Young Pakistani turns bedroom into robotics lab to develop humanoid droids

Syed Usama Aziz demonstrates his 3D-printed humanoid robot at his home in Multan, Pakistan on October 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Usama Aziz)
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Updated 05 November 2021

Young Pakistani turns bedroom into robotics lab to develop humanoid droids

  • 28-year-old electrical engineering graduate Usama Aziz has been developing his passion for robotics for the past six years
  • He sees a bright future for robotics in his country, where such initiatives are supported by the National Centre of Robotics and Automation

RAWALPINDI: It took Usama Aziz two years to build a white robot that dazzled YouTube viewers last month when with human-like fingers it poured a drink for his creator without spilling a drop. 

Aziz, 28, an electrical engineering graduate of the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad built the white shiny humanoid at his bedroom-turned- laboratory in Multan, where he has been developing his passion for robotics for the past six years.

“Humanoid robots are the most difficult robots to make because human structure is complex, and very difficult to replicate,” he told Arab News. “There are individual finger control elements, which means I can individually control its fingers as well as the elbow, wrist, shoulders and all the joints separately. It is very complex."

The white robot, which Aziz says is still in the development stage, has made the rounds on social media, but it is not his first creation.

In 2016, he made a food-serving droid, which was even put to work at a Multan restaurant in 2017. But that one was much simpler and could not move its arms.

For the drink-serving robot Aziz opted to go with a 3-D printer, also because of how he believes it could influence robot design, particularly in Pakistan, where research and development have been limited.  

“The number one benefit (of 3-D printing) is that it is very accurate, all the parts of the robot once developed can be replicated with exact dimensions, exact sizes, exact parameters, without any changing, without any difficulty it can be replicated,” he said.  

“This means once I open source my files through my website, or on any online portal, any researcher, student, enthusiast or roboticist, who wants to work in this field or want to make a humanoid robot, can use my design files and 3-D printable files, and can have their own version of the robot and can do so right here in Pakistan.”

Aziz says he sees a bright future for robotics in his country, where individual initiatives are supported by the National Centre of Robotics and Automation (NCRA).

Established in 2018 under the umbrella of the Higher Education Commission, the purpose of NCRA is to indigenize and advance the discipline in Pakistan.

“Because of these labs and the startup culture that is going to develop in Pakistan, the future of robotics has a great potential,” Aziz said.

His own robotics startup, NextGen Robotix, last year won NCRA's Robotics Start-Up Challenge competition and a prize of Rs300,000 ($1,750).

Syed Usama Aziz (right) receives a cheque after winning a robotics competition at the National Centre of Robotics and Automation located at the National University of Sciences & Technology, Islamabad in 2020. (Photo courtesy: Usama Aziz)

“Robotics is a cutting-edge field where you can create intelligent machines having the capability of performing autonomous or semi-autonomous tasks. It’s an exciting field because one can create something out of nothing,” Dr. Umar Shahbaz Khan, NCRA director and NUST faculty member told Arab News.

“The world is moving towards automation and robotics is an integral part of it. Whether it’s the Roomba robot cleaning the carpet in the house or the Mars rover on another planet, these are all robots.”  

An educationist by day, Aziz says many students are interested in the field.

"All we need is some sort of companies who are willing to spend money on the indigenous development of robotics here in Pakistan, and then we'll be really progressing in this sphere," he said.

Could this progress lead to a robot takeover of the world?

“It's a very common question among people. But I think there is nothing to be afraid of. We are still far, far, far away from robots taking over the world,” Aziz said. “We control the robots right now. And they are pretty harmless. Robots are pretty dumb, not as intelligent as humans are, so they cannot take over the world anytime soon.”

Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

Updated 11 sec ago

Government says central bank autonomy not without checks and balances

  • The IMF wanted Pakistan to grant maximum independence to the central bank to end any possible political interference
  • A senior Pakistani minister says the oversight mechanism was built into the law after ‘hard negotiations’ with the lending agency

ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistani minister on Tuesday criticized the opposition for making a legislation regarding the central bank’s autonomy controversial, saying the new law was not without checks and balances which were incorporated after “hard negotiations” with the International Monetary Fund.
The law was approved by the country’s national assembly last week and was enacted on the international financial institution’s insistence which had been demanding it to protect the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) from any political interference.
The IMF executive board is scheduled to review Pakistan’s progress in terms of the implementation of structural reforms under a $6 billion loan program and may release another tranche of $1 billion later this month.
Pakistan’s energy minister Hammad Azhar told a news conference in Islamabad that central banks were always kept autonomous in the world since there was enough evidence that it allowed developed nations to bring down inflation and ensure economic growth.
“The federal government will appoint the central bank’s board of directors whose members can even remove the state bank governor,” he said, adding: “We managed to secure this concession of appointing the state bank board along with its governor and deputy governor from the IMF after hard negotiations.”
Azhar maintained previous administrations tried to influence central bank officials while dictating them how to manage the county’s monetary policy.
He added a similar bill was also suggested in 2015 by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party wherein it was willing to surrender all its powers to the central bank board.
The minister noted the government had brought about a comprehensive reform in the area which was also “demanded by serious Pakistani economists for a substantially long period.”
Refuting the opposition’s criticism over the law, he said it was only going to strengthen the country’s economy and ensure sustained growth momentum.

Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

Updated 18 January 2022

Oman’s naval chief meets Pakistani general, discusses military cooperation

  • General Nadeem Raza says defense cooperation between the two countries will have a positive impact on regional peace and security
  • Pakistan and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2020 to enhance military cooperation

ISLAMABAD: Commander Royal Navy of Oman Rear Admiral Saif bin Nasser bin Mohsen Al-Rahbi on Tuesday met with Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Nadeem Raza in Rawalpindi and discussed ways of improving bilateral military cooperation, the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement.
A day earlier, the Omani official held a meeting with Pakistan’s Naval Chief Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi in Islamabad to discuss bilateral defense ties.
Pakistan and Oman have always maintained a close relationship and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to increase military cooperation in October 2020.
In his meeting with General Raza, Al-Rahbi discussed “security and regional issues and matters related to enhancing the level and scope of bilateral military engagements and cooperation in various fields between the two brotherly countries,” the ISPR read.
The statement noted that General Raza “emphasized the need to further enhance the existing defense and security cooperation and said that Pakistan-Oman cooperation will have a positive impact on peace and security in the region.”
“The visiting dignitary remained appreciative of the role of the Pakistan Armed Forces in building the capacity of Oman Armed Forces. He also acknowledged the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism,” it added.
Last week, Pakistani naval ships Rah Naward and Madadgar visited Oman’s Port Sultan Bin Qaboos along with Hamza submarine as part of overseas deployment.
“During the port stay, various bilateral activities including exchange visits onboard afloat units, orientation visits of military installations and coordination meetings were undertaken,” the Pakistan Navy said.

Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani policeman, two suspects killed in Islamabad ‘terrorism incident’ 

  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the ‘attack’ near the city’s famous G-9 market 
  • TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad 

ISLAMABAD: A policeman and two suspects were killed in a shootout in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad late Monday, in what the country’s interior minister described as a “terrorism incident.”
Two assailants opened fire at police officers standing guard near a market in G-9 sector, the police said, which triggered a shootout that killed an officer and both gunmen. Two policemen were injured in the attack, who were shifted to hospital.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Tuesday said the deceased suspects were “terrorists” and the shootout was actually an attack.
“Munawwar Shaheed, head constable, was on duty and the terrorists opened a burst on him. This wasn’t a burglary or robbery,” Ahmed said.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed places a wrath on the coffin of a policeman who lost his life in a gun attack in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (Islamabad Police)

“This is a kind of a signal we have got that terrorism incidents have begun in Islamabad. This is the first incident of this year and we need to be very alert.”

He said the authorities had located the "terrorist sleeper cell" in Misrial, a Rawalpindi neighborhood some 20 kilometers from Islamabad.

“This is purely a terrorism issue,” Ahmed added.

Policemen pay tribute beside the coffin of a police officer who was killed in an overnight gunmen attack during the funeral ceremony in Islamabad on January 18, 2022. (AFP)

Militants have often targeted security forces in Pakistan’s southern Balochistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, but attacks like this have been a rarity in Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the “attack” in a statement.
The TTP is a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and has fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with its own brand of Islamic Shariah law.
Last month, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the Pakistan government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

Updated 18 January 2022

Pakistani PM's aide visits UAE embassy in display of solidarity after Houthi attack 

  • Tahir Ashrafi says they consider security and stability of UAE as Pakistan's security and stability 
  • UAE ambassador offers condolences over the death of a Pakistani in Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on the Middle East Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi on Tuesday visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Islamabad to express solidarity with the brotherly country a day after a drone attack on its capital, Abu Dhabi, by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi militia.

Houthi rebels on Monday attacked the Emirati capital with missiles and drones, setting off explosions in fuel trucks that killed three people, including a Pakistani national, and injured six others, and causing a fire close to the Abu Dhabi airport.

“The UAE is Pakistan's strongest friend and brother. [We] consider the security and stability of the UAE as Pakistan's security and stability,” Ashrafi told UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi.

“No force can weaken Pakistan-UAE relations,” the Pakistani PM's aide said.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi conveyed condolences from the UAE leadership over the killing of the Pakistani national, who was working for the Emirati oil giant, ADNOC.

“The injured are being fully treated and the UAE foreign ministry is in touch with the Pakistani embassy,” the UAE ambassador was quoted as saying in a statement issued from the office of the Pakistani PM's aide.

Ambassador Al-Zaabi thanked Pakistan for its solidarity and cooperation with the UAE.

Besides being a brotherly country, the UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and a major source of investment in the South Asian country.

Around 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates in the UAE contributed remittances of more than $6 billion in the last financial year.

Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

Updated 18 January 2022

Authorities in Pakistan's Islamabad start closing schools amid rising virus cases

  • Deputy commissioner says educational institutes being closed for a period of 10 days
  • The COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, Hamza Shafqaat adds

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad have started closing schools amid a surge in coronavirus cases, the Islamabad deputy commissioner said late Monday.
The development comes as the South Asian nation reports more than 5,000 new infections in the last 24 hours. The country is battling a fifth wave of COVID-19, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron strain.
"Due to covid rise Islamabad Administration has started sealing schools for a period of ten days so that contact tracing can be done and positive cases are prevented to interact with other kids," Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said on Twitter.
The per day COVID-19 positivity rate has crossed 10 percent in Islamabad, according to the official.
He said the city's administration had also launched a crackdown on those violating the government-prescribed standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of the virus.
"Please wear masks and get everyone around you vaccinated as soon as possible," the deputy commissioner urged.
Pakistan on Tuesday reported 10 deaths and 5,034 new cases of coronavirus, according to the National Command and Operation Centre, which oversees the country's pandemic response.
The overall virus positivity rate in the country stands at 9.45 percent.