Meet Sherwin Yap, the Philippines’ up-and-coming Elon Musk

by Mary Lou Cunanan

Filipino innovator Sherwin Yap | Contributed

Sherwin Yap is a Filipino innovator and the founder of Kaizen Robotics International, a robotics design/development group and academic consulting firm. So how does one exactly start building and designing robots, you ask? I was very excited to know as well.

PDM: Tell us about yourself and your journey.

Sherwin Yap: My family hailed from Cebu and moved to Davao, where my parents built an educational supply business, including the city’s largest bookstore. When I was 13, my parents sent me to Manila to accompany my achie (older sister), who would attend college. As a teenager, I remember riding a kalesa (horse-drawn carriages famous in Manila) to school with my achie and, after school, personally loading up large container vans to send supplies to Davao.

I took up Robotics Engineering (MEM) at De La Salle University because I developed a love for programming when my mom enrolled me in a coding class when I was 10. In college, I gained notorious popularity in the online community for my hacking computers for mischievous teenage fun.

Kaizen Robotics International was born at the onset of the pandemic as a response to a need for safe technologies. It also became a response to my 10-year-old self, who knew way back then that I had a serious knack for programming and a keen interest in the latest technologies. When I got older, I found myself building a career in the oil and gas industry as a business leader in one of the largest multinational energy companies. To date, Kaizen Robotics International has also found its way to heeding the call for Robotics education in the country. It brings me joy to see my life come full circle as I again find myself returning to my roots in the business of education and educational supplies.

What’s your personal vision for this industry as a Filipino?

The Philippines is in a unique position to become a robotics and technology powerhouse. The most important resource for this future is talent and youth, and the Philippines is abundant with that. The pandemic has somehow leveled the playing field in terms of connectivity, such that innovations and access to information are no longer confined to places like Silicon Valley or Japan. Our location in Asia is also now more advantageous for having access to materials and supplies. Tech giants like Dyson recognize this and have begun setting up technology centers in the country.

As it is, the robotics programs of the country’s educational institutions are in their infancy. However, because robotics is a very fast-paced technology field, the educational system and methods have to be very agile to keep up. Preparing the youth would be the key driver for priming the country to own its place in the tech world.

Kaizen Robotics International is committed to doing our part in making this future a reality by revolutionizing the way robotics is taught in our schools while at the same time working on industrial projects to stay current and on top of the latest technologies and applications.

Ultimately, I’m excited for the time to come when seeing the label “Made In The Philippines” makes one think it must be innovative or, at the very least… cool!

Is there a particular memory that stands out for you that is tied to your Filipino identity?

The Filipino in me stands out when you see the creativity and sense of humor in my robotics projects. I like making technology with a Filipino flavor in it. For example, I developed a Filipino version of Alexa (Amazon’s virtual assistant AI technology) called Ate Marites. So instead of saying, “Alexa, turn on the lights,” you instead say, “Ate Marites, paki buksan ang ilaw.”

I also think parents, especially dads, would love this AI-powered social distancing device that I called the Daddy-bot. The idea is it will watch over teenagers, and when they get too close to each other, it would call out “Bawal po ang sweet dito!” (“Lovey-dovey is not allowed here!”).

I really love how it makes our kababayans smile when they see the demos.

What makes you proud as a Filipino?

I feel proudest as a Filipino when robotics enthusiasts from first-world countries approach me for guidance, partnerships, or product development collaboration.

Sherwin in a virtual meet with his fellow topnotch robotics inventors | Contributed

It has also been very encouraging that the global community has taken notice of our work. I feel privileged to be the first Filipino invited to the international tech show “Pi Cast,” among other notable guests such as the Raspberry Pi co-founder, Pete Lomas. It was also an honor to be featured on the Global IP Trust publication, where they write about people that are “truly ahead of their times,” with the likes of Tesla’s Elon Musk and the inventors of iPod, Siri etc.

What do you think is your greatest achievement/contribution so far?

Kaizen has forged a partnership with a prominent educational institution to advance coding and robotics education in the country. Kaizen’s strategy is to equip the educators and get the multiplier effect to make the biggest impact in the shortest possible time. Instead of teaching one kid at a time, we are working with the academic institutions in equipping the teachers, who in turn will be teaching hundreds of students each, thereby allowing us to bring the latest information and education to as many young people as possible, with the same amount of time and resources. This will enable a revolution.

As we took this route, it was very humbling for our team to see how dedicated the teachers are and how hard they work. We are privileged to see the joy in their faces and the pride in their voices as they showcase their robotics projects after attending the Kaizen Robotics program.

Aside from education, we also take pride in our collaborative efforts with groups of inventors worldwide. With them, we tackle real-world problems through technology innovations in various sectors such as agriculture, medicine, mental wellness, and entertainment.

The world of innovation is always in flux. Where do you get inspiration?

I feel inspired when I watch sci-fi movies or when I witness innovations around the world, and I realize that “Hey, we can do that!“

Sherwin is testing one of his robotics creations | Contributed

I am also inspired by the people who constantly reach out to me from all over the world, either to consult about things as complex as technical questions on major robotics projects or as simple as what course to study to learn robotics, to ask about opportunities to be able to work with Kaizen, to share their own amazing robotic inventions or to express their appreciation for how a recent Kaizen robot video has given them a good laugh.

What is your mantra?

First is that “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:13.

Second is the mindset that “Everything is possible.” In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine anything that they no longer be done with the existing technologies.

Lastly, “Robotics is fun!” One shouldn’t take oneself or one’s work too seriously. There is the creative power and freedom in doing things in the spirit of fun and enjoyment. Find your fun first, then let the purpose follow.

What Filipino values do you think the world needs to know about?

Our sense of humor!

I feel that what sets Kaizen Robotics apart from others is how fun and engaging our projects are. It made robotics interesting, relatable, and accessible to ordinary individuals who may or may not have any technical knowledge of robotics. I did not set out at the beginning to try and save the world. I just wanted to do things for fun. And people began to respond to that.

Also, “Malasakit” and “pakikipagkapwa tao” (Compassion and helpfulness). When asked for help, Filipinos will go out of their way to extend a hand and walk the extra mile with you. In the local and global robotics communities that I am a part of, sharing and exchanging information allows everyone to learn and do things more quickly, and having malasakit goes a long way.

What are some of the organizations and causes you support?

I want to thank and recognize the following communities for the supportive environment and inspiring network they have provided me with:
Filipino Inventors Society, Global Raspberry Pi community, Robotics Philippines, Arduino Philippines, Robotics Lab Philippines, Mechatronics, and Robotics Society of the Philippines.

Finally, what’s your message to Pinoys (and non-Pinoys) all over the world?

We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which ushers in a world where advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), Robotics, and the internet of things (IoT) are inevitable. Let’s keep building things every day to find and eventually take our place in that world.

Where to catch Sherwin:
Or for the fun side of robotics, please check out his TikTok channel @surewincreator

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