silas adekunle is changing the face of robotics

October 1, 2018
443 Picks

Regardless of how you feel about it, artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent robotics and augmented reality are coming for the future of mankind. Amazon’s Alexa, the iRobot Roomba, and Sony’s Aibo robot dog are just the consumer first steps. Nigerian-born, London-raised Reach Robotics founder Silas Adekunle is looking to take AI just one step further with the development of the MekaMon battle bot, and Apple is investing in the 26-year-old engineer.

Adekunle’s first foray into anything STEM-related resulted in him inadvertently causing a power outage in the  Lagos apartment block where he grew up, by connecting a battery to the main outlets with some spare wire he found. “I was lucky I didn’t get electrocuted,” he told Forbes. With a school principal father and midwife mother, Adekunle’s upbringing was relatively well-off but he still didn’t receive the exposure to tech that young coders today need. Adekunle’s first computer was the one brought to his primary school that came with a fee for any kid who wanted to see it up close.

After the Adekunle family relocated to Britain, Silas’ world was opened up by Youtube and its robotics-related videos, as the young man lost himself tinkering with amateur robotics and code. Whe he was a teenager, Silas built a robot hand (constructed with baked bean cans and a robotic face with tennis balls for eyes) that served as a robotic homage to the Kismet robot by MIT’s Cynthia BreazealAdekunle studied programming at the University of West England, where he started experimenting with the foundational prototypes of what would one-day become MekaMon. That battle robot landed Reach Robotics, the company he founded, a deal with Apple’s retail division. The deal has established Adekunle as one of the names to watch in robotic engineering.


View this post on Instagram


Create your own arenas out of real world objects to provide plenty of cover and sneak attack opportunities in Battle Mode! 🥇

A post shared by MekaMon (@mekamon_official) on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:06am PST

The MekaMon is a spry creature that resembles a cross between a crab and a spider, with movements that feel more animated and nuanced than many robots on the market. A lover of motion, Adekunle created a product without a face but displays a range of movement and emotion heavily influenced by recognizable animal responses. “It gets angry if you don’t play with it, and when it wins games, its behavior changes,” says Christopher Beck, co-founder, and CTO of Reach Robotics. The MekaMon is the next step into the growing culture of Augmented Reality, made popular by the Pokemon Go craze.

“Everyone told us it was too complicated and expensive and no one would buy it,” Beck remembers. “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.’” – Christopher Beck

At $300 a pop, the MekaMon battles other robots on a virtual interface like Pokemon Go, but Adekunle and his team are thinking bigger. They are developing touch-sensitive MekaMons that respond with “happy” movements when owners stroke their head, for instance. “A large part of our product is emotional,” says Beck. On the other hand, sharper movements will represent anger and irritation.


View this post on Instagram


Physically move your robot and record each position in stop motion to create your own MekaMon animations with MekaMotion!

A post shared by MekaMon (@mekamon_official) on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:47am PDT

In a world as white as engineering, Adekunle’s journey is a rare occurrence, but that isn’t stopping him and his team from creating a product that opens up the field to a wider group of people. As we navigate the many firsts that Black people are achieving in new technological spaces, we are also reminded that such firsts open doors many did not know existed. Africans are rarely included in science, tech and math discussions, but, as the continent most primed for new-age thinking and development, it wouldn’t be terrible for STEM to be added to the list of vocations that parents of the diaspora deem “acceptable”.

Here’s to a world where Silas becomes the rule and not the exception.