Global robotics firm chooses Rwanda as a gateway to Africa

Fabrice Goffin (2nd left) waves a Rwandan flag as he holds one of the robots produced by his company, ZoraBots, during Rwanda Day in Bonn, Germany over the weekend. / Courtesy

When Fabrice Goffin, the Belgian owner of a company specializing in new robotics solutions, attended the just-concluded edition of Rwanda Day in Bonn, Germany, he had just a little idea of how patriotic Rwandans are.

The ex-director of the World Trade Center in Antwerp, Belgium had three months ago met Amb. Amandin Rugira, the Rwandan envoy to Belgium.

“I was interested to introduce my company in Africa but didn’t know if it would be possible,” he said.

The envoy then invited him to the embassy where he demonstrated what his robot can do.

Goffin’s company, ZoraBots, does business with countries from Asia, Europe, North America, and South America but not in Africa.

But on Saturday when he attended Rwanda Day, Goffin was inspired by the positive energy Rwandans demonstrated in their attempt to find solutions to the issues challenging their country’s development.

He promised to visit Rwanda in November. When he visits, Goffin will be exploring options for how to launch operations in Rwanda.

“My wish is to introduce robotics in Africa through Rwanda,” he said. “ZoraBots Rwanda would be the first company to offer robots to serve humans in Africa.”

It could be that there is service robotics in countries such as South Africa, he noted.

But they are not to the extent of his company’s services where much is based on engineering and there are operational robots in different segments of daily life; hospitals, retailers, hotels, among others.

“ZoraBots is unique in the world when it comes to doing that. We even have the Japanese state as (our) customers. Unlike all the other robots that we know, a service robot is like a humanoid robot that serves humans” he explained.

It can be used in shops, relay information or in hospitals to motivate children to do exercises and in schools to teach programming.

Even drones such as the ones Rwanda uses to deliver blood, Goffin noted are not service robots in his view.

His idea of service robots is the ones that are “humanoid looking” with Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine intelligence cable of detecting humans and talking with them or promote products.

“Service robots are providing services as humans do but by taking over repetitive tasks, they can assist humans and give them more time to do more important things.”

The idea behind his Rwanda project, he said, is to make it the African headquarters for ZoraBots operations.

“We are going to seek a business developer in order to introduce what the robots can do in hospitals, schools, and retail shops. Not to take jobs away from people but to assist humans in repetitive tasks and to help children learn about programming. This is the future for children,” Goffin said.

Why Rwanda?

Goffin told The New Times that he chose Rwanda because of different factors.

The major asset, he said, is the enthusiasm of the people.

“Second is the stability of your country in Africa. The third is safety. Fourth is the central location.”

He added: “Fifth is the fact that the people I met, like the Ambassador but also all the people at Rwanda Day, are so full of love for their country and have the ambition to develop. The openness is heartwarming. I really discovered something unique! Rwanda can make a difference in Africa.”

The company targets to begin operations in January next year.

“First we will employ a local commercial expert (business developer). Then we wish to have contact with schools; to educate young people in the skills of robotics and programming. Young people will make the future of companies like mine.”

“If you search on service robotics or look at my company profile you will see that this market will be as big as the internet in the future. We need to start skilling young people on that. And Rwanda looks, for me, to be the perfect country to start these operations for Africa.”

More about ZoraRobots

Goffin who is passionate about Star Wars, an American epic space opera media franchise, explained that he started his company in 2011 with his best friend and co-CEO, Tommy Deblieck.

They sold their first robot in 2013. Today, he said, they employ more than 50 engineers and are the world’s leading company in assistant robots and robotic software.

Their robot became the first humanoid robot in the world to help children with their motricity or being able to move [in healthcare] and to help elderly people with their physiotherapy exercises.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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