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Expo 2020: How Dubai helped a 12-year-old Kenyan robotics wiz realise his dreams – ZAWYA

Patrick Njoroge Wachira, a 12-year-old Kenyan boy, is a dreamer. He dreams big. He started making robots when he was only 10 years old. He also started teaching children computers and robotics at the age of 10. He has developed an initiative — PNW Innovation Programme – to offer free education to lots of Kenyan children deprived of basic computer learning and the internet. He is a visionary in its true sense.
He created a robotic solution to a major problem in urban life — identify blockages in sewerage networks using robotic sensors connected to smartphones – that detects and alerts the control room to undertake preventive measures.
“I created a prototype, which could be fine-tuned over the years. It also detects sludges, toxic chemicals and sends an alarm to the control room,” said Wachira, arguably the world’s youngest chief executive officer (CEO) of his own initiative.
“It helps the authorities to detect the sludges, blockages early enough and undertake preventive measures with less human efforts.
“If I get a chance to implement it in the UAE, I will be happy to collaborate with any of the civic bodies in the Emirates, be it Dubai Municipality or Sharjah Municipality to implement this robotic solution. I am not getting proper cooperation from the civic bodies in Kenya. But we could make this work in the UAE and then spread this to the rest of the world,” he said.
This innovative robotic solution drew the attention of Expo 2020 Dubai who asked Patrick to display the innovation at the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) Startup at the world fair to fulfil their dreams for Kenyan youth.
It is also a country that has started attracting global talents. It is a country that makes things possible for those who dare to dream in some other countries. Wachira also received the biggest support from a Dubai-based company, Unique World Robotics, that supported him and sponsored his journey to Dubai and his exposure to Expo 2020.
Bansan Thomas George, the founder, and CEO of Unique World Robotics, who noticed the spark in the young talent, started mentoring Wachira in 2020. “It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that we received an email from him (Wachira) and started working with him. We started mentoring him and his enthusiasm and talent drew our attention right from the beginning. We have seen passion and vision in him – in what he wants to do in Kenya.
“We coached him in robotics and oversaw his creations. We pitched his name and his startup concept to Expo 2020, and even though the deadline was over for the application, his was accepted. We were happy to sponsor him to the Expo where he showcased his robotic solutions. We are now mentoring him further to develop more innovative solutions.
"We are working with Patrick to create a mobile computer lab, by finding an abandoned bus and converting it to a mobile computer lab – so that he could travel throughout Kenya and teach students on computer programming, coding, hardware repairs and make them future-ready,” George said
Wachira’s passion for machines helped him to experiment with laptops at a very early age. He started repairing old laptops from the age of 10, so much so that his backyard soon became a de-facto computer lab – from where he started to develop robots.
He started training Kenyan children at the age of 10 – in 2020. Driven by his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, Wachira embarked on a vision for a future-ready Kenyan youth.
His tryst with computer technology started as soon as he enrolled in school in Nairobi. He is being nurtured by a Dubai-based robotics training institute – that is going to strengthen the UAE as a regional hub of innovation, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and robotics.
Wachira got the opportunity to exhibit his project plan Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for Africa at Expo 2020 through Annual Investment Meeting (AIM), where he was the youngest stall owner. He was at the AIM Start-up at the Expo – promoting his skills, his potential in robotics technology – to investors to raise funds to develop robots.
His skills include coding, electronics and electrical engineering, design thinking, robotics etc. He is also interested in aviation and technologies related to it. It started when he was only three years old and was travelling with his grandmother.
“I fell in love with mathematics and computing at a very early stage in my school days, almost as soon as I started my studies and got introduced to computing,” Wachira said.
“Initially, I used to fix abandoned and damaged computers, repair them, and make them work again. This helped me get noticed by others in the neighbourhood, who started bringing their laptops and desktops to me to fix hardware and software problems and I used to fix them. I used online tips to fix these and learned through Google search and other online resources. This later led to the development of an informal computer laboratory in my backyard. People started sending their computers to me for repair and upgrades, instead of sending it to shops.
“I then started teaching children how to deal with computers, how they work and how to fix things. It all picked up during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, when our schools were closed, and we had plenty of free time to indulge in our hobbies. Since I was passionate about computing, I started spending most of my time in computers and robotics.
“But those activities remained limited to my neighbourhood, until I started communicating with the Dubai-based Unique World Robotics through email and expressed my desire to learn more. They were quick to respond to me and I started taking online classes to improve my skills,” he added.
His work for the community led Wachira to develop PNW Innovation Programme, which aims to provide free education in robotics and STEM disciplines to educate, enable and empower young Kenyans for a sustainable and rewarding career. Its mission is to learn, upskill and make Kenyan children future-ready, connect and engage with experts to fulfil their dreams for Kenyan Youth through innovative solutions like operating mobile STEM Lab across rural Kenyan communities.
“I was lucky to have the backing of my family, who supported me in my work. I am grateful to Unique World Robotics for their help, training, and guidance to bring me to the Annual Investment Meeting Start-up where I got a chance to demonstrate my works,” he said.
Unique World Robotics teaches robotics to children and enables pupils to make robots at an early stage. Initially, Wachira started fixing laptops, desktops first and later building robots in 2020.
Now, he teaches school and university students in Kenya for free after gaining expertise on robotics and programming languages such as Python. He wants to spread the concept of STEM in Kenya, reaching out at different levels.
Unique Robotics is currently mentoring Wachira and building a mobile STEM laboratory, a truck, which he will drive around to all the villages, and spread his knowledge.
“The mobile STEM laboratory is getting ready, and we will start our journey in May. This will help Kenyan children to become future ready. Once we cover Kenya, I have a vision to roll out this programme beyond our country to other East African countries. However, we need funding and more start-up capital,” he added.
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