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Young Greek Tech Whiz Making Robots, Do-It-Yourself PCs

Dimitris Chatzis, creator of the Ascos eco-friendly pc case. Credit: Ascos Design

At 22, a Greek from Kavala has already built his own robot for less than $600, produced his own 3D printer and designed a computer tower that is an eco-friendly do-it-yourself kit. After a decade of being a trailblazer of innovation, what’s next for Dimitris Chatzis?

Chatzis could easily become the poster child for youth initiative and entrepreneurship in Greece. The Kavala native is both a scholar in Germany at the Technical University of Berlin in the department of electrical and computer engineering as well as the CEO of Ascos, with its featured product pc cases that are both earth-friendly and user-friendly.

“I wanted my hobby to become my occupation,” Chatzis tells Greek Reporter. “I like doing what allows me to do what I love and to express myself.”

Chatzis says with pride “We are not the ‘lost generation.’ We have already begun to build our futures by looking outwardly, using entrepreneurial spirit and cooperation.”

In order for Greece to offer bright opportunities for his generation, however, Chatzis explains that the educational system needs to change fundamentally.

“There cannot be just goals to attain knowledge but goals to attain a sense of responsibility, a sense of community,” Chatzis said. “Innovation is not making exam subjects more difficult. The most important goal should be to channel and harness youthful curiosity.”

He added, “We have to allow youthful curiosity to set the course for how we will develop. Fundamental course work across other European public schools includes programs in music, theater and entrepreneurship.”

According to Chatzis, “Although I was a good student, I couldn’t wait to get home from school to work on my hobby, my real interest.”

He said that the educational system in Greece is deeply flawed. “I was making scientific presentation at fairs and conferences representing my school — and yet I was being penalized for my absences.”

The young entrepreneur tells Greek Reporter that because of his upbringing he considers himself a citizen of Europe, but although he is studying in Germany, he doesn’t consider himself far from home — or in Greek terminology “Xenitevmenos.”

According to Chatzis, “For scientists, you are not actually immigrating to a foreign country when you find yourself in a cooperative environment where you can grow and develop. As a Greek I will always look toward and want to be at home.

“But you can’t say I am going to stay in Greece because I want to help my homeland. Everyone can help from where they are by being productive and growing, as a positive reflection on Greece.”

However, Chatzis has based his infant company in his hometown for practical reasons. Ascos Design is based in Kavala, a northern seaport in Greece. The unique design idea of Ascos began in 2016, while Chatzis was still in high school. He created a beautiful computer case from scratch as a support unit for a large robotic project. The case was created and built specifically to meet the needs of presentations in various exhibitions of technological applications.

The collaborators are a group of innovative people that came together as a garage-startup. The materials used in the production line are handmade, with plenty of hard work and dedication behind them. “We are interested not only in what a product looks like but also what feelings it evokes,” said the aspiring computer engineer.

To implement the design and construction of the Ascos case, Chatzis used an international internet platform call Kickstarter, similar to a “Go Fund Me,” application. The platform features a variety of projects in which backers can invest. To date, Ascos Design shows 23 backers or investors with a total of $4,000 in support of the company. The target to be achieved was $8,500.

The Ascos case provides as much functionality, compatibility and flexibility as an industrial PC box offers. However, it is elegant in appearance, offering style for use either at home or in a business setting. Perhaps most impressively, environmentally-friendly raw materials that are natural, recyclable or reusable are what make up the case.

Drawing inspiration from Greek history and the environment, Chatzis used the idea of the “ascos” bag from antiquity. Initially the term was used to designate a wine skin that would hold luxury materials.

Later it was the name for the clay amphora container that carried food thousands of years ago. Chatzis created his own modern ascos to hold the valuable components that bring the pc to life. The ancient Greeks predicted — and built the first — robots, so perhaps it is only fitting that the mechanics behind today’s robots find their way back to antiquity through a name.

Inexpensive Robot Created By 15-year-Old

Chatzis’ interest in robotics was prompted at the age of 11, when he saw the sci-fi film “Real Steel.” The film projected a future where human fighters controlled the movements of giant robots, hands free in the boxing ring. The 2011 movie inspired him to create his own robot that would mimic human movement independently.

Chatzis told Greek Reporter that initially there were no actual mentors in his life in this regard. The springboard for his fascination in robotics came only from “Real Steel.”

However, once he began to create the 3D printer — and his robot — he had a network of support form around him, beginning with his parents, his family and across a variety of internet forums. He holds Elon Musk and Nikola Tesla in the highest regard among innovators.

The robotic project he needed the unique pc case for was his “child,” Troopy, a humanoid life size robot he created, at the age of 16, for less than $600. You can view Troopy in action in this video with a younger Chatzis.

