New centre to encourage use of technology
January 19, 2018
Elf can talk, tell stories, take voice commands, teach lessons, make phone calls and even crack jokes.
Outfitted with a removable camera lens and a mobile monitoring system, the multi-function robot can monitor your home or business 24 hours a day once the security system is enabled.
It’s also equipped with facial recognition technology used to automatically identify or verify a person from a digital image or a video frame from a video source.
“This robot can do almost anything,” said Ian McGowan, the chief technology officer of Rap Riderz Innovation Centre (RRIC) which opened recently in Aurora.
Next to Elf is Nano which functions as a personal assistant.
“If you have an appointment, it will remind you,” said McGowan.
With many sensors to avoid objects in its path, Nano recognizes voices and knows when someone enters a room. It is also equipped with advanced features for the home.
McGowan buys the robots from Taiwan and China and reconfigures them to fit the needs of his clients.
“They come speaking the language of the country where they are purchased and I change them to suit the market,” he pointed out.
The prices for the robots range from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the specifications.
While the centre is a place where visitors can experience new technologies, McGowan said the crown jewel is an enclosed room where monthly rap sessions will take place.
“Small groups of people can take part in workshops and seminars and do hands-on training in coding, gaming app development and design thinking,” he said.
Born and raised in Jamaica, McGowan completed high school at Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate Institute and spent two years at Brandon University on a basketball scholarship before returning to the Greater Toronto Area to finish a diploma in electronics at Centennial College where he met his wife.
They dated for eight years before marrying in 1999.
Claudette McGowan launched the annual Black Arts & Innovation Expo two years ago. In 2008, she started Excelovate Canada which collaborates with First Book Canada to host the Expo during Black History Month to celebrate forward-thinking Black creators who are working diligently under the radar to make a positive difference locally and globally.
A professional coaching firm registered with the International Coach Federation, Excelovate is also a full-service Canadian publishing house that assists organizations with specialized advisory services in publishing, mobile application development, coaching and creates productivity and gaming apps for a variety of platforms, including Apple iOs, Android, Windows and Blackberry.
The McGowan have two children, the younger being Savannah whose favourite gadget is the Quatach 4D virtual reality chair.
“This is pretty close to reality,” said McGowan. “If you want to climb a mountain, you just strap on the lens and you experience the feeling of being in the Alps with the wind rushing past your face.”
Five-year-old Dienna Fabrizzi took great delight in playing with a robot while showing off black gloves that have lights on the gloves' fingertips while seven-year-old Talia-Mari Grant was fascinated with the autonomous robot capable of detecting its environment and avoiding obstacles through the use of infrared sensors.
Grant’s mother, Tamar Huggins Grant, said it’s important for young people to get engaged in technology.
“I think it’s necessary they understand about the roles and skills they need for that future,” she said. “It’s not really forcing kids to like technology, but it is about using it as a medium to help grow some of the skills they can use in the future, like problem solving and critical thinking. It is really about getting them to learn in a fun way so they don’t even know they are learning. As a girl of colour, it is also important for my daughter to engage in different types of technology and just really gravitate to what she feels comfortable with.”
Huggins Grant curiosity with technology started in Grade 10 when she and friend regularly attended a library where they logged on to BlackPlanet.com and coded.
BlackPlanet.com is an African-American social networking forum for discussion on political and social issues among other things and coding is a list of instructions given to a computer in order for it to perform desired actions.
With financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Access Alliance, Huggins Grant launched Tech Spark in June 2015 as Canada’s first digital tech initiative offering programming, design, gaming and entrepreneurship skills to youths between the ages of 11 and 29.
She encouraged adults to take the opportunity to visit the new RRIC.
“Adults should also be part of innovation hubs like this because they need to understand why their kids are supposed to be in tech programs,” said Huggins Grant who started the Black Women Code last June to empower black women through tech education. “Many parents don’t push their children in this direction because they don’t even know what it is about. It is vital for them to grasp what their children are learning and why they are learning it.”
The RICC is located at 15543 Yonge St. and the hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Their website is www.rapriderz.com.