Freedom to walk: Ridding Cambodia of mines through tech innovation

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - In Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district is a robotics company which is aiming to provide people the chance to walk freely.

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).

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