Voice Controlled Wheelchair GOBEE l Faaiz Arbab l Exclusive Interview by Hala Shah

Today we, the PICS organization, have with us an amazing, really inspiring personality from Pakistan. He is a young bright innovator, a natural debater, a passion driven leader. He is a self-made entrepreneur and an inventor of the world’s first smart wheelchair. He is also the CEO of AYEco. Private Limited. Mr. Faaiz Arbab.

His achievements are not only confined to technology, he has also contributed a great deal in environment-friendly projects, a few of which are planting 3000 plus trees in the middle of industrial hubs of Pakistan.

Mr. Faaiz arbab thank you so much for taking out the time to talk to us today. I’m glad to have you with us.

Faaiz: my pleasure thank you so much.

Hala – Let’s start with how you came up with the idea of bringing upon change in the society and that too at such a young age?

Faaiz – thank you for giving me the opportunity to share the story of my life and my startup.

So the first thing i believe is that age does not define what you might achieve in life. I’m 24 years old but i believe maturity comes with experience.

Since my school days, I’ve been class monitor and when I talk about my college days, I’ve been the society president and in my university, I used to be president of five societies at the same time, so you might say the leadership skills were already within me since my childhood.

When you ask me about how I came up with the idea of bringing upon change in society, I would say I am a person who wouldn’t just sit and complain about the things that need to be changed around us. I would get up and try to make it happen. My life’s moto is “don’t complain but change”. So I really try to make an effort to bring about a positive change around.

Hala – That’s really inspiring because we see at your age, a lot of boys are either busy trying to settle down for a secure career or are maybe too distracted to even care about anything at all.

Now I would want to know in detail about your project called “gobee”. How did it all start what motivated you? Who helped you along the way? Everything from top to bottom.

Faaiz – It all started back in 2015. It was the fifth semester of my BS in University of Engineering and Technology, senior campus. So in every semester you have to choose a major term project and you have to complete it within the given course of time. I had to choose a project and had to complete it within five months. Now when I was choosing my term project in my fifth semester, a very sad incident happened within my family. My grandmother broke her pelvic bone by slipping and falling. She was in a miserable condition because she had to depend on others. She needed somebody all the time to carry out her simple daily routine tasks, she hated being dependent on another person like that. Looking at her concerns, we decided that we should buy a power wheelchair for my grandmother. When my family visited the market, they found out the wheelchairs are way too expensive to be affordable and so I decided that this shouldn’t be the way there are a lot of people in Pakistan who cannot afford expensive chairs. I discussed the matter with a good friend of mine from university. I proposed that we should make our own electric wheelchairs in Pakistan. While visiting the market we discovered that all the power wheelchairs are being imported from abroad, the major sourcing is from China and these wheelchairs are way too expensive to be afforded by people of Pakistan. The price could go from 150,000 PKR to 500,000 PKR. We decided that we need to make a power wheelchair with some innovations, the point of innovation was to make the wheelchairs completely hands-free. We came up with idea of a voice-controlled wheelchair. It would be beneficial for those who have disability in both, the feet and hands. We proposed this project to our advisor in university. He said it’s a very difficult project you can’t do because you’re a student of Electrical Engineering and there’s a bit there’s a lot of work of mechatronics engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science engineering and many other things. We said we’ll do it all, we just need an approval. So with that confidence he said okay, let’s do it. We chose that project but later we found out that it couldn’t be completed within the given time, so we badly failed to complete it within five months. We requested my advisor that we have to take the same project in another semester. So it was my sixth semester, we took the same project and with it the prayers of my family, my friends and my colleagues, we were able to complete it partially. In 2015, it was a project but not a product. We showed it to our advisor, he was very happy. He told us there’s going to be a national level competition in Ghulam Isaac Khan university and we should apply for that but unfortunately the events were postponed and we couldn’t go there but then we appeared in an international level completion at our own University and won the prize. Many judges proposed that we should go to the market and sell this product. We had to convert this project into a product. I then decided we will make sellable versions of our wheelchair. For now we put aside all the things because I had two semesters to complete my bachelor’s degree. After my degree completion, I was hired by a company. My task was to conduct energy audit in older water pumping stations of the whole city. I was doing well but I wanted to go for entrepreneurship, to start my own venture. I had no time to work on the hardware and on the research things to come to convert my project into a product. I hired a couple of internees to work for me. I gave them a place in my garage. I was doing a 9-5 job and after that I would give all my time to my own project. The pay I got from my job helped me in managing the finances of the project and also in paying the internees. It was the most draining phase of my life. I was putting a lot of money and time in those research activities but all that effort  later proved to be very fruitful as those were the building stones of my business.

