Last October, over breakfast at our favourite Ya Kun outlet at Somerset (in Singapore), Jeremy Koh and I sat down to look back at what it was that first drew us to robotics 7 years ago, when we were just two clueless undergrads at the Nanyang Technological University. For Jeremy, he enjoyed designing and building functional prototypes to solve problems for humans. For me, it was more about a form of art. I would often see videos of these bio-inspired robots — machines that would try to move/behave just like real animals, from spiders to birds to stingrays. I was fascinated by the fact that you could bring a bunch of random pieces of metal and plastic together, and bring a machine to life in a way that emulated the living World itself. And so, in our own ways, we tinkered in our hostel rooms, exploring and experimenting with different kinds of robots, teaching ourselves about a variety of different topics, from electronics to coding to sensors to biology. In fact, it was this rather holistic and interdisciplinary early exploration, that gave us the foundation and confidence to eventually tackle World-first research projects together, in areas often new to us both. Projects that aimed to actually expand the limits of human knowledge and understanding.
This lead us to think, “Why not try to share a similar foundational learning experience with others? Kids, adults, basically anyone who is curious.” Our hunch was that by learning how to build animal-like robots, through an exploration-based approach, our student would get a foundational experience in how to build interdisciplinary projects from scratch, and integrate ideas from all around.
And so last December, we pioneered a trial of this concept — teaching kids how to build their own walking, balancing robots, in just four days, starting from scratch, with zero background in robotics or coding. Our years of experience doing research on a variety of different animal-like robots, from humanoids to snakes, helped foster an exploratory rather than instructional approach. We’re also extremely grateful to Hoi Leong and the team at VIVITA SG, for their support in launching this initiative. We were blown away by what this first group of kids accomplished in such a short time, and deeply touched by how they were still curious to explore more by the end of it. This got Jeremy and me thinking more about education, and the more WE explored, the more fascinating a World opened up.
Today, we’re happy to finally share more about our young robotics education startup, Whyte Labs. We’ve been iterating on this concept over the past few months, and are now set on helping to empower anyone with ideas, to prototype their vision, starting by building a foundation in robotics, through animal-like robots. Stay tuned for more updates!