Growing up, Sam Kodo had a penchant for taking things apart, but unlike most, his was not a destructive adventure. But then again, he was no ordinary child, he saw things differently. Where others saw a compact device that could ideally serve a single purpose with satisfactory results, Sam could see several creations that could spring forth from that device and many different possibilities.
He was born and raised in Togo. His father was a lecturer of physics at the University of Lome and Sam would often be seen waltzing in and out of the university’s library after school or during holidays. There, he would busy himself peering over advanced science literature and it was there that he got hooked on electronics.
Most kids would be taken by trips treats, and toys, but little Sam found joy in something else entirely. Okay, like most kids, he had a thing for toys – but his reasons bordered on the unconventional. He didn’t care for candy and chocolatey treats, he just got his own pleasure fix from turning his toys inside out and fashioning his own models.
For his parents, it was pretty cool to watch their kid display such prodigious ingenuity and to keep the creative juices flowing, his parents availed him of the parts he needed to build some of the things he wanted. They also supported him by helping him salvage reusable components from broken-down appliances like old TVs and radios. And the little boy tinkered away.
To many, Sam may have been just another kid who liked to fiddle with parts and scraps and would eventually get bored when he reached a dead end. But that was not to be.
He was just seven when he started building his first robot and by the time he turned eight, he left many in awe of his creation – his first robot.
It may have been grotesque and immobile but was the first of many things to come.
Sam Kodo went on to become a Togolese tech entrepreneur par excellence and the CEO of Infinite Loop; a company that manufactures low-cost computers for distribution in Africa. And that company may have been his response to all the questions that kept him awake at night as a child.
Since his younger days, he had been troubled by the idea of the African continent playing catch up in the area of technological developments. He was very motivated to do something about it and from his first creation; i.e the robot he built, he had set out to put the continent in a respectable position in that regard.
But it was anything but smooth sailing, though. Even with supportive parents who did their best to avail him of the resources he needed initially, he didn’t get to just feel his way around and cruise through.
“At the beginning, it was difficult to create my first robots because of lack of computers to program them, internet for research, electricity and robotic materials in Africa,” he says.
“My robots weren’t intelligent enough. But today things are different. I import processors and other components from America. So, nowadays my robots are intelligent. They can easily recognise faces and speech; they walk and interact with humans.”
The year 2009 saw him unveil yet more robotic creations. First, he rolled out the humanoid, SAM 10, and then another, Robert 1, which is capable of moving independently. Interestingly, he manufactured the sensors used in both robots by himself. He was only 19 at the time.
As of now, his robotic creations are mostly for research and leisure purposes as none of them is up for sale. The Togolese tech entrepreneur is known to have his sights on working on more sophisticated and intelligent robots that will seamlessly fit into various industries and enhance production in those industries.
“Robots are great solutions for the mechanisation of industrial sectors in Africa where we still use humans for strength,” Sam says.
These days, though, he’s mostly rooting for his technology company, Infinite Loop, which he established in 2013. Sam had been nursing the idea of a tech company and the opportunity to launch one came when he won a cash prize at Forum des Jeunes Entrepreneurs; a national competition for young entrepreneurs in Togo.
With the prize money, he set up Infinite Loop. The company manufactures low-cost minicomputers called Lifebook PC. Getting the device plugged-in to a TV Set transforms it into an internet-enabled desktop computer. These miniature computers are small enough to fit into a pocket.
The idea for the computer-manufacturing company came to him during his college days. At the university, he was hampered by the lack of tools that could facilitate his studies. So, he began to nurse the ambition of starting a company that will manufacture computers and sell it on the cheap. He subsequently teamed up with some other students who shared similar ideas and the company kicked off.
As he is well aware of the plight of students who are unable to avail themselves of the ICT tools required for their academic work due to steep pricing, he set up his company to meet those needs by offering the Lifebook PC for less than USD 90.
Sam Kodo was to also embark on another project which involved producing water filtration equipment as a way of curbing incidences and outbreaks of water-borne diseases in his community. He maintains that all his ventures are not motivated by the need to make money but a burning desire to create change in society.
Kodo, a graduate of the University of Lome, was a 2014 finalist for the Anzisha Prize. In 2015, he won a Mandela Washington Fellowship and underwent an entrepreneurship course at The University of Texas, in Austin.
Having had stints at Woelab and Sonerep long before Infinite Loop (whose Lifebook PC has now evolved into the SMARTBAG with a solar panel and an integrated battery), Sam is now working on a project in the United States with Zpryme; a research media, and events agency with a focus on energy.
Sam Kodo won the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) Prize in 2015, while also gobbling up Future en Seine, in Morocco, in March 2018. Last year, he was selected for Young Scientific Talent in France.
Featured Image Courtesy: AfricanRDV