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How A Young British-Nigerian Entrepreneur Is Changing Robotics

Silas Adekunle has loved robots since he was a kid. And his childhood dreams have led him into a major deal with Apple and it has to do with crafting robotics.

 

The 26-year-old British-Nigerian entrepreneur is co-founder of Reach Robotics and creator of MekaMon, which has been called the world’s first gaming robot and a real-life battle-bot with next-gen augmented reality gameplay.

 

Adekunle, was included in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for European Technology, and Reach Robotics signed an exclusive distribution deal in November 2017 with Apple and his $300 “battle-bots” were put in Apple stores in the United States and Britain.

 

And to think Adekunle made the first prototype of the robots in his college dorm room at the University of West England. In 2013 he met Chris Beck and they co-founded Reach Robotics.

 

Adekunle tells The New York Trend how he got into tech and why his inventions are different.

 

The New York Trend: How did you first get into tech?

Silas Adekunle: Growing up in Nigeria, I was fortunate that both of my parents worked in STEM fields. My father was a biochemistry teacher (and then head teacher) while my mother was a medical nurse, meaning I had ample opportunity to interact with technology and gain scientific knowledge. I’d spend hours dissecting gadgets and developing devices that I later realised were rudimentary robots. I also loved biology and wanted to become an Engineer or Zoologist.

 

The New York Trend: What led you to robotics?

Silas Adekunle: We moved over to the UK when I was 11 and there was a little bit of a culture shock in terms of access to technology. I’d never used a computer before so I had to pick things up very quickly in order to feed my curiosity. I also joined an after-school robotics club.

Given my early interests, robotics was a natural next step for my degree. At UWE, in Bristol, I learned to code and it was there that I had the first spark of an idea that would lead to MekaMon .

 

As a student, I taught in local schools and after noticing a disengagement with the materials of my students’ curriculum, I bought some robotics kits into the classroom. I combined that tech with some gaming principles and the reaction of the kids was just incredible. So I took it one step further and created a “Reaching Robotics” program designed around the framework of robotics and gaming in education.

 

The New York Trend: When did you decide you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Silas Adekunle: I kept building on these ideas through University. I could see how robotics could fuel the imagination of school kids and give a way into STEM to those students that might not have considered that path. I even pitched to The Prince’s Trust — an organization in the UK that supports young entrepreneurs. But by the time I got to the penultimate year of my studies, I realized that this idea had potential beyond the classrooms. I’d be pairing robotics with gaming as part of my teaching — but what if I could do the same in a new breed of consumer technology?

 

The New York Trend: Why did you start Reach Robotics?

Silas Adekunle: From the moment that I created my first “real” robot in my teenage years, I knew I wanted to make a living through robotics. It has the power to entertain, inspire and educate and bring joy to people. After running the “Reaching Robotics” programs in schools, I had a larger scale in mind, I created the very first prototype — a robot I called “Mecha Monsters.” It was built with knowledge garnered from the classroom that people want and expect more from consumer robotics. By Spring 2013, I was pitching my idea. Not long after, I met Chris Beck and John Rees who would become CTO and COO of the newly founded Reach Robotics.

 

The New York Trend: What were some initial challenges when you started the company?

Silas Adekunle: Starting a business was naturally a huge challenge. When I started out, I had amazing support from my university and the Bristol Robotics Lab — but communicating the potential of MekaMon, as well as the technology itself, to people outside of that world required some imagination. MekaMon is a first — a gaming robot with AR capabilities — an unfamiliar concept to most!

 

The New York Trend: What have been some challenges in growing the company?

Silas Adekunle: Building the robotics and the software of MekaMon in tandem is core to our development but has added an additional layer of complexity as we aim to deliver a cutting-edge gaming experience. I need the very best talent so we could realize this vision. Luckily, we’ve built a fantastic team at Reach, packed with the best engineers and developers in the industry and we’re working hard to bring the future of robotics to the world.

 

The New York Trend: What are your goals before the end of the year?

Silas Adekunle: We’ve just announced the launch of MekaMon V2. It’s going be available from the 16th October so it’s all hands on deck at the moment but we’re really excited for people to see the advancements we’ve made.

 

Then it will be a case of finishing up plans for next year! Now that we’re commercially available I’m getting used to thinking a year, 18 months, two years in the future so that we can deliver the best possible experience and availability for our users.

 

The New York Trend: What do you like the most of what you do?

Silas Adekunle: What brings me the most joy is anonymously seeing someone experiencing MekaMon for the first time, the way their eyes light up validates the years of hard work from the team. Also, I spend a lot of my travelling these days, so it’s always a real thrill to get back to the office to see a new animation or an update to AR battle. The floor of our office is quite literally crawling with MekaMon — so stepping through the door after a business trip to see the robot that I first sketched out over five years ago evolving in front of my eyes is just incredible.

 

The New York Trend: Do you feel STEM is getting more diverse?

Silas Adekunle: Not as quickly as I think we’d all like to see. I believe you have to work to improve access from a very early age. Consumer technology has huge potential within STEM education, both as a teaching aid and as a means to inspire the next generation, whatever their backgrounds to aspire to a career in STEM. Play is an excellent tool for learning — making MekaMon, and consumer robotics as a whole, an ideal pathway into engineering, game design and coding.

 

I’m also very aware of the value of role models in encouraging young people to pursue a career in STEM. We desperately need more visible figures in tech that look like those kids who are aspiring to work in these industries and this should be followed up with practical initiatives like mentoring.

 

The New York Trend: What’s next for you?

Silas Adekunle: Keep building on our advancements at Reach! We had a very successful initial launch of MekaMon last year and we are constantly working to improve the user experience and, crucially, get this technology in the hands of more people.

About the Author

Ann is a freelance writer who started her professional career at the NY Trend more than two decades ago. Ann has since gone on to write for a number of major outlets including: Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire, Pathfinders, Frequent Flier, Playboy, The Source, Girl, Upscale, For Harriet, The Network Journal, AFKInsider, Africa Strictly Business, AFKTravel, among others.

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