It may seem an unlikely location, but down a nondescript alley surrounded by residential units in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district is a robotics company which is aiming to change the world.
Here, 25-year-old Richard Yim is hard at work trying to make his dream come true, aiming to provide people the chance to walk freely.
This was something he was deprived of during his childhood in Cambodia, where to this day unexploded ordinance (UXO) litters the country as a consequence of years of war.
“I think the freedom to walk is something we take for granted all around the world, because depending on the position that we’re born in, we just consider it to be reality,” says Yim.
“But my parents, like many other parents here in Cambodia, would sit us down and say ‘do not wander off the beaten path. You’ve got to walk where everyone else walks just to be safe.’ When I was growing up, that was normal, it was just the reality.”
When Yim was 13-years-old his family emigrated to Canada. During those early years they went on a camping trip where Yim observed young children running freely without fear in the countryside.
“For kids here in Cambodia and for kids all around the world living with [buried] explosives, they do not have that. They have to remember the route that they walk to school . . . they are restricted in the one thing [walking] that is given to billions of people around the world,” he says.
But Yim’s firm, named Demine Robotics, aims to provide children with the thing he missed out on during his youth, the freedom to roam.
Demine Robotics was first conceived in Canada, where Yim studied mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo. Approaching the end of his bachelor’s degree, he began laying the foundations for Jevit as part of a final-year assignment. By the time he had graduated, Yim knew it was his life’s calling.
He believes that pulling UXO from the earth is the perfect job for robots as it is high-risk and requires exhaustive labour that can be done more efficiently by machine than by man.
“It’s one thing to watch a video on how things are done, but I was very fortunate to be trained as a certified de-miner with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC)."
“They took me into their training facility and they trained me on the mine clearing process and I found out that it’s very different in person. The body armour and the facemask weighed more than 20kg combined, it’s very difficult to avoid accidents or mistakes in these conditions,” says Yim.
Yet, as difficult as the experience was, it showed Yim that he was on the right path.
Demine Robotics hopes that one day its robots will be able to function autonomously, but the team is currently hard at work trying to perfect the arm mechanism of its Jevit IV model as it aims to secure further partnerships in the future.
The current iteration of his Jevit robot is a step up from the previous one as it can be controlled remotely at a safe distance from the blast radius.
He hopes that future models could be used to clear UXO in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and of course, here at home in Cambodia.
Yim says that he hopes his company can also serve as a research and development arm of current demining efforts being undertaken around the world.
The Demine Robotics team – made up of a mix of Cambodian, Canadian and Cambodian-Canadian engineers – showed off Jevit’s capabilities with an X-Box controller when The Post visited the workshop.
It’s how the team maneuvered the robot prior to developing their new remote control system.
“People said it will be very difficult to come to Cambodia and create a robotics company when the country really isn’t known for technology solutions yet."
“But I view it like when you’re looking for a job when you’re a recent graduate – there are all these employers looking for five years of experience for an entry-level job. How can we foster an environment for a tech sector in Cambodia without actually coming here, working with talented individuals and laying the groundwork?
“It was always my plan to come back to Cambodia . . . and I think it’s especially meaningful because it shows that Cambodians can have a hand in solving the nation’s problems,” says Yim.
To support Demine Robotics, contribute to their Kickstarter campaign online at kickstarter.com or visit their website (www.deminerobotics.com).