Dimitrios Chatzis: Nature and societies can progress only through the intergenerational collaboration

Young, aspiring innovator, and robot builder, talks sustainable future, just access to healthy life choices and cautious use of technology, for the euPOLIS project which Mikser is a part of.

Chatzis & Troopy

-Troopy is an old experimental project of mine. I was 15 when I started my first humanoid robot. I loved robotics from an early age and I wanted to do it in my free time and started primary school with making little robots, little working on the programs, learning programming, and so on. After that, I wanted to achieve more and I went on with bigger projects like 3D printers and some Exo-skeletal hands and so on. Then, in my head, a dream was conceived about the humanoids. That was how the Troopy was made, says young Greek innovator, Dimitrios Chatzis, discussing the development of the technology and rising environmental challenges.

Not only he was just a teenager at the time he made his robot, but he also made it almost out of petty cash, a baubling 600 dollars, but his entire work now strives towards sustainability and more just societies. 

-The Troopy itself had many advantages and innovative features, like an „eye“ made of the camera that can „see“ and copy motions of a human body, it had speakers to talk, two micro-controllers as a brain of the robot so it could mimic any human movement. Well, except for walking, that is really, really hard! At the same time, I had multiple other projects I was testing various innovative features on.

This whole robotics thing, along with artificial intelligence and in collaboration with machine learning leads to many applications in almost every area. We can see from very few algorithms and apps that help us innovate towards very large-scale projects. It is almost unimaginable to live through the day without Siri from Apple or Alexa, or the new generation of Tesla automated vehicles that help us. Robotics and AI are the future, for sure, they improve our lives in an exponential form and we need to be careful to recognize the problems we face and solve them by experimenting with robotics. We’re on the threshold of creativity and discovery and I believe the future holds great things in store for us, and robots will have a key role in the development of civilization, claims Chatzis.

Did you have a specific challenge you wanted your Troopy to tackle?

I wanted to see how a robot can move, how can we „translate“the program into a movement, my voice into the program, and program to cause an activity. I wanted with this project to learn everything about robotics, and I combined electronics, electrical engineering, mathematics, programming. That’s why the in-move robots are most „educated“ and that’s why there are around 5.000 such robots around the world right now and are all created in schools and universities and for educational purposes.

What are you specializing in at the University of Berlin, and where do you see your future?

I am in my last year at the University of Berlin, I am specializing in electrical engineering, and currently working on ion thrusters because I love the idea of space engineering and how we can make humans a multi-planetary species and I would love to continue my master in this field. My goals are to achieve something in space engineering and I would love to work on ion propulsion and plasma physics.

Many people are very concerned with the development of technology, especially AI. How do we reconcile the ideas of advanced technologies and sustainability in terms of the quality of human lives?

I see a very good development of AI and machine learning. We see a lot of professors in big universities and colleges who put hard work into developing AI because that is the future of solving problems. But AI could be problematic, so we need to make some boundaries. Let’s say, for military purposes, it can be very dangerous, but on the other hand, very innovative from the perspective of the future of human beings. When we saw the Perseverance Rover going to Mars about a year ago, with the AI built-in and with the ability to make its own decisions, that was revolutionary, inspiring, and positive. It’s up to us, how we employ it.

You started the Ascos company in your teenage years, already emphasizing the importance of recycled, reused, recyclable, and reusable materials. What made clear the importance of such an approach to you?

Ascos started as a vision in 2016 as I was preparing to present my first human-sized robot, and I needed a computer that can accompany my projects and would be a stylish accessory with a bit of science-fiction tads to take it with me to various presentations, festivals, and science-fairs. After the flattering comments from my friends and colleagues, I cultivated the idea to implement an interesting product. Last year, through the lock-down, was the perfect time to spark the Ascos case to life. After my first two years in Berlin, I came to realize that society needs to make a turn towards reusable, recyclable materials, and a more sustainable future. Living here showed me how everyone is working hard to achieve that. We learn from our professors that projects or ideas are not innovative without sustainability, recyclability. That was exactly the time when I developed my wooden PC case and started a company which was also a dream of mine. Ascos was established last year in Greece. Our first implementation was the fully eco-friendly computer case design. During those months in Greece, I built a big automotive lab to produce them. Here in Kavala, we have a lab with only 3D printed, biodegradable materials. We strongly believe that all the machines we are producing should be eco-friendly as well as the production itself. We are using only 35 grams of plastic in a six kilos product, and those 35 grams are only biodegradable plastics. To continue changing the minds of custom computers and to modify this whole idea of desktop computers it should start with a very clear vision about how the future of desktop computers and we are now developing more products that we will present soon. And we know people like to change something and create a whole different vision of everyday things, and not just that, but make a genuine shift to sustainability. In the past hundred years, computer cases have not changed…

That being said, you have to simultaneously address audiences and customers, educate them, and raise awareness that paying more for your case now pays off..?

As the matter of fact, no! The price of our Ascos case is around 200 euros, because of the handmade case and all the materials we use, like the water-based varnishes. But if I tell you that you will never use another computer case, that you will use less power, it pretty much fits those couple of hundred euros you pay once. This is a good reason to go on with our other sustainable projects!

