Global robotics firm inches closer to launch in Rwanda

Fabrice Goffin, the founder of Zora Bots, holds one of the robots produced by his company in Kigali on Friday. Photo: Craish Bahizi.

Fabrice Goffin, the Belgian owner of a company specialising in new robotics solutions, on Friday gave The New Times a demonstration of what service robots, “humanoid looking” creations with machine intelligence cable of detecting and talking with humans, can do to make our lives easier.

More importantly, however, Goffin who arrived in the country earlier this week and plans to leave on Monday after wrapping up a series of meetings, was making necessary arrangements such that he launches operations in Rwanda early next year.

The plan, as he explained last month, is to introduce robotics to Rwanda, as a gateway to Africa

He told The New Times that he has already met some people in the country, including local robotics enthusiast Benjamin Karenzi who earlier this year tried to introduce a programmable robot designed to help teach coding to kids.

Goffin said: “He [Karenzi] will be our contact person here in order to introduce ZoraBots Africa. We are going to establish ZoraBots Africa which is going to be a very big step here. We are going to seek for potential robotics tests in different schools and we are looking to start with, maybe one school per district and if that goes well we shall expand to the rest of Africa, but starting from Rwanda.”

“This means that if we would install additional robots and additional services in other schools, whether it is in Rwanda or other countries in Africa, the after sales and the service department will be in Rwanda implying we could create 40 to 60 jobs here locally. These are the discussions am having with local partners.”

Goffin said the ZoraBots Africa operation in Rwanda will be launched at “the beginning of next year, after Christmas,” when he returns to take things to the next level.

“We could introduce it for some teachers to test it in different districts in Rwanda and based on these tests, if it is really in the STEM direction as we are expecting, then we could have children start programming with ZoraRobot.”

Once they launch, what they will be doing is not production because, he explained, “we don’t even produce these in Europe.”

“This is really fine electronics that we are not even able to produce in Europe. It is a Chinese and Japanese specialty.”

On Friday afternoon, Karenzi was given a general idea of what the robot can actually do and how its software is operated.

Karenzi is a Rwandan upstream petroleum and gas operations expert who, after realizing how robotics and coding is vital in preparing the youth for the fourth industrial revolution, started collaborating with international robotics companies.

His aim is to supplement Rwanda’s strategic plan in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] education.

According to Karenzi, ZoraBots and a local firm, Robotics Africa Ltd, of which he is the Regional Director, have “identified several areas of partnership to carry out a pilot phase” with between 40-50 schools.

Karenzi said: “My intention is not just promoting robots in our already established smart classrooms in Rwanda but to expose our young students to these technologies so that they can be creative and ably solve problems that surround us.”

“These robots are educative and fun for students to use especially those below 18 years; meaning this is a good replacement for addictive video games and gangster movies that kids tend to occupy themselves with.”

Later, after a two-hour online session with a robotics engineer in Belgium, Karenzi said: “It is a very advanced robot with several systems integrated and it can be used in a wide range of sectors including education, hospitality, health and others. You can customize it depending on the need of the industry.”

Service robotics already exist in African countries such as South Africa but what Goffin is bringing to Rwanda, and Africa, is totally different.

Unlike all the other robots, a service robot is like a humanoid robot that serves humans. It can be used in shops, to relay information or in hospitals to motivate children to do exercises, and in schools to teach programming.

Goffin started his company in 2011 with his best friend and co-CEO, Tommy Deblieck.

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

editor@newtimesrwanda.com