So the first wheelchair I brought into market was a complete failure. I sold my first wheelchair in 30,000 PKR, the feedback I got from the costumer wasn’t good. So i tried again making the product better. Meanwhile I joined National Incubation Center. I displayed my idea to the team, they selected me and incubated me in national incubation center at LUMS.

It was the first cohort of NIC LUMS. I was one of the inductees and incubate in the activation center. Within the period of four to five months, they give us business training. We decided to make my business, a full-time career. I quit my job and enrolled myself at LUMS as an MS electrical engineering student. Meanwhile I was still working at the National Incubation Center. We were working for free of course because it was National Commission Center and the experience was worth it. The most important part of my business and my life was when we officially registered this as a company. And as the name says AyoobYaqoob Engineering Company that is a tribute to my father and grandfather. Ayoob is my father and Yaqoob my grandfather. We registered as a private limited company. I’m one of the directors. National Incubation Center is also holding a director seat in our company.

Hala – What does “Gobee” mean? Is it an acronym for something?

Faaiz – Yes it’s an acronym. “Gobee” is a combination of two words- “Go” and “Bee”. The product we made is as mobile as Bee. Bees hover from flower to flower so the person on the Gobee wheelchair can be as mobile as the Bee. You can also put it as “Go, be yourself!” telling the person using the chair to be independent and enjoy his life again.

Hala – You are also the founder and CEO of AYECo. Private Limited. How did that begin?

Faaiz – As I told you that in January 2018, we officially registered as a private limited company with three directors. One is me, second one is my sister Dr. Zara and the third director seat is being held by LUMS University. One thing I forgot to mention is we got our product patented. The world’s first voice controlled wheelchair is the invention of Pakistan. Some people from a government organization offered us this opportunity that we should get this technology patented so we applied for that and yes, this product is patented and secured for 20 years.

Hala – Do you find it challenging to be in authority and running a whole company at your age? If so, how do you cope with the struggles?

Faaiz – Struggles are in every walk of life. I have been managing my student life as-well as my newly founded company. Both things demand a lot of time as I’m pursuing a full time master’s degree in electrical engineering, the courses are too rigorous, so I’ve taken a six months break from my University to give full-time to my business. I’m planning to make the company an institution; a well-organized company that can work without my presence. Working on the SOPs, I’m not looking for the profit or revenues I’m building up the things, just a facade so that things can work on their own. If I stay there or not, the company should go on with the same objective that I have.

Hala – Now tell us about this smart walking stick for the visually impaired that you have been working on?

Faaiz – The idea came to me while I was incubated in National Incubation Center LUMS. There is a department called “assistive technology department” in LUMS. They offer assistive technology to the students who are physically challenged. A lot of blind students study there. There are also some professors who are visually impaired and they were teaching. I was really impressed at how they are managing their lives as they are blind. I asked a few of them about the aids they were using, it intrigued me because those professors or assistant professors were teaching and they were completely blind. They told me about their aids and I realized that there’s still a lot of improvising we can do to them using latest technology. We came up with the idea of smart cane for visually impaired because commonly, the visually impaired use conventional white canes. They will hit the obstacle with their cane and identify what is the nature of the obstacle. We came up with the idea that the cane should tell the user beforehand if there is going to be an obstacle in their way or if the path is clear. So we started working on this almost 11 months ago and now we can say that we have made Pakistan’s first commercially available smart cane. It can predict the obstacles, tell about its nature and also about the nature of the environment that the user is moving in so that they can avoid the obstacles. The smart cane silently gives out vibrations and with those vibration patterns and their intensity, the user can identify and move on their path without any problem.

Hala – Have you sold any products as for yet?

Faaiz – Yes we are focusing now on our sales as well because we have made a sustainable business model and to sustain we have to earn some good revenues so we made a very nominal price for wheelchair that is 100,000 PKR. We have already sold 55 wheelchairs and we have many satisfied customers who have taken our services. The revenues are almost six million plus within six months.

Hala – What motivates you? What keeps you going after facing a failure?

