By Mudassir Raja
He is in love with computer. He has constantly pursued discovering new things in information and robotics technologies. He is a writer and leadership trainer. Today, he is a known inventor in Qatar. He has won many laurels for the country. He is recognised and appreciated for his contributions towards sign language and support for the hearing-impaired.
Mohamed al-Jefairi is a young information technology professional working as an IT manager with Al Kass sports channel. He is also an entrepreneur and IT researcher.
Community recently interviewed the inventor and discussed his life, professional journey, technical innovations and general views at length.
Speaking about his family life, he said: “I am a born Qatari. I have two nine-year-old twin daughters and they are in Bahrain with their mother. I cannot see them because of the unjust blockade. I hope soon I will be able to see my children and inspire them as I see the youth being inspired by my works in Qatar. I wish my children see the accomplishments of their father.”
He started his work after he passed only high school. However, he obtained on job training and higher education in information technology. “I have been in love with computers since I was very young. I really like discovering new things in technology. This passion has led me to where I am today. I have been through a journey. I started my career working for Ooredoo in 2000 as an IT security leader. The company sponsored me to go to College of the North Atlantic-Qatar where I studied IT. I left Ooredoo and joined a security company as IT manager. It was in 2006 that I joined Al Kass Sports Channel. I started as an IT manager and now I am a training consultant with the channel. I run the career development plan here,” he said.
“I also work as a consultant with the government providing training in IT and leadership skills. I did my master’s degree in Strategic Management from HEC Paris. In my thesis, I merged my IT knowledge with leadership skills. I have written a book on leadership skills. I was doing my doctorate in UAE last year but could not continue my studies due to the siege. My studies were in leadership and entrepreneurship skills. I have lost three years of my study.”
Al-Jefairi rose to fame after he invented a robot he calls SeeDo that converts abstract words into sign language for the hearing-impaired. He recently won the 2018 World Summit Awards (WSA) for Digital Innovation for his project encyclopaedia of sign language called ‘Deaf Pedia.’
“I have my hobbies. I do a lot of computer stuff, engineering, mechanics and robotics. I have my own lab at my house. It was may be in 2011 or 2012 that one of my legs broke, putting me in a wheelchair for six months. That led me, for the first time, to see the world of the physically-challenged. One day, I was trying to go to a parking. I could not park my car because someone in a luxury car took my spot. The man gave no attention to my request for leaving the dedicated parking for me. I was very angry. This incident actually led me to start a programme to train people with disabilities to be leaders. I believe they are the only ones who can fight for their rights. It is the best way to empower people with physical challenges,” he emphasised.
“In my programme, I got success with all kinds of people with disabilities except with the hearing-impaired. I failed to make any progress with them. I found there was an issue with them while following our sign language. Through the sign language, they could not comprehend abstract ideas like honesty, future, importance or patience. For them, I invented SeeDo, the robot with arms and a screen. With the help of the robot, we tell them a story explaining what is ‘importance’. The robot also talks to them in the sign language. It has a camera and it reads the signs from the hearing-impaired. It interacts with them. By gamification, I involve the hearing-impaired children and teach them sign language. That was my first invention. It is a sign language teacher.
“I heard hundreds of times that it (robot) was not possible. People at a school for the hearing-impaired were also skeptical about the idea. However, when they saw my work, they just watched and applauded.
“I have saved human gestures in a database and this is for the first time. From this, I started another project named ‘Deaf Pedia.’ It is an open source platform. Anyone in the world can add signs of his or her language in the database. The hearing-impaired listen through their eyes. The project helps the hearing-impaired with the sign language on the Internet.”
Al-Jefairi is not done yet. He is planning to work on different facial expressions using them as a sign language for the hearing-impaired. “I am working on how a robot will read facial expressions. I am trying to convert the facial expressions into signs for the robot and then for their explanation through the robot. This technology can be useful for communication with children affected by autism. I have already observed that autistic children are attracted towards the sign language robot,” he noted.
He received complete support from Stars of Science in Qatar Foundation. “They fell in love with my idea as I pitched it at the forum. They invited me at their reality TV show. They recorded my journey and helped in having all the relevant parts and gadgets for the project. For the project, I won $50,000 and with that amount, I started my education centre to train future inventors and leaders. Qatar is a progressive country. After me, you will see hundreds of ideas and inventors here. People are ready to invest in the talented youth with innovative ideas. I will try my best to create more inventors in Qatar. I have won another competition involving entrepreneurship; I won QR300,000 and I have formed a company to help young entrepreneurs.
When asked about why he has chosen people with disabilities, he said: “I think there is a humanity gap between where we have reached today in technology and where we have left them behind. I think Qatar can be a leader in bridging this gap. This is what I am trying to do.”
Sharing the reaction of his family to his achievements, he said: “[Laughing] this is something I want to tell your readers. In the beginning, they kicked me out of the house. My room used to be very messy with cables and different devices. My mother always shouted at me. I was a kind of bad case in the family. I will ask every inventor: please do not make your mom mad. Join a training centre. Now, my mother is very proud of me. I am happy. My siblings see me as a role model. I tell them to innovate in their own fields. (But) I am sad that I am away from my kids. I want peace more than innovations. This is very hard. The blockading countries have done no service to humanity with their siege against Qatar. Humanity is all about uniting people, not dividing them.”
For Qatar, the inventor sees a bright future as an education centre. “I think Qatar has positioned itself as a worldwide leader with entrepreneurial agility and skills. Qatar is going to the heart for the body of world.”
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