Reflections by: Moses Gichanga, Founder & Lead Engineer, Autonomous Systems Research (ASR).
ASR is part of the UNICEF Innovation Fund’s portfolio of startups working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. ASR is a multidisciplinary research group specializing in engineering research and its use in tackling conservation, humanitarian and other issues. We aim to promote sustainable, resilient communities by providing educational resources related to the use of technology in support of social and environmental advancement.
I was privileged to attend this year’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, the world’s foremost gathering on innovation, science and technology, and promoting entrepreneurship in the global public interest, organized by the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China. This year, the World Economic Forum invited start-up companies, and I was honored to be invited after the recommendation from UNICEF’s Innovation team.
I arrived a day before the event to attend the orientation session and meet new start-up companies, established businesses, and other organizations. It started with a cocktail. where I meet a lot of insightful people from various organizations.
The sessions kicked off with a ceremony mainly catering to the press, and I immediately signed up to attend numerous sessions in the areas of entrepreneurship, science, engineering, and innovation in general. My aim was to gather insights from other people about their view of the innovation space, as well as to validate or invalidate some ideas and worldview I hold personally and as a start-up business.
I was particularly fascinated with a simulation of a tree growing using a Virtual Reality headset. The simulation really made the tree look real that later on — when the tree was burnt (spoiler alert) I felt bad and felt compelled to do more toward environmental conservation, and I believe this was the goal of the exercise. They succeeded!
This validated an idea I had to use my drone imagery to render 3D worlds for visualization, and I will definitely be exploring this avenue in the near future. It also made me think about the promising opportunities this technology can bring – transformative, in the fields of learning and innovation, and of course entertainment.
I also met several companies working in the agriculture space and I was delighted to learn how systems I develop would be useful in their businesses. One of the companies I was introduced to works in fumigation and they are interested in how ASR can provide solutions to large area spraying, such as vineyards. One of our heavy lift drones, capable of lifting 50 kgs and an endurance or 1 hour, can easily spray expansive areas at a go.
I was able to discuss my remote sensing solution with 3 companies based in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and I was happy to note that our attempt to decipher the remote-sensed data is very well received especially since a lot of businesses struggle to interpret the data and produce meaningful information.
I also attended a session on hybrid cars, with an awesome panel of respectable people in the industry. The discussion centered on how to get more hybrids on the road, how to decongest cities, about vehicle technologies, and battery densities — all of which were fascinating to hear. Of interest to me was the application of hybrid systems employing batteries and gasoline engines, and energy densities in batteries, which are constant challenges I’m faced with in my drone operations.
Prof. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum invited us for a one-on-one session with him as he introduced a new platform of the WEF to engage start-ups and help them through their journey. He made a comment that was very refreshing to me, “….I too had a start-up, called the World Economic Forum…”
There were also opportunities to enjoy some free time (a necessary part of business travel). I was able to meet an art teacher and his two students, who gifted me with a printed inscription that I helped make! They taught me about Chinese culture and art, and I shared mine as well. I explained to them my difficulty in using chopsticks, and despite their best efforts, that is still lost on me 😊
I took away a lot of insights from the panels and interactions with various companies. Here are some of my key takeaways…
- I need to think more horizontally and apply vertically!
- There is a high demand for remote-sensed information. We have a lot of remote-sensed data, but very little information generated from these systems
- There is a need for ASR to explore and improve further our patented heavy lift systems — this was a major request from all companies I spoke to.
So I am embarking to follow up with all the companies I met to engage them on the solutions ASR can provide them, and for possible collaborations and project executions. All in all, I consider this trip a great success in the growth of my business and thank UNICEF Innovation and the UNICEF Innovation Fund for making it happen!