Robot Man´s Electric Dreams
Humanoid robots can be used for entertainment
Loh with his business partner Carolyn Tang discussing HongQinâ€™s robotic education class
Robotic classes at HongQin
A service robot that can be used in nuclear waste research
LOH H.C. tells Rozana Sani more about his passion for building machines.
For more than three decades, Loh H.C. lived a life that was pretty much laid out for him. Born in Taiping, Perak, to a small-town hotelier and housewife, Loh was expected to study hard and get a job so he could provide for his family in the future and lead a comfortable life.
"After my SPM examination, my parents gave me the opportunity to further my tertiary education in Penang for an Australian degree. My initial choice for my degree was to get into the electronics field, which was all the rage at that time, especially in Penang. However, my parents objected as they associated it with blue collar work and factories. So I had to choose accounts and finance, which they approved of," says the soft-spoken 42-year-old.
But his interest in electronics led him to take up programming while he pursued his degree. Midway through his studies, his father passed away and his mother sold the family business, but he plodded on. For his hard work, Loh obtained a Bachelor of Business degree with a major in Accounts and Finance from Deakin University.
As expected of him, he entered the private sector and worked in turn as auditor, accounts manager, finance and administration manager, and financial controller. "After a while, work became a chore and I began dreaming of doing something else," he confides.
His chance came when he met Chang Ho Yu, general manager of Taiwan-based GeStream Technology Inc, at a technology show in Kuala Lumpur in 2006.
Chang had created a 15cm humanoid robot that was the smallest in the world.
It had 16 degrees of freedom, which translated to 65,536 motions and was suitable for robot games. It was easy for the owner to download and update the newest robot motions or movements. Because the robot was sold in pieces, the owner would need to programme and also learn to build his own robot. He could also add any motion he wanted the robot to do.
"I really admired the creator´s persistence in the field of robotic education... he took more than five years to build the humanoid, after having failed many times. But he never gave up. Finally, he succeeded. His creation was a world´s first," he recalls.
After meeting the inventor, Loh took a long hard look at what he wanted to do. He pondered whether he should continue in accounting or take a leap of faith into robotics.
That first step
Inspired by Chang, Loh purchased his first humanoid robot in 2007. "My first humanoid was the Kondo KHR-2HV, a robot soccer player and fighter that was the most popular humanoid robot in Japan. It came with a manual in Japanese and it took me a few weeks to figure everything out and to finish the assembling and programming.
"After I had grasped how it was built and operated, I approached universities to ask if they were interested in purchasing international brand robotics for their academic use. Many were."
The following year, at the age of 37 and with two sons of his own, Loh set up HongQin Sdn Bhd (www.robotclub.com.my). Its first customer was Universiti Putra Malaysia.
His initiative to learn software programming at university finally became relevant. HongQin´s core business is marketing various robotic technologies, particularly in the area of service robots, to educational institutes for research and development purposes. Today, HonQin partners more than 10 local universities in their robotics R&D.
"Our sales concept is that we help the academic centres look for the right robots or robot parts they want, saving them cost and time," Loh says.
It is his ardent wish that the country can have more foresight in technology, can learn the technology and use the technology.
"Playing with robots or learning about robots is not popular here. But in countries like Japan, Korea, US and Britain, it is very popular. Here, people treat robots as a toy. But in other countries, people think of robots as a critical part of their future," says Loh.
What it´s about
Robotics, he explains, is a computer-controlled machine that can be programmed to move, manipulate objects and accomplish work while interacting with its environment. Today, with advanced and state-of-the-art technology, robots can perform repetitive tasks more quickly, cheaply and accurately than humans. It is not only widely used in the military and industrial sector, but is also embraced at the home and in education. It can be a research analyst, home helper, cleaner, security guard, a companion and even a performer.
"Our robotics technology is way behind that in Japan and Korea where children learn technology at a very young age - normally 4. I have visited many robotic exhibitions overseas in the past few years and I personally find that we are seriously lagging behind. I want to change this and to create greater awareness of robotic technology."
Educate and nurture
At the moment, HongQin is the official distributor of Kondo, RoboBuilder, Bioloid, Ollo Robot, Dr Robot, Hitec humanoid robot kit and parts. It also carries other brands like iRobiQ, Kyosho, MechRC, V-Stone and Minirobotics.
"In the near future, we will bring in more robots of different designs and functions," he says.
Loh´s dream is for our youth to learn about robotics at a young age in order to enhance their creativity and imagination. He wants to encourage young engineers to start their own business by setting up robotic classes.
"I started promoting robotic education classes in schools, kindergartens and international schools about a year ago. Last June, I launched my own robotics class centre in Kota Damansara. We hold classes every Sunday.
My three engineers cum salesmen turn trainers for the day, along with my partner, Carolyn Tang, and myself. Each class has about 10 kids.
We use the Ollo Robot sets and syllabus where children learn how to program their robots to do what they want. Apart from my centre, there are five tuition centres offering such classes in other parts of the country. We plan to add three more in the east coast of the peninsula," Loh says, adding that HongQin is working with universities to help develop a Train The Trainers programme that will create job opportunities for fresh graduates.
He points out that the Government can also do their part to give robotic education a big boost. The Korean Government, for example, has given lots of incentives and resources to robotic companies to produce robotic education products for children, and it keeps on improving.
At present, HongQin is also provide prototyping services for those who want to turn their idea into reality.
"We are seeing an increase in demand for service robots all over the world, compared to 10 years ago. Project consultation and system integration are part of our value-added customer services to customers and potential buyers," he says.
At the same time, HongQin is also working closely with partners in Singapore, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, where it exchanges thoughts and ideas on building a platform to develop robotics further. Loh has also started laying the groundwork on building the first humanoid robot in the country.
Published Date : 27 February 2012
Source : New Straits Times