Dimitris Chatzis with Troopy, the humanoid robot he created for less than $600. Photo Courtesy of Dimitris Chatzis

Troopy is six feet tall and is fluent in English. It took Chatzis more than a year to design the robot’s parts, then to print them and glue them together.

And at 14, he had designed and built his own 3D printer for the purpose of building Troopy. The humanoid robot consists of 475 pieces, 28 servo motors, two speakers, a camera, Xbox kinect and uses more than 12 pounds of plastic material known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). Troopy can mimic all the movements of the human body.

The teenager found inspiration for both Troopy and the 3D printer through InMoov — the personal project of French sculptor and designer Gael Langevin. InMoov is the first open sourced platform for a 3D printed, life-size robot. The development platform can be replicated on an 3D printer at home for universities and hobbyists but it prioritizes makers. InMoov is based on sharing and community to allow for the reproduction of countless projects worldwide.

In 2014, the then 14-year-old high school student had managed to draw everyone’s attention with the design and construction of his home 3D printer at the 5th Industrial Informatics Festival. A year later, he won the first prize for the design and construction of Troopy.

The robot is based on Kinetics, a hands-free game controlling type of software. The technology includes hardware that incorporates cameras, infrared projectors and detectors that map depth through either structured light or time of flight calculations, along with a microphone array, software and artificial intelligence to allow real-time gesture recognition, speech recognition and body skeletal detection.

This enables Kinect to be used as a hands-free natural user interface device to interact with a computer system. Kinect is a peripheral that sits atop the user’s display similar to a webcam.

Dimitris Chatzis participated in an MIT summer school program following recommendations from former US Ambassador to Greece David Pearce. Photo courtesy of Dimitris Chatzis

Robot Brings Chatzis to MIT

The economic crisis of the past decade prompted a brain drain for innovative professionals seeking better financial opportunities outside of Greece. Nonetheless, Greek students have continued to triumph at international competitions in the area of engineering and computer science. Chatzis has demonstrated his abilities with awards granted to him while he was still in high school on both the national and global level.

Chatzis had the opportunity to participate in the MIT Summer Launch Program, thanks to the support of former US Ambassador to Greece David Pearce and advisers from the Fulbright Foundation.

MIT Launch is a four-week entrepreneurship program that is available for high school students that is aimed at teaching those students the entrepreneurship mindset, skillset, and spirit that is needed to create real companies that have great success and change the world.

Dimitris Chatzis producing robotic gloves to assist the blind in Braille training. Credit: Screenshot Youtube

Chatzis has not only focused on projects that come out of his own curiosity; in an effort to simplify training in Braille for the blind, Chatzis created two robotic gloves. Working in collaboration with Dr. Korilakis from Athens, the mechanical and robotic gloves were based on the theoretical research of the professor’s project.

Chatzis told Greek Reporter that after his summer experience at MIT he considered the US for studies but the cost without scholarships factored out a North-American based university experience.

Chatzis is a dual citizen of Germany and Greece. His mother was raised in Germany before settling in Greece. With attractive programs and perks of Berlin’s Technical University, he receives a small stipend as a student and his fluency in German made the choice a good fit.

The coronavirus and global lockdowns have stalled the finalizing of his degree; he faces exams in August and has one more semester to finish his Bachelor of Science. The inventor plans to continue a masters program focused on aerospace engineering, but as yet he is undecided where he will do this.

Ascos Design is Chatzis’ business, but his family has been extremely supportive in the endeavor, including his sister, a graphic design engineer, his father, an electrical engineer who has assisted in production, and his mother, who has been tolerant of her entire home being turned into a workshop.

Chatzis said he would advise his younger self to “have greater confidence in and less fear of his ideas and the innovations.”

He is disappointed with the current educational model that exists in today’s public Greek schools. He told Greek Reporter that “everyone cannot be put in the same sack. Youthful curiosity must be nurtured within the public system. Young students should be allowed to explore what interests them. Their passion for learning will be stimulated by their natural curiosity in what they individually find interesting.

“Today that system smothers the desire to learn because of the severe testing and performance practices imposed from the very start.” He recommended that experiences be placed higher in priority than rote learning in the educational system — and that the experiences be based on a student’s interest and personal curiosity.

According to Chatzis, “Playing with a robot is fun, but creating a robot is even more fun, although technically challenging.” He adds “I learned to do this independent of a school setting, freely, at my own pace, using the tools available through the internet.”

Chatzis notes “I have heard many stories about the dangers in using the internet but I was able to create something innovative and positive in making Troopy, completely relying on the internet.”

Chatizis told Greek Reporter he aims to make everyone’s daily life a little more beautiful through Ascos Design, so that the time users spend in front of their PCs are more creative and use technology more friendly to themselves and the environment.

“I have dreams and I will make them happen. My achievements continue to inspire me,” he declares. Troopy and Ascos Design are certainly proof of that. As he narrows his studies to aerospace engineering he now seems to be shooting for the stars.


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