Meet Bolivia's Teenage Tech Genius Turning Trash into Robots


Seventeen-year-old Esteban Quispe is known as the "genius of Patacayma."On the dusty streets of Patacayma, a small orange object is skillfully navigating its way through potholes and traffic.

It's the robot Wall-E, invented by the so-called "genius of Patacayma," 17-year-old Esteban Quispe.

Like its inventor, Wall-E is now a regular on these streets, an unofficial mascot.

Esteban grew up in this small rural town, 62 miles southeast of La Paz, a place not known for nurturing young tech prodigies.

Esteban has become something of a local celebrity because of his natural talent for inventing robots and other pieces of technology from e-waste.

Esteban is completely self-taught and for most of his life never had a technology teacher to help him along the way.

"The last few years have been a little crazy since I made Wall-E," Esteban laughs in his workshop at the family home.

The talented youngster gained national attention and later international fame when he debuted his dinky robot at a school fair in 2014.

"I remember seeing the film Wall-E when I was a boy and thinking I'd love to have a toy robot like that," Esteban recalls.

His parents couldn't afford to buy him the real thing so Esteban decided to make his own.

"I always kept the image of Wall-E in my memory and one day I decided I to make him myself."

But Esteban didn't pop down to the local hardware store to buy all the materials, instead he headed straight to his local dum

"You can find almost anything there," Esteban warns me as we drove together on a trip to the dump.

And he wasn't wrong. Nothing can prepare you for the stench of rotting animal carcases, sheep's heads, household garbage, old cars and e-waste that covers every inch of the sprawling dump.

People had even set fire to some animals and thrown e-waste on top creating an acrid, thick black cloud of dangerous chemicals.

The stench was so overpowering we both struggled to breathe as Esteban showed me around.

"I'm used of it now but you have to remember to breathe through your nose and not your mouth otherwise you will get sick," he warned me.

"Why take such a risk to come here just to collect your materials?" I asked the enthusiastic teenager as he bounded around the site with his younger brother.

"Well this is where people throw away all their old electronics, radios, TVs and toys," says Esteban.

"I can use all those components for my projects and it was a good way to show people that they need to recycle more."

Bolivians are not accustomed to recycling and even less used to separating materials at the local dump.

"Everything is mixed up," according to Esteban. "They shouldn't be burning hazardous e-waste near the town, it's hazardous for our health.'' Esteban told me.

Esteban's Wall-E was constructed from old cell phones, transistor radios and Christmas lights. The shell was made from beer cans, the eyes from plastic bottles and the motorized wheels from recycled parts of an old bicycle.

Wall-E is controlled by a mobile app that Esteban developed all by himself.

"Wall-E can walk, he can wave, he can even dance," Esteban proudly informs me.

He also has the intelligence to react when objects are placed in his path.

The robot is undoubtedly impressive but his inventor seems non-plussed by his creation.

"Thanks to god I have this wisdom that I have to manage," says Esteban.

"I have this tutor inside my head and when I am making something it advises me," says the young inventor.

Esteban no longer has to make trips to the fetid dump to make his new robots. His fame has won him a legion of fans all over Bolivia.

"People donate materials to me now, I'm lucky," he says.

Esteban also won a five-year scholarship to study electromechanics at the Catholic University in La Paz.

At 17 he's moved out of the family home and now lives by himself in La Paz spending most of his time inventing new, more advanced robots.

"I have my dreams," says Esteban. "I want to work for NASA, I want to go to space and see what's there," he says confidently.

"I also want to make my own robots to explore unknown galaxies and change the way they make rockets," Esteban declares.

This young confident boy believes anything is possible and as I leave him he is furiously hammering a piece of metal into some, as yet, unknown object.