Do the Robot

02 August 2017

Rero makes sure no one is left behind in the robotics revolution by making it easy to pick up coding and robotics at a young age.

As we approach the so-called fourth industrial revolution, Penang-based company Cytron Technologies looks to leapfrog the next generation of Malaysians to be right up front of the revolution. Cytron is growing the robotics industry locally, starting with their beginner’s robotics kit – rero.

The simplicity of rero’s design makes it adaptable according to any age range and difficulty, making it fun for absolute beginners and advanced users.

In a nutshell, the first industrial revolution involved the introduction of steam engines and mechanised manufacturing, the second was the resulting boom from the transition to electric power, while the third is the ongoing digital age which includes the spread of the internet and information and communications technology (ICT).

And now, the fourth industrial revolution is expected to build upon the digital revolution to bring about further automation in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

The rero (short for Reconfigurable Robot and stylised with a lowercase r) kit is a modular form of robot building, whereby separate functional appendages can be simply slid on and locked together to form the robot with the functions you need, then taken apart to be done all over again.

This building blocks format was adopted to simplify the basics of robotics for children to grasp as part of play.

Cytron Technologies CEO Tan Eng Tong says the company was originally established in 2005 to develop robotics products for polytechnic and university students who were about to enter the industry. However, the company took on a different direction in 2010 when it realised encouraging robotics education needed to take place at a younger age.

With its modular design, rero robots can be as simple or as complicated as you like. The simplicity of putting it together and programming it makes the essentials of robotics simple enough for children to pick up as part of play.

“After a few years in the tertiary education market, we found that it is too late to start learning about robotics and coding only in college,” says Tan.

“We figured we should be giving our younger generation a head start by exposing them to robotics education early – while they are still in primary and secondary schools. However, there was no suitable product in the market at that time.”

It took four years to develop rero, which on top of its physical modular “Slide ’n’ Lock” system, also includes a simplified coding interface. It became a fully commercialised product in 2015.

Tan Eng Tong, with Cytron Technologies, regularly conducts rero workshops nationwide. Through their latest 100 rero Jrs On A Mission campaign, they look to reach out to 100 students in 100 schools.

“We started very small, where we only managed to conduct several ad-hoc workshops in schools and public events in 2015,” says Tan. “In 2016, we managed to partner with private training centres, science centres and libraries to offer structured robotics short courses for students in the Klang Valley and Penang.”

And their momentum is still building. This year, they’ve launched a nationwide campaign called 100 rero Jrs On A Mission in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). The campaign aims to impact 10,000 students in Malaysia by conducting robotics and coding workshops for 100 students in 100 schools.

The campaign involves loaning rero Jr kits (the basic kit in its category) to schools, which will be used to educate teachers and students.

Students at a rero workshop.

The support Cytron Technologies is receiving from MDEC and MoE comes as no surprise in the wake of the My Digital Maker Movement, which launched last year with a successful pilot programme in selected schools around the country. This year, the movement has been rolled out to over 10,000 schools, and involves the integration of computational thinking computer science into the pedagogy of schools.

What this means is that regular subjects in schools will incorporate elements such as coding and sequencing in the learning process as a way to normalise digital technology in students’ lives.

The initiative lines up well with the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) roadmap announced earlier this year, which anticipates the impact of technology on the future marketplace between 2020 and 2050.

The roadmap looks to ready the workforce in bracing for the said fourth industrial revolution. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) titled “The Future of Jobs”, as many as 7.1 million jobs could be lost through redundancy, automation or disintermediation between 2016 and 2020.

“It proves that our observation in 2010 was right – we really need to teach our kids robotics and coding from a younger age. Hence we have full support from MoE and MDEC to introduce rero to schools in Malaysia,” remarks Tan.

The rero Annual Championship 2016 (RAC'16) saw 100 groups from 50 schools nationwide compete. This year, Cytron Technologies hopes to double the number of participating schools.

Additionally, the company has begun organising an annual national competition called the rero Annual Championship (RAC). The inaugural RAC last year saw 100 teams from 50 schools nationwide participate. This year, they aim to get 200 teams to enter, as Tan says the number of schools that have adopted rero has expanded to over 100 by now.

“Prior to RAC, every year we send our kids overseas to participate in various ‘international brand’ robotics competitions,” he says. “We were thinking since we have our own homegrown robotics brand, why can’t we organise our own competition, make it a good brand and then attract the foreign kids to visit and compete in Malaysia instead?”

Tan speaks with optimism for Malaysian robotics, pointing to companies like DF Automation that designs and manufactures automated guided vehicles to transport goods in factories, and REKA Innovation Gear striving to develop a Malaysian-made self-driving car, for strengthening the local industry. He foresees start-ups specialising in high technology research such as drones, electric vehicles, AI, and the internet of things to mushroom.

“I feel that we shouldn’t just sit back and continue to be passive consumers of technology from abroad,” Tan stresses. “We need to equip and nurture our younger generation to be tech innovators.”

By Aizyl Azlee
Photos courtesy of Cytron Technologies


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