How is it like for a Bangladeshi young man to dream big? For Fardin Ahmed, a young robotics engineer, it entails carrying the humanoid intelligent robots he makes from store to store to find a customer.
How is it like to ‘dream’ in Bangladesh?
Like the famous ‘American dream’ – a set of ideals that ensures opportunity for prosperity and success for any hard working American – how is it like for a Bangladeshi young man to dream big?
For Fardin Ahmed, a young robotics engineer, it entails carrying the humanoid intelligent robots he makes from store to store to find a customer.
Unless he makes a sale, his dream project will perhaps end even before it properly takes off. For now, Fardin has no capital to continue his venture in robotics even though he has already finished a ‘complete’ project of a humanoid intelligent robot that can solve mathematical challenges, provide customer service by providing information, answering questions and one that can even get offended when you insult it.
At a time when Marvel movie robots are fighting for/against humans, doing all the crazy stuff you can ever imagine, the abilities of Fardin’s robots may not sound like a big deal.
But in the nascent robotics industry in Bangladesh, Fardin’s robots are one of the first intelligent humanoid robots which are ready to be placed in the service sector.
In response to our queries about the marketability of his robots, Fardin said that “..these robots can be used in restaurants to provide the customers with information about menus and various other customised information you can think of. The restaurant is just an example.”
“How many of our offices and government hospitals have information desks? Or why would you get a person to tell you simple information such as the menu, or guide you to a particular doctor when a robot can perform this duty 24/7 non-stop and perfectly well?”
Whereas a humanoid four feet long robot, Nao V5 Standard Edition, can cost you up to Tk1,600,000 (as per some online Bangladeshi sites selling them), Fardin said his ‘Farbot’ robots would cost less than Tk150,000.
This robot engineer took the first three initials of his name and added it to ‘bot’ to name his robots as Farbot.
Fardin’s journey to success in creating an intelligent robot was as rocky as you can imagine for an underprivileged young man hailing from a remote village in Rajbari with no financial support.
He was hooked on robotics during his undergraduate studies at East West University in the department of computer science.
“I participated in over 100 competitions before my graduation. I never won an award,” Fardin said.
But the passion he nurtured was not something the denial of awards or recognition could wane.
Fardin developed his first complete humanoid robots in 2017. But the first robot was a six feet long testing product made of cork sheet. The standard PLA plastic (Polylactide) was way too expensive for a beginner like Fardin. Over the next two years, he could not work on any more robots and instead worked on short gigs as he needed money.
His second robot was built in 2019 within only eight days’ notice from a training programme that was held in Barishal. It was a prototype of his first robot but smaller in size.
In 2019, he began, for the first time, to build a complete five feet long usable product. After the product was finished, it turned out to be an intelligent humanoid robot, although the body was not very strong.
How can Fardin manage the standard PLA plastic after all? It costs a lot of money.
In the meantime, he contacted various industrialists in the country for funding. “One top industrialist asked me if I could instead come to use [come to work] in their gas leakage detection sector, which was humiliating, as it was something that people in our line do at the very early stage of their career.
It was not something I was ready to hear after all these years. I did not say a word. I just ended the conversation and got back home.”
Fardin tried many other places only to further struggle in making potential investors understand what his work was all about.
He went to the restaurants in a bid to sell the robot that could give him the seed funding to build one with a perfect body, but the restaurateurs too did not realise the utility of such a product.
“I told them it is an intelligent robot, it could work as an information provider and you could get more crowd by showcasing a talking robot, to begin with. But they asked, “Can your robot cook?.”
Struggling for a breakthrough in robotics was not the only crisis in Fardin’s life back in late 2020 and early 2021.
It had already been more than five years since he finished his academic education. He did not join the formal job sector as he dreamt of something much bigger than the regular 9-5 paper-pushing desk jobs. He dreamt of making his parents proud, resisting the insistent urge to hold a conventional job and contribute to the family.
But tragedy struck. His father died in 2020, and then his mother also passed away in early 2021. Fardin will never see the smile of his proud parents, however, in the future, he will perhaps make everyone in this country proud.
In June 2021, he got a Tk400,000 award from the government’s Idea Project.
Finally, Fardin got to work to build the dream robot he craved to build – a perfectly strong PLA plastic humanoid body, with intelligence included.
His final Farbot was ready and launched on 24 December, 2021, on his birthday.
After he posted the story of his struggle on Facebook, it went viral. People wished him all the best, some wished him a happy birthday.