With self-centredness on the rise for the gains of few elites across the globe, it is enlightening to learn that there are individuals motivated to channel hard work and energy towards a societal cause. Have you ever come across someone who aligns their work flow towards giving back to their homeland without any ulterior motive? The chances are most probably meagre. Of all the white-collar professionals, Scientists are embarking on “the path less travelled”, to make impactful contributions to the society.
Hailing from a Kampung in Sabak Bernam, Dr. Hanafiah Yussof is from a mediocre background. It is through meritocracy; Dr. Hanafiah received full scholarships to pursue secondary and tertiary education, the latter in Japan. He received his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Iwate University, Japan in 1998. During his bachelors, he discovered that he had a knack for business, selling pre-loved cars and also delivered newspapers before sunrise, which helped generate an income to send money on a monthly basis to his parents back home. Little to his knowledge, they actually saved the money and bought land for his future. Working whilst studying increased his self-confidence and he also learnt the art of discipline and focus. He worked for Sharp Electronics (M) Sdn Bhd as a Research & Development Engineer in 1998, followed by a stint at Autoliv Hirotako as a Product Development Engineer in 2002. Subsequently, he received a Masters in Mechanical System Engineering from Yamagata University in 2005 and PhD in Information Science from Nagoya University in 2008. As part of his Masters, Dr. Hanafiah developed the first humanoid (robot) and optical wave-guide tactile sensors for the robotic fingers using various intensities of light as his doctoral thesis. The novel tactile sensing principles were later used by many researchers to develop optical guided and skin-type tactile sensors. Upon completion of his PhD, Dr. Hanafiah was awarded Postdoctoral Award for Foreign Researcher by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to continue as Postdoctoral Researcher at Nagoya University for 2 years, before joining Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) in 2010.
Although there were ample opportunities that came his way internationally, Dr. Hanafiah’s heart was home bound. He was grateful for the scholarships that gave him the platform to study and improve his quality of life. So, he was steadfast to give back to Malaysia.
One fine day upon returning to Malaysia, Dr. Hanafiah was intrigued by an Autism sticker on a windscreen of a car while he was driving. It made him research on Autism and his findings showed that there was very low awareness on Autism in the country. This curiosity was the birth of the project on application of humanoid robot as assistive therapy and training tools for autism in UiTM, in collaboration with the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) and Faculty of Medicine, UiTM. With the help of humanoid robot called NAO, he hopes to treat and reduce Autism characteristics in children.
Embodying a vision that therapy can be conducted in the comfort of people’s homes by a robot with remote professional assistance, he set up a company, Robopreneur Sdn Bhd, to fast track commercialization of technologies and make them accessible and affordable to those in need. For this, he is working closely with the legal team at UiTM looking at laws, regulations and policies to make robots mainstream and there is also team looking at the costing to ensure affordability. He says that nothing can be achieved alone. Collaboration is key!
Dr. Hanafiah Yussof is a Lecturer and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, UiTM. He is the founder of Center of Excellence for Humanoid Robots and Bio-Sensing (HuROBs) and former Director of Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Technology Advancement (i-META), Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, UiTM. He is also a visiting Professor at University of Toyama, Japan and Research Fellow at Complex System Computing Lab, Nagoya University Japan. He has served as Chair of IEEE Robotics and Automation (IEEE RAS) Malaysia Chapter since 2013 until 2015, and an Associate Member of Young Scientists Network Academy of Science Malaysia (YSN-ASM) since 2012. His work on Robots has been awarded more than RM6 Million in research grants.
On a personal note, Dr. Hanafiah 42 years young and is married with three beautiful children. He loves travelling and his favourite country is where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed – New Zealand or better known as “Middle Earth”. He absolutely loves fishing and adores Salmon. For Dr. Hanafiah fishing is about passion, strategy and consistency. Interestingly, he alluded that “these 3 elements are important to succeed as a scientist and an entrepreneur”. He is also well-versed in Japanese as he feels that the Japanese are more receptive when he speaks the local lingo.
What Is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life due to a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. It is four more times prevalent in boys than girls. Autism shows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries, and cuts across family income, lifestyle and educational levels. Autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 68 new-borns. In Malaysia, this would equate to approximately 9000 every year.
Parents usually see the symptoms in the children between the ages of two and six. Some of the symptoms that are most often found to be associated with autism are: not being scared of danger, either being too sensitive or not sensitive at all to pain, avoiding eye contact, has difficulty expressing what they want or need, routine has to always be the same, and may show an overall difficulty interacting with others.
Autism affects the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. This disorder makes it hard for them to relate to the outside world. It is hard for them to communicate with others. Aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present in some cases.
Some children with autism do not speak at all, but most do develop speech although speech is usually delayed, limited or inappropriate. Some may repeat words or mimic sentences or phrases they have observed from someone else.