Robot practice
When 25-year-old Silas Adekunle met with Apple executive Ron Okamoto, neither man realized what was about to happen. Their meeting was intended as a 15-minute chat and quickly grew to an hour-long discussion and a multi-national marketing deal. It’s an inspirational story that puts on a personal spin on the robotics trends sweeping the nation.

During the meeting, Adekunle revealed his high-tech robotics. They’re capable of bowing, showing emotions and even staging their own deaths. The robots, called Mekamon, do more than just run around. They’re integrated into a virtual reality (VR) app, where they fight battles under user control.

Apple robotThe meeting was perfect timing. Based on the success of VR apps like Pokemon Go, Apple was ready to launch its own VR platform. The iPhone X, with its cutting-edge object tracking technology, is the perfect hardware for the complex software demands of most VR programs.

The British-Nigerian Adekunle has been experimenting with electronics since childhood. In Nigeria, he once shut down power to his entire city block when he played with batteries in his home. As a teen, he created a robotic hand from old cans and a robotic face out of tennis balls and rolled-up paper. However, he didn’t grow up as a digital native. It wasn’t until he moved to the United Kingdom at age 10 that he had regular access to technology. Once settled in Britain, he turned to YouTube and online guides to learn robotics and computer programming.

His hard work has paid off. As soon as Okamoto saw the expressive, innovative robotic toys in front of him, he invited Adekunle to Apple headquarters. After a few meetings at the California campus, Apple and Adekunle signed a distribution deal. The Mekamon are stocked in almost every Apple store, where they sell for $300. Earlier animated robots cost four to five times that amount, like the Sony Aibo dog that sold for $1,700.

Early attempts at distribution didn’t work. Before selling to Apple, Adekunle had been told repeatedly that his model was too complex. With twelve motors and a complex range of behaviors, the Mekamon was seen as too expensive for child consumers. However, Adekunle wasn’t targeting children with his sophisticated robot. He wanted to produce a high-end product for adult hobbyists and science enthusiasts, not a disposable toy that would make funny noises and end up in the garbage.

Adekunle is looking for additional funding to continue expanding his company. He’s already raised $10 million from investors. Now, he’s turning to licensing deals with Asian companies and debating branded versions of his Mekamon robots. He’s recently been listed by Forbes as one of the 30 Under 30 in European Technology. Given how far he’s come at such a young age, there’s no doubt he’ll find continued success with his inventions.