It is obvious that our cities are overcrowded and that we are running out of resources to maintain normal urban processes. What do you, as a young and aspiring person, see as the main „challenges“ in cities you lived in, in terms of urban health and wellbeing? – What are the needs of your and generations close to yours?

The situation in Greece and here in Germany is different. I can say that there are some things to carry on to be sustainable and see the future in another light. In Greece, we had a financial crisis and such things took us a bit behind thinking about sustainability and how to have better lives in our environments. I see a lot more of that here in Germany. People are interested in how to change things in their city, how to improve health and happiness. I also see this from a political perspective. There were elections recently and we saw the „greens“ became a very influential political stream, a party that is. I see a future in ideas like making the odds for people, not for cars, and to continue developing other resources for the public commuting like electric vehicles and so on.

I don’t see this innovative approach in Greece. Even in Kavala, which is not a big city, we have a lot of problems. We have to accept the fact that every step forward we plan, can only be powered by environmental awareness. There are fewer and fewer green spaces, and we can not close our eyes to climate change, it becomes worse every year. Germany is on a good path to solving many of the urban life challenges. Back in 2017, I had a project with my school in Kavala, and we have built and placed an automated sun reflector that directed sunlight into the houses to produce electricity, heat, light, and all the benefits we could gather from indoor sunlight, especially for skyscrapers and tall buildings in big cities that have not such roof surface area for solar panels.

How do you perceive health and wellbeing challenges in cities you lived in?

I am the person with the most allergies in the world! And in both countries (laughs). My tests suggest I should probably pursue life on Mars because I can’t escape it anywhere here.

If we talk about the urban mechanisms, we see that for example, in Germany, public transportation is perfect, there’s rarely ever an actual need for cars. In Greece, you can not go anywhere without a car because waiting for the bus takes forever. In Berlin, if you need to transport something, you can use an app that allows you to use let’s say, a rental vehicle, get your errands done and leave it on the street. Like a scooter. We also have a train that takes you to the biggest airport here in 20-30 minutes which took you an hour and a half before.

Chatzis testing the robotic hands

Young, aspiring innovator, and robot builder, talks sustainable future, just access to healthy life choices and cautious use of technology, for the euPOLIS project which Mikser is a part of.

You often use the opportunity to warn that our problems start with the very schooling system, focusing more on gathering knowledge instead of forming a sense of belonging and responsibility. What do we, in your opinion, get with the existing system, and what are we failing to accomplish as a society?

I talk a lot about schools and educational systems, and how to improve them. I experienced the Greek educational system from a little age until my 18. Then I moved to Berlin. The gap between the two is very big. Other students also say that their schools weren’t always up to the point, as if our systems had a different purpose. In Greece we focus on five or six science fields like mathematics, physics, languages, ancient Greek included. It’s not that I’m against it, but it is not for everyone. We are forced from a young age to learn things that we will not be able to understand or use later on in life. 

We need more of the experimental approach, but I also don’t think that schools and students should be all about the most advanced gadgets to make everything easier for them. There’s no need to advance your devices to advance your school system. We need to start changing the point of view we give to the kids and develop something that is focusing on their creativity and how their minds work. When we start caring about this, a lot more innovations will be on our way. Teach them compassion, collaboration, and provide a broader perspective of the challenges of the world they live in.

Do you see the process of bringing nature back to the cities as the first step towards better and more fair environments for all social groups?

In Germany, they’re on a good way. If it’s a nice day, they’re all in the parks, hanging out, walking, eating together, kids playing… For older people, it’s still more challenging. We see countries like China putting a lot of effort to help older citizens adapt to their societies. We will have more and more older people in the future, for sure. And regarding NBS, parks and natural environments are nice to have, but to have them and also just access to all the health and wellbeing options, we need something else. I see very little collaboration among the people and so much competition. Like euPOLIS, my mirror project at school had the same goal, to gather neighbors for the common good.

Even my colleagues at the University are already competing for a better position, individual success…

But do you see your generation as a possible game-changer compared to, let’s say, nowadays’ decision-makers?

I see a generational gap in the problem-solving approach. Big companies, industries, and communities are a good showcase of the generation clash where the younger generation doesn’t have a say, and the generation of actual decision-makers doesn’t make room for cooperation, new ideas, and perspectives, and that’s the only way for innovation to spark. We need both the experience of older generations to set some type of rules or say boundaries, but the younger ones need to be that very fast car that rushes towards new things, and here and there, maybe break some rules. A Sinergy!

Who are your heroes?

– I don’t have heroes. I do have role models I think make great things in the scientific area or their companies. Like Elon Musk. But as a kid, I was a fan of Sci-Fi films. But you see, it’s not fiction, many things we saw in movies some time ago, are now a part of our ordinary lives. No one in the world would expect that the food „printing“ machine from Star Trek would come to life as what we call now the 3D printers that could print pretty much anything we want. That move made me think about how I can make everything I want, that it is possible. Technology will shape our future a great deal, but it is crucial to change the perspective. I imagine sending artists and all kinds of different creative people, let’s say, to the Moon, just to see our world differently and interpret it to the rest of us, their way, inspire us! Imagine how everything we knew and thought about our world will change when we start visiting other planets! – says Chatzis.