Home is Where the Bots Are

Take off to sunny, tropical Toronto, Canada this week as Vikas, Artash, and Arushi Nath (@wonrobot), Co-Founders of HotPopRobot Maker Family take over Real Scientists. We chatted with Vikas about their STEM story so far.

You’re a family group – was science always a part of your life growing up?
My earliest memories of family dinner conversation are talks about resistances and capacitors. I was brought up in an environment surrounded by science books, science kits and electronic parts. I developed an interest in science, maths and making things at an early age. Growing up, I got fond of travelling to rural and remote areas and became interested in environment, climate change and international development.

Where did those interests take you?
I have been loyal to science and in my quest for lifelong learning took different degrees. I did my bachelors degree in Mathematics from Delhi University (St. Stephens College), my first masters degree in Environment and Forestry, and my second masters degree from the London School of Economics, UK in Environment and International Development. I am now doing my second bachelors in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Toronto, Canada to pursue my interests in space and astronomy.

I worked with the United Nations in New York, Geneva and Delhi on environment, development and technology transfer issues for 12 years. My work entailed analysing carbon emissions data from different blocs of countries (developing, least developed, small islands, etc.), estimating effects of climate change on agriculture and livelihoods, and predicting adaptation costs. The results were used by developing countries in sharpening their strategies for negotiations during climate summits in Bali and Poznan. I carried out technical assistance missions to capitals of over 50 developing countries to help bridge gap between climate research, and policy.

When and how did HotPopRobot emerge?
I left the United Nations to start our maker-family enterprise www.HotPopRobot.com with my kids to bring discussions on Space, Science, and Technology in everyday conversation. We make a lot of science projects and models, and encourage families and kids to make things related to science, technology, robotics, and space. Our family has made 30+ space and science projects.

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That’s great! Where has this work taken you?
Our projects have been displayed at the Ontario Science Centre (2018), TVOKids (2018), Science Rendezvous (2018), MakerFest Toronto (2014- 2017), Toronto International Film Festival DigiPlaySpace (2015, 2016), Youth Space Apps (2015-2017), International Space Development Conference (2016, 2017), MakerFest Delhi and Ahmedabad, and scores of schools and libraries.

We love participating in hackathons especially those related to space, rockets and satellites. In fact, we started our Maker Family enterprise after winning the NASA Space Apps Toronto 2014 Award for our Mars Rover: CuriousBot. Our family team eventually ended up among top 5 NASA Space Apps Winners (People’s Choice) globally! We won the NASA SpaceApps Challenge again in 2017 as well as the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Apps Challenge 2017 for our projects using space and satellite data.

What do you want people to know about your work?
We may consider ourselves tech-savvy but most of us are simply consumers of technology. To progress and to solve ongoing and bigger challenges, we need to become creators and inventors. Making things is a good way to raise creators as making involves various skills including research, designing, brainstorming, collaboration, measuring, engineering, coding, analysis, presentation and communication.

Making things forces us to use our imagination to find different uses for the same technology or apply them to solve different problems. Making in an intergenerational activity and can be carried out in homes, schools and libraries. It opens our mind to learning new things and raises the bar of conversation in our daily lives.
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