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Elnaz Sarraf, CEO and founder of Roybi – Interview Series

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Can you walk us through your journey, from growing up in Iran, to becoming an entrepreneur?

My childhood and Iranian heritage definitely play an important role in who I am today.  My parents paid a lot of attention to my education at home and in school. My dad was a small business owner and was the face of our company outside of the home, while my mom took care of all the financial and operational aspects of our business at home, because as a woman in Iran, it would not have been acceptable for her to be involved directly in business negotiations.  But the limitations imposed on women didn’t stop my parents from exposing me to every aspect of our business. My dad took me along to many of his meetings; observing the art of negotiating and conducting business deals fascinated me with both the business and social aspects of entrepreneurship.

While at home, I watched my parents manage the company together and discuss the financial elements of holding our business together and finding innovative ways to grow. My summers were always filled with extracurricular classes in the arts, engineering and science. I’m very grateful to my parents who exposed me to a diverse set of social and academic skills at an early age. When I was starting ROYBI, I knew that I have to do a variety of different tasks myself until the company grows. Because of my background in the arts and engineering, I was able to multitask on projects such as industrial design, website designs, coding, and presenting my ideas and vision for the company to investors and partners.

 

What was it that inspired you to design an AI-powered educational robot?

Our education system needs a fundamental change, and that change starts with early childhood education. It should no longer be a one-size-fits-all approach. Every child has his/her own unique set of skills and our focus needs to be on their individual capabilities. We saw a huge gap in this area and decided to use technology and specifically artificial intelligence to bring about change that can help children, parents, and teachers. We developed Roybi Robot to interact with children as young as 3-years-old because early childhood is the most critical age in a child’s growth and future success. We’re constantly engaged in thinking about the benefits of robotics and AI in early childhood education.

 

ROYBI teaches children languages and STEM skills by playing, what are some examples of games that children can play?

We use different methodologies to deliver our educational content. Some lessons are only based on conversations. By using our voice recognition technology, Roybi Robot can understand if the child is saying the correct word or not. If the answer is not correct, it encourages the child to repeat using playful and compassionate messages.

Also, lessons alternate between fun and educational to games that can be played by interacting with the buttons on Roybi Robot’s charging plate. This creates more involvement and encourages children to move their hands, body and gaze and stay engaged.

 

Facial detection and emotional detection are the primary focus of ROYBI AI. Can you discuss some of the technologies behind this?

We use several technologies to deliver our content. One important AI component is voice recognition. Based on what the child says during the lessons, we can understand their progress and interest and create our reports for parents and educators. Facial detection is being used to initiate a conversation with a child to say “Hello.” And we use emotion detection as social-emotional support for the child while interacting with Roybi Robot, the educational robot.

 

ROYBI was recently featured on the Cover of TIME Magazine ‘As One Of The Best Inventions of 2019’. How did it feel to see your product on the cover of one of the top magazines in the world?

We were shocked, excited, honored, and overwhelmed at the same time. We knew we were on something big that would change the world but receiving such amazing recognition and even getting featured on the cover of the magazine gave us so much encouragement to continue our path even stronger!

 

There have been some pilots with ROYBI in classrooms. Can you share some of the feedback that you’ve received from teachers?

Our content is created by teachers, and we’re hoping to pilot in schools in the next academic year. The teachers who work with us to create the lessons, give us direct feedback on what is needed most to encourage children to engage with our content.

 

You’ve stated that you want to see every child in the world hold a ROYBI in their hands, do you believe that this could become a possibility if the classroom pilots are a success?

Absolutely! We are on our way to provide learning both at home and classroom settings and we want to change the way our children learn. To do that, we will ensure to provide our Roybi Robot to as many children as possible and as you can imagine it is an ambitious mission. To make this happen, we also invite future partners, delegates, governments, investors, mentors, and anyone who shares the same passion as us, to give us a hand, so together we can change the world for our children!

 

ROYBI recently acquired kidsense.ai, what was the purpose behind this acquisition? Was it to simply offer more language options?

The recent acquisition happened as a strategic decision to make ROYBI’s technology even more accessible to all children around the world. With this acquisition, ROYBI becomes a leader in voice recognition AI that is specifically developed for children. As part of this proprietary technology, we can now accelerate language development efforts as well.

 

What would you tell women who feel that AI and tech are dominated by men and that it’s not an even playing field for them?

It is time to change this! Put your best effort at work. You got this!

 

Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs who feel that it is more difficult for them to be taken seriously and to receive funding than their male counterparts?

The only limitation is in your own thoughts. There is no limit for what you can achieve no matter how difficult a situation may seem. You will find support from many people around you who share a similar passion as you. I encourage women to engage and involve themselves more in technology and how it is and will affect our future generations.

To make the change happen, first, we need to start  by ourselves and continue it together!

 

Do you have anything else that you would like to share?

As part of growing ROYBI globally, we are continuously looking for partnerships with schools, government entities, and foundations to help us make Roybi Robot and education more accessible around the world and to every child regardless of their location or family income status. If you believe you can help us in our mission, reach out to us at partnership@roybirobot.com

Elnaz Sarraf is an inspiration to women and minorities, and shows that they too can be a success. Please visit the Roybi website to learn more or to order a Roybi Robot for a young child.

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Antoine Tardif is a Futurist who is passionate about the future of AI and robotics. He is the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 AI & blockchain projects. He is the Co-Founder of Securities.io a news website focusing on digital securities, and is a founding partner of unite.AI. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.