Counting pennies for creativity

Crowdfunding has proven to be a revolutionary business-financing phenomenon. From an A to Z list of every indie game, record or publication imaginable, to rebuilding homes, rehoming puppies and sending people to the Olympics, crowdfunding platforms have shown they can be just the right kind of push to get hatchlings to fly the nest. Having a local crowdfunding platform gives entrepreneurs and communities in Malta a unique edge.

Crowdfunding is a place where local ideas, concepts and projects meet and can receive public support. But, in a world of large crowdfunding opportunities across the globe, what does Malta actually stand to gain by having a platform with a local focus?

Financing options on the Maltese Islands are notoriously limited. Over 70 per cent of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) resort to traditional lending services like bank loans and overdrafts. Getting a new business off the ground is a daunting task, and 30% of local entrepreneurs admit to finding difficulty in securing investments.

Enter Zaar, the donation and reward-based crowdfunding platform set up by the Malta Business Bureau and the University of Malta [UoM]. The idea initially was to help bridge gaps in the market when it comes to financing for start-ups, innovation, and research projects. A local crowdfunding platform helps local companies by bypassing the legal and bureaucratic obstacles that come with using international platforms. While projects targeting Maltese recipients benefit from local context and backing, backers need not be based in Malta at all. By giving local creators the space to attract funding in the most efficient way, Zaar aims not only to fuel dreams, but to fulfil them.

That being said, Zaar is not just about financing, and one of the company’s core values is about getting good ideas out in the open. In operation for seven months, the platform has managed to fund everything from album launches to charity events. Some of the most successful offspring to date include: a soon-to-be launched Pet Cabin at Mater Dei; eeMod—a modular and multi-functional platform for makers, engineers, and students; funding for the UoM student racing team to build a new formula style car; and a project to bring graphic novels to Malta’s Public Library. Without a little push from Zaar to get public interest going, none of these projects may have made it.

Local crowdfunding also opens up new avenues for researchers and their projects. Governmental and EU funds are becoming harder to come by, but Zaar ensures that every researcher who has ever been told that their field lacks the appeal for funds, at least has the opportunity to try. For the first time, people have the chance to fund studies that they want to see done, and the thought of that is genuinely exciting.

Crowdfunding is going to be a game changer for innovation, and Zaar has the first pin down on the local map.

Robots in the Classroom

Reuben Ferrante, a University of Malta Engineering graduate and founder of eeRoot, has developed a small robot called eeMod. eeMods are built from only two modules stacked on top of each other. The bottom module is a ‘sensor hub’ that can sense the environment around it. It does so through connections (wifi, bluetooth, USB, microSD card slot), several sensors (gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensors), and a bit more wizardry. The second module is the controller, or brain. Its programmable controller is entirely compatible with the Arduino platform—a standard used worldwide. A set of wheels let’s the eeMod zip around.

Because the robot’s brain is empty by default, it can be hooked up to a computer to upload data. eeMods understand complex instructions and can utilise their senses to act accordingly. Users can start programming by using a very simple Arduino compatible drag and drop interface, and later make the transition to writing their own code. Having all that technology in one sleek package is one of the their unique selling points. Although eeMods were originally designed to streamline the scientific workflow in robotics, it is receiving a lot of attention from educational institutions. The robot’s simplicity allows it to be uses in schools giving children early insight into robotics. Ferrante has received multiple requests to provide a syllabus paired to the eeMods and tailored to Malta’s educational system.

Sphero is another miniature classroom robot, but looks very different from an eeMod. The company SPRK provides a near indestructible ball that can move around via various motors at its core. Recently the developers made it possible to programme Sphero through a smartphone app. For some quick fun the ball can also be remote controlled using the same app. It can move across all kinds of surfaces, and even through water—the perfect classroom bot.

The robots approach education from different angles and target different age groups. eeMods are the perfect device to delve into the technology behind robotics and learn programming algorithms early, while Sphero is a nice toy to play around with, enabling even technophobe people to experience the miracle that robots are.

With an increasing presence in everyday life robots are here to stay, in one form or the other. Allowing children to get familiar with the technology early helps teach lifelong skills and inspire them for the rest of their life.

For more information visit the official eeRoots website.

This article first appeared in ‘Sounds of Science’ in the Times of Malta, May 22 2016.


Prof. Gordon Calleja

Picture a Maltese crowdfunding website dedicated specifically to locally based creatives. It would be supported and promoted by government entities to the Maltese public, based locally and abroad. For this to work the public sector plays a crucial role in promoting the site and educating the public on how crowdfunding works. 

The site creates a platform for followers of local creatives to contribute towards performances and products made by artists they love. Unlike sites like Kickstarter, products that can be digitally distributed or ordered will remain on the site doubling as a digital distribution platform for locally made works. 

This article forms part of The Gaming Issue.