Sep 24, 2020

Teenager from Abra makes robot that picks, sorts garbage

As a child, Meljon started to show interest in putting together robots and Lego toys. His talent in assembling robots developed on his own without actual education on robotics.

YOUNG ROBOTICS WIZ. Meljon Reyes Viste, 16, shows the prototype robot made up of recycled Lego parts that he developed and entered in the national science fair this year. Also in the photo is his father, Engr. John Viste. (PNA photo by Liza T. Agoot)

BANGUED, Abra — A 16-year-old high school student from Abra has made use of functional artificial intelligence and developed a robot that can pick and sort trash gathered from canals and waterways.

“I want to do something that is useful. I am worried about the state of our environment that is why I improved what had been developed in the past,” said Meljon Reyes Viste, a Grade 10 student at Abra High School here.

As a child, Meljon started to show interest in putting together robots and Lego toys. His talent in assembling robots developed on his own without actual education on robotics.

He said he used to question why the robots do not move, which prompted him to educate and train himself to make one that actually performs worthwhile activities.

Developing the robot

Meljon said that as a student in Abra High School, a government-run institution, they are required to do research and propose possible solutions to problems in the province.

“Kasi yun po ‘yung basis namin sa research kung ano ang benefits natin sa environment and human especially kung gumagawa ka ng research about the nationwide problem, world problem. Example po, ano ang problema ng Abra and sa solution, ano ang gagamitin mo na nakikita lang sa Abra. ‘Yun po yung pinaka main focus namin. Ako ang ginagawa ko ngayon is international (That was our basis in our research — what are the benefits to the environment and humans, especially if your research is on a nationwide or worldwide scale. What are the problems in Abra and what could be the solutions that can be sourced in Abra? That was our focus. What I am doing now is something global),” Meljon said.

He said that in 2018, a student developed and showed a line-following robot during a local robotics competition.

“I got curious about what benefits can such robot give to the environment, what can it do for us so I did some interventions,” Meljon said.

He said his plan was to develop a robot that could collect garbage and segregate it at the same time.

“May limit po kasi, magko-collect at magse-segregate. ‘Yun po ‘yung prototype ko, magko-collect ng plastic and metal can, then after that, kaya niyang i-segregate (my plan was to make a robot that would pick up garbage and segregate the metal from the plastic. But the actual robot showed limitations compared to the prototype).”

The prototype robot was given a grip but the actual robot encountered a problem with the grip, which made him decide to instead put up a conveyor that allows the waste to go through a sensor that determines whether it is metal or plastic, then ends in separate containers that it carries.

The prototype robot used scrap materials and recycled Lego parts. The actual robot used parts of an old electric wheelchair he found in a scrap waste facility.

The actual robot, about four feet high, was used by Meljon in competing for the national event when he qualified after his papers — similar to a feasibility study — passed three screenings.

He said the robot was even noticed by a representative from a big Philippine corporation who offered to buy it.

“Hindi ko po pinansin kasi hobby ko po ito at bata pa ako (I did not pay attention because this is just my hobby and I am too young for that),” he said.

Meljon said that he would bring an improved version of the enviro robot in an upcoming competition in Australia in the third week of October.

“It’s a secret, but a much-improved version of my enviro robot. In Australia, we will present to the judges what we developed, dismantle it and re-create it in front of the judges,” he said. “I want to patent my design. It’s mine, I spent time sleepless nights to develop it,” he added.

While the initial design is no longer available, he said he can still remake it.

“May data book po ako na pinaglalagyan ng algorithms and codes ng ginawa ko na robot pero hindi mo makikita lahat doon dahil nandito (pointing to his temple) ang buong design (I have a data book where I write the algorithms and codes of the robots I make but you cannot see everything there. Everything is here in my brain),” he said.

Robot competition winner

Last August, Meljon joined the sumobot (Sumo wrestling robot) event in the World Robot Games Championship in Thailand.

For this category, Meljon put together his available materials and created a “sumobot” that punches an opponent when operated using his father’s cellphone as a remote control.

Meljon won third place.

“I was supposed to compete my garbage picking and sorting robot but we learned that there had to be at least three members of the group and I was alone so I did not have the chance to compete,” he said.

Future plans

Next year, Meljon will enter Senior High School but he has yet to decide what he wanted to take up in college.

“Hindi ko pa po alam ano ang gusto ko, naguguluhan ako (I dont know yet what I want, I am confused),” he said.

Meljon is not just good at robotics. He is also a consistent honor student, ranking number 1 or 2 in class since he started going to school.

He said he failed in his research when he was in Grade 7 but that did not stop him with his passion to create robots.

He made computations and regularly updated his designs until he finally developed his competition piece. He said he continues to update and improve his robot.

Meljon’s father, John, who is a civil engineer by profession said that his son’s hobby is expensive but they are trying their best to provide his supplies, often going to Metro Manila to purchase parts.

“At first, we didn’t know what he was doing until his little sister played with the robot in front of us last year and that was the only time we learned what he did and that he was competing in robotics. He always locks himself in his room,” John said.

He added that Meljon is a spendthrift who recycles materials, dismantles, and recreates his robots.

“He recycles things and makes use of junk items which are still useful in making some of his robots so that his expenses won’t be too much,” John said.

“It’s not cheap and it is difficult but we will try to provide for his supplies so that he can continue with his hobby, his interest,” John added. (Liza Agoot/PNA)

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