We came up with the idea of Tena after seeing a woman die from sniper fire in Aleppo. It was in July 2012, near a demarcation line, just after the Free Syrian Army [a group of armed fighters of the Syrian rebellion] arrived in the city. This woman was hit by sniper fire from government forces, started bleeding uncontrollably and no one could go and help her for fear of being shot themselves. It was after seeing this that we decided to devise a robot that could come to the aid of victims of this kind of attack, without putting more lives in danger. Even now, each day at the same spot in Aleppo – which people now call ‘the barrage of death’ – between 3 to 10 people die from sniper fire.
Two men try to save a sniper victim in Homs.
A year later, in June 2013, we left Syria for Turkey as refugees, where we began this project. Thanks to 15,000 dollars we had saved and 300 dollars in donations, we have been able to make Tena’s two remote control mechanical arms. We made them out of iron and chrome, because, since this machine will have to withstand sniper fire, it was necessary to use highly resistant materials. Tena wouldn’t be able to survive heavy weapon fire, but it can withstand bullets. In order to transport both children and adults, the two arms can extend up to one metre and 70 centimetres wide.
“Jihadist groups wanted to order a model of Tena”
“The model you can see on video is not finalised. The arms will be padded so that the wounded will be carried in the least uncomfortable way possible. We would also like to give the robot mobility by using a caterpillar track base but that’s where we’ve hit a snag. We contacted members of the rebellion to ask if they could supply us with one of their vehicles that has this kind of base. They said they’d only give us one in return for a robot like Tena but with submachine gun arms, an offer which we of course refused.
Jihadist groups also contacted us to try and pay us to make a robot with a mechanical gun arm. But we refuse to let our expertise be put to use by combat groups for their own ends. Our technology is purely for humanitarian purposes and we want only doctors and medics to use it.
Ironically, we’re having more trouble getting funding from NGOs. All the organisations we have contacted for financing this last stage, including the United Nations, congratulated us on our work but have declined to provide us with funding, citing a ‘lack of resources’.
The “Free Doctors” collective of Aleppo, who provide on-site care in the city, will try and present our case to the transitional government. We’re not very optimistic on that front. But we’re keeping hope that our project will soon see the light of day.