I think it's safe to say that Tao Xiangli is what you'd refer to as a prodigy. The man - now in his 30s - grew up with a poor family in the Anhui province; a developing area of China. His access to education, like many other amenities we take for granted, was limited - Tao claims he didn't even finish fifth grade. In an era where everyone's expected to have a university degree before they make something of themselves, Tao Xiangli didn't even finish elementary school.
This hasn't stopped him, of course. Back in 2008, Tao made headlines for cobbling together his own fully functional submarine entirely out of spare parts and scrap metal. Now, he's making the rounds in the news once more - this time, he's building his own robot, in a run-down tenement located in the remnants of old Beijing.
"I've grown to have an affinity for robots," explains the inventor to Vice, "especially since humans don't understand me."
The robot - which has thus far cost Tao over $1,600 to make - stands nearly two meters tall and ninety centimeters wide. It's constructed entirely out of spare scraps and parts, and held together by screws. Understandably enough, putting the robot together hasn't exactly been easy for him. His work on his robot has left him little time for other pursuits, so he has no job. He's been living on borrowed money for quite some time. He couldn't afford to have his wife and child with him in the capital, so the two of them are currently living with his parents. What's more, the process of creating his robot is lonely work - no one really understand what he's doing, and everyone's quick to criticize.
For his part, Tao is soldiering through it all.
"I suppose I could find any old job," he mused, "but I don't want to. Now is the time to be patient if I want to realize my dreams. Right now, I'm living on borrowed money, but I'll do whatever it takes to make my dreams come true. Not many people in society today are willing to take on new challenges. All they care about is studying. No one actually goes out and does anything."
"There wasn't a single Chinese entrant in an invention competition involving 50 universities worldwide. I was so disappointed. Invention isn't about study or imitation, it's about creativity and personal expression. I want to bring my unique ideas to life and have them recognized by the world. I want to be an inspiration."
One thing is clear more than anything else - Tao Xiangli embodies the inventor's spirit in full. What he's accomplished given his means is, quite frankly, staggering. Just think what he might have been able to do if he'd been as fortunate as some of us?