Nigerian-born entrepreneur Silas Adekunle isn’t your average 25–year–old with a knack for crafting toy robots in his spare time. In fact, it was his passion for motion and robotics that recently earned him an exclusive distribution deal with tech giant Apple.
Adekunle is now on track to sell plenty of his “Mekamon” robots, dubbed the “the world’s first real-life gaming robot” after “spending some time in Cupertino” and later signing a deal with Apple’s retail execs back in November 2017, according to Forbes. Mimicking a cross between a spider and a crab, the Mekamon is a unique twist on the robot but with modern augmented reality capabilities.
“When I went into robotics I really loved motion,” Adekunle told the magazine. “People are used to clunky robots, and when you make it appear to be realistic, people either love it or they’re freaked out.”
Apple’s head of developer relations, Ron Okamoto, was taken aback by the quality of the young entrepreneur’s bots and their ability to display emotions with their swift, calibrated movements when he was introduced to the Mekamon for the first time last year. The tech retailer has since priced Adekunle’s “battle bots” at $300 a pop, putting them in almost all of its stores in Britain and the United States.
The once-in-a-lifetime deal came just as Apple was about to launch ARKit, its first platform for augmented reality, Forbes reported. The innovative technology essentially mixes digital animations with the real world, the latest example being the popularization of phone game Pokemon Go back in 2016. The technology stands to go further, however, with the help of the Apple iPhone X’s face tracking capabilities.
Now, Adekunle and his team of nine engineers are working with the world’s biggest tech brand to take AR robots to the next level.
According to Christopher Beck, co-founder and CTO of Reach Robotics, the Mekamon will soon be touch responsive, wagging from side to side like dog and displaying other happy emotions when their owners pat their heads.
“A large part of our product is emotional,” Beck explained.
Adeknule didn’t always have a team of fellow creators behind him, however, nor was he exposed to modern technology like most people his age. Born in Nigeria into a relatively well-to-do family, the young entrepreneur recalled the time someone brought a computer to his elementary school and students who wished to see it had to pay a fee. That wouldn’t stop him from exploring and experimenting.
Then, there was the time his mom moved to Britain for work. However, there was no email and they only had phone access every couple of months, according to the magazine.
As a teen he made robotic hand made out of baked beans cans, and a robotic face that had tennis balls for eyes and rolled up pieces of paper for ears. While in Nigeria he caused a power outage on his apartment block when he experimenting with some spare wires he plugged into a main outlet. He told Forbes, “I was lucky I didn’t get electrocuted.”
Adekule continued tinkering with robotics at home, eventually learning to program in C++ when he got to college. He later met Beck and the two teamed up to turn the Mekamon into something they could sell.
“Everyone told us it was too complicated and expensive and no one would buy it,” Beck told told Fortune. “Toy manufacturers who were stuck in their ways were saying ‘You have to make it as cheap as possible. People will play with it for five minutes, then break it.’ ”
The two remained undeterred, however. Adekunle is now looking to raise new funds to land a few licensing deals with toy entertainment companies in Asia. The robotics engineer has already managed to raise $7.5 million for his company. He plans to continue his relationship with Apple, he said.
“The partnership with Apple has been fruitful,” Adekunle said.”We have many more products to bring to market. It’s a watch this space situation.”