Interview: Daro Oem’s Mind Controlled Robots

The project started out as part of Daro’s thesis for his university studies in Information Communication Technologies (ICT). Along the way, he started to consider how technology could help solve certain problems in Cambodia.

Daro stumbled upon this mind control technology that uses a brain computer interface (BCI) to give its users control of a robot which can help them with daily tasks and set out to create a mind controlled robot. The inspiration for the robot came from Daro’s co-founder, Cheat Morokot,who saw the difficulties her friend’s mother experienced due to her disabilities and felt that the robot could help people with similar conditions.

At this point, the robot is at a stage where it can perform simple movements. While it may seem like moving is something trivial, the ultimate goal for Daro and Morokot is to build a wheelchair using this technology and this movement is a key component of what the wheelchair will eventually be able to do.

Geeks in Cambodia caught up with Daro to find out more about the mind controlled robots.

The following interview has been edited for clarity, flow and language.

In Cambodia, robots are quite a novel idea, what convinced you to pursue the idea of a building a mind control robot?

Daro(D): The field I studied was related to robots. I studied ICT,  so it came naturally that way. We also saw the opportunity to use a technology that was relatively new to Cambodia. By doing that, we hoped to be able to inspire many students in Cambodia to choose this field in the future and think about the many ways technology can help people.

What are some ways that you hope the robot will impact society?

D: I believe that if we can complete this project, it will bring many more researchers in Cambodia to think about similar projects. They will start to think about such technology and develop projects related to robotics. Furthermore, I think they will find that the technology is fun and as something new to Cambodia, people will continue to generate new ideas related to it. After all, many organisations are already working on STEM so we hope that this will be an inspiration to them.

What is the progress of the project thus far?

D: For now, the robot is very much in the prototype stage. It is able to perform basic movements like moving left, right, straight and backwards. Eventually, we want to be able to develop a full-scale wheelchair which can be controlled by the mind, so we are currently in the process of studying the BCI in a more in depth manner to be able to do that. At this point, those who are using the robot need to “train” the system a little before it can fully understand its commands.

Users can do this by wearing the headset to calibrate the robot but in the future, we hope that people will be able to control the robot without having to calibrate it for every use.

Another thing that is currently in progress is that we want to make the robot semi-autonomous, such that it will be able to detect and avoid obstacles.

How can people come alongside you to help the project progress?

D: The biggest assistance I need right now would be to do with funding. We are in the process of talking to a few members of the government to give them a proposal and see how they can support us but as of now, there are almost no funds coming in. Ideally, we would need around $3,000 in funding for the project to continue.

Another way that people can help would be if there is anyone who has software development experience, we will need more help when it comes to developing the software for the robot as well.

What advice do you have to budding entrepreneurs in Cambodia?

D: My advice would be that we want to tell them that while technology is not an easy thing to develop, its not very difficult either. In fact, many sources are available in the world and you can use these sources for inspiration. There are many other sources also available for use including open source technology. In fact, for this project, my coding will be made available on GitHub very soon so people can use it as a basis for future projects related to this robotic technology.

Overall, my advice would be for people to be more open and use the resources available to develop new technologies.

So, that was the Geeks in Cambodia interview with Daro Oem. It’s really great to see how people are using technology for social good and in such an innovative way as well!