Faaiz – The thing that motivates me is my vision about what I have to achieve. When we look around to see where the world is going, people are going to mars. People are going to space, even cars are going to space and in Pakistan we are stuck in 3G and 4G. We have to compete the world because we lack nothing in Pakistan. We have so much talent, the young generation is always full of enthusiasm, we only need the right kind of motivation. We will be left far behind if we don’t compete now with the rest of the world.

Hala – Apart from all the technological stuff, you have also worked on projects to save the environment. Tell us a little about that.

Faaiz – I was working with World Bank as an internee in 2017 and  I conducted energy audit and an environmental audit of WASA. WASA stands for “water and sanitation agency”. It’s a government organization that works in water supply and water drainage systems in Pakistan. I conducted their energy audit and environmental audit to improve the efficiency of the pumping stations. As water is the most major problem worldwide, we conducted an energy audit of two hundred and fifty plus pumping stations in Lahore and gave the efficiency reports to World Bank and it was a United Nation project.

The other project we did was in my university life. Our campus was newly built and there was no greenery because the area was barren land and an industrial zone, so there was no plantation in that zone. I founded a society called “guardians of garden” and with that platform, we planted three thousands of trees in my own campus that was two hundred and forty acres. We were securing funding from different sources to plant and maintain those trees.

Hala – Where do you see Pakistan standing in terms of Technology in the next 10 years?

Faaiz – I’m very hopeful about Pakistan as you can say we are now globally connected through the Internet and it’s a fourth industrial wave, it’s a very important era. Everything is evolving at a very fast rate so I think within a couple of years, you could see electric vehicles on streets. The market is already full of hybrid electric vehicles in but there’s an ecosystem that still needs to be developed for completely electric vehicles. I think within the course of five years we need to be occupied with most electric vehicles in the market and we should be launching a space station in next ten years and we could be leading the world because we are no less than other nations so yes I’m very hopeful.

Hala – What are your future plans now? Where do you want to take all this work and effort in years to come?

Faaiz – We launched our first product in July 2018. It’s been like seven to eight months and we have gone very far from where we started but there’s still a long way to go. We have made our business very lean so that we can minimize over expenses. We are focusing on other projects and products which are compatible with the international market, one of them is smart cane. In Europe, the smart cane can cost you around four to five hundred USD and in Pakistan we made this smart cane available in the market for 50 USD. It is almost 10 to 11 times cheaper than the available product in the Europe. In the next year 2020, we are planning to sell hundred thousand units of smart cane and fifty thousand units of Gobees. We are also innovating Gobee. Rightnow only the version 1.0 Gobee is out in the market. We are working on the second model that is Gobee 2.0. It will be an export version of Gobee and will move to the European, Canadian and Middle Eastern markets. The Gobee 2.0 is going to be launched in three months and will be very advanced in features and in comfort. Its equipped with IP cameras. You can control the wheelchair from anywhere. You can see the person who is sitting in the wheelchair, you can look after the user from far away. There are a lot of safety features being introduced in Gobee 2.0 so that the comfort and safety of the user is ensured.

Hala – What do you think makes a great leader? What are the qualities and attributes that a leader should have?

Faaiz – A leader leads but a boss guides. A leader is the one who creates more leaders amongst his followers so I’m trying to create new leaders amongst my team. I have already given many tasks to my employees so that more leadership skills could be inculcated and grown within them.

Hala – What is your message to the youth? Do you encourage them to step forward and take risks?

Faaiz – Yes I think the youth of this time is already very advanced and is connected to the globe. The internet has made it so much easier for them to take inspiration from all over the world. I think they should not waste their time. They should work hard with a strong vision. They only need a good leader and I think our current leader Mr. Khan is very much inspiring and is giving us hope so that the youth of Pakistan could go in a better direction.

Hala – Lastly, we want to know what is your routine? We have heard stories about the Apple founder, Steve Jobs and the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, sleeping only for about 4-5 hours a day. Is it true for every high achiever and leader?

Faaiz – Yes, that’s absolutely true. The clock is ticking and everyone has 24 hours. What makes the difference is the productive time. Some people waste time and some make it more productive by working round the clock. If I have to talk about my routine, most people work from 9:00 to 5:00 and I can say I work from 5:00 to 9:00 that is almost 16 hours a day. But one should not compromise on the sleep, because sleep is vital and a healthy mind lives in a healthy body. So even if you rest and sleep for a few hours, it should be sound and tension free.

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