Until a few years back, I had only heard the name of Arfa Kareem Technology Park and nothing beyond that. When I first stepped inside the empty-looking building for a summer program especially designed for students, I got a chance to witness a mind-boggling world of technology existing within Pakistan.
This piece is for those who, like me, have always been curious about what lies behind those glass walls. To begin with, I will briefly introduce you to Plan 9, where I spent most of my time. Plan 9 is a technology incubator, which selects about ten technology start-ups twice a year, after a rigorous competition. From legal support to marketing advice and from crowd-funding techniques to recruitment, the selected start-ups receive help with all possible matters. If you typically picture a government office in your head, you would probably not want to go there. However, once you step inside Plan 9, see the creative paintings on the walls, the foosball table and bean bags, you will fall in love with the place.
While I was interning at Plan 9 last summer, I got to explore many of these start-ups that were using technology to not only find solutions to our country’s substantial predicaments but also to boost our economy. I am certain that not many locals out there are aware of how Pakistan has launched its very own wheelchair that can be operated by eye movements or a teaching robot that works through machine learning. Even though I knew that such technologies already existed in the more developed countries of the world, witnessing Pakistan’s progress like this was an enthralling learning process. Furthermore, through programs like Whizkids, Plan 9 allows students to learn coding, graphic designing and so much more, all in a diverse environment!
Microsoft also has its own office inside the tech-hub. I have yet to explore that floor of the building but honestly, I was a little astonished when I found out about it. Another great thing at Arfa Kareem Technology Park that fascinated me was “Make-i-stan”. Make-i-stan is a free of cost makerspace, where students can take help from professionals and convert their inventive ideas into physical realities. If you are interested in coding, you will be greatly amazed by this place. During the few sessions that I attended, I not only got a chance to learn coding on software like Arduino but also got to witness technologies like a 3-D printer created by Make-i-stan’s team itself. If you visit during one of their “Arudino Nights” held on Fridays, you will be enthralled by the inventions students make each Friday, using only simple things like proximity sensors and LEDs.
Occasionally, Make-i-stanarranges special workshops like, “Creative Electronics Training” for students of renowned organizations like SOS Village and Seeds of Pakistan.Previously, people at Make-i-stan have worked on projects like an arc-o-matic (An automatic compass like device) too! Lately, they also designed “Smart Tools for Tandoor”, a mechanism which works as an exhaust at tandoor ovensalong with a protective shield to surround the tandoori’s arm.Other creations include “Interactum-Autism VR” (an app to assist children with autism to move around) and “Bag Valve Mask” (a low cost portable ventilator).
Apart from Arduino nights, there had been more workshops to cater a wider range of learners. These included workshops like “Android Meets Arduino”, “Introduction to Soldering” and“Introduction to Grasshopper.” (Grasshopper is a plug-in for Rhino 3D software that enables non-programmers to do computational design with an easy to use interface).Furthermore, short sessions regarding app development, user research and version control have also been conducted in the past year.
Even if you do not know the basics of computer coding, guys here are willing to help you out. When I visited for the first time, I was the only O level student present amongst several ITU students. Yet, one of the team members sat with me separately to teach me Arduino from scratch.
While most of us, including me sometimes, complain about how the government is doing nothing, let’s just appreciate the work being currently done in the technology sector. If we continue to progress like this, maybe Lahore can be Pakistan’s very own little Silicon Valley.