realised that robotics was what I wanted to move into as a career, and Reach Robotics is a continuation of the work I did during my degree.
We’re a product-driven company, with a business model based on developing and marketing several robotics products. We want to get our robotics into people’s hands. I wouldn’t say we’re developing new technologies; instead we’re using existing ones in new ways.
Right now the product we’re focused on is a series of robots similar to Pokemon; custom-designed robots that interact and battle with each other. The robots aren’t only for entertainment, however; by using them and programming the robots to be unique, children become closely involved with robotics. These aren’t standard robotics kits: each robot develops over time and will be different tomorrow to what it is today.
“We’ll keep building robots to make people happy”
TS: You’re based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) – how did this working arrangement come about?
SA: We are. One of the greatest challenge for a startup like Reach Robotics is finding a space to work in. The BRL created an incubation space – for us and a number of other groups – to get our startups off the ground.
At the BRL we’ve got space for our offices and equipment, access to 3D printers and business advice we wouldn’t otherwise have. We’ll stay here for as long as we need to.
TS: Who else works with you at the BRL?
SA: There are some really interesting projects going on here. We’ve got Mind Sketch, a product-design consultancy; the Open Hand Project who make affordable prosthetics – they’re doing really great work. Then there’s OmniDynamics, a 3D-printing studio. There are a couple of others working on robotics-kit projects, too.
TS: What are your plans for the future? What’s the next step for Reach Robotics?
SA: We’re preparing Reach Robotics for the international market and hope to keep on expanding. We’re planning to use the product that we’re currently working on to test the robotics market, which is rapidly growing. We’ll keep building robots to make people happy.
Thanks go to Silas for taking the time to talk to the TechSPARK team. For collaborative opportunities and more information on working with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, head to BRL.ac.uk.
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