A technology thrust with a difference

Mint profiles four inventors who have developed unique technologies that have made a social impact


Ramesh Raskar, co-founder, EyeNetra.
Ramesh Raskar, co-founder, EyeNetra.

Technology today has penetrated all spheres of life and is not restricted to age or professional experience alone.

Vision testing, on the go

INVENTOR: Ramesh Raskar

YEAR: 2011

In 2011, Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of MIT Media Labs’ Camera Culture, co-founded EyeNetra with Vitor Pamplona, who was then a student at MIT Media Lab specializing in computational photography. The technology uses computers to bend the limits of traditional photography with cameras that see around corners or that can focus at every distance. Thus, Netra-G measures how well your eye focuses on light to align a series of red and green lines that are viewed against a smartphone screen. From the difference between what you see and the actual location of the lines, an app calculates the focusing error of your eyes and thus provides the accurate eye measurement on the smartphone. EyeNetra has received more than $2 billion (around Rs.12,440 crore today) in funding from Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla.

Raskar, an award-winning scientist, who before joining MIT invented techniques for pocket projector-based augmented reality as well as computational photography, holds over 50 US patents and is co-authoring a book on computational photography.

In India, he is part of a team working on KumbhaThon for the Kumbh Mela in Nashik in 2015, where 100 innovators and 10 mentors from MIT Media Lab, in association with several engineering colleges, research laboratories, non-governmental organizations and civic bodies, will be looking to implement technology solutions for issues involving health, civic, crowding issues, housing, transportation and food supply.

Air hockey for the visually impaired

INVENTOR: Hemani Kalucha
YEAR: 2011

Winner of the Sixth Indian Robot Olympiad in 2011, Hemani Kalucha, a 17-year-old Class XII student of Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai, with her team designed an air hockey game for the visually impaired, which was successfully demonstrated at The Happy Home and School for the Blind in Mumbai. The customized air hockey board is divided into 12 zones, and the striker or the puck is fitted with colour sensors, each of which represents a value that the puck can read. That information is sent via Bluetooth to a glove also fitted with sensors worn by the visually impaired person, which then vibrates, allowing the individual to sense the position of the puck. Kalucha’s team also created a robotic arm that can be attached to the board so that the visually impaired person does not have to play alone.

Kalucha, who has been involved in robotics since the age of 12, has also participated in the World Robot Olympiad competitions, First Lego League, Google Science Fair and IRIS National Fair, which is the Indian version of the Intel Science Fair. In the past, she has developed a device for pain relief in the knees that uses vibrating motors to divert pain signals away from the brain, a project that was selected at IRIS.

When asked about her future plans, Kalucha, who is also keenly interested in space, says she is looking to study aerospace engineering and do a minor in robotics and further down the line, is interested in creating a space elevator that makes space travel a facility that anybody can use.

Converting breath into speech

INVENTOR: Arsh Shah Dilbagi

YEAR: 2014

Sixteen-year-old Arsh Shah Dilbagi, a Class XII student of DAV Public School in Panipat, created TALK, a device which converts the breath of a disabled person into speech via Morse code by putