Robotena: The nurse robot that can move the injured away from snipers on the streets of Syria



A injured man lies bleeding on the street, rolling against the wall to escape the sniper that shot him. Nobody dares approach him, fearing they’ll be next. 

Such a scene is being repeated daily across Syria, with snipers becoming more and more ruthless. Regime snipers even make bets amongst each other for cigarettes to target specific body parts, such as the stomachs of pregnant women.

But Ahmad Heidar hopes his invention will ensure help can reach those injured in such attacks.

“The brother of one of my students got shot in the leg. It was such a memorable moment,” says Heidar. Within a few minutes, a fatal shot to the neck had killed him. It took another 30 agonising minutes to get the body away from the threat of the sniper. Nobody dared approach in case they would be the next victim. “They had to use ropes and metal poles, because they couldn’t get there,” he says.

Appalled, Heidar decided to apply his knowledge of robotics to building a robot which could get to a victim, fast. In neighbouring Turkey, he ran into a former childhood friend Bilal, a mechanical engineer. He had lost two cousins, one of whom’s body had languished on the street for a week. They joined forces to ensure that, someday, others would not encounter the same fate.

The result is Robotena (, a “nurse robot” which will be able to transport bodies away from the sniper towards a field medic. Unlike models developed by the US and Israeli military, the robot will be huge, enabling it to protect a victim from further bullets within its metal body.

Heidar plans on dimension of 2,2 m high and with a head up to a meter wide, which will be able to encase a body. “I am using bulldozer parts,” he says. It’s a little reminiscent of a tank, with 5 camera’s and two metal arms, which alone weigh 400 pounds, attached to the front. In order to protect a victim the entire structure will be covered by armored plates, adding to its expense.

The current model costs $25,000 to produce. Crowd funding has provided $15,000 though it is difficult as initiatives in conflict zones are barredf rom popular platforms such as Kickstarter. Development is currently on hold due to the prohibitive costs. There are those that are happy to finance the project, at a price. Heidar’s skills are sought after by military groups – “I think you know who I mean”, he says ominously – who are trying to force him to weaponise his invention. Although he is not interested, their attempts to force him to change his mind mean he is currently in hiding. “I am not very safe,” he says.

This is not the first time his programming skills have forced Heidar into hiding. In 2011, a friend tried to recruit him for the Syrian Electronic Army, which hacks opposition activists and sites of media and government it considers to be opposition friendly.  He was offered to fulfill his mandatory two year military service by hacking. Instead, he fled and joined the hackers collective the Pirates of Aleppo. He hacked the accounts of arrested opposition figures and replaced any incriminating content with pornography.

The engineer has extended this sense of humour to the naming of his creation. TENA was named after a Finnish girl Heidar met on a plane. “I just fell in love with a girl for one hour, she was like an angel... I was using her name to get her attention!” he laughs, quickly adding that he is now happily married.

In two months, TENA’s arms will be finished. If the funding arrives, he hopes to build the rest of the robot by the end of the year. The sooner he is finished, the better. In his Aleppo neighbourhood of Bustan al Qasr alone, he claims there are four people being shot by snipers every day. “They need about 6 in Aleppo, but what about Homs, Deir Ez-Zor?” he asks.

Heidar is hoping that he will be able to partner with NGOs to up production once the prototype is done. Medicins Sans Frontiers has expressed interest in seeing the robot once it’s finished, and Google Ideas is hosting him at a conference. “What makes me sad is that a company like Honda is spending millions of dollars to develop a robot that can only dance. Come on people, are dying over here!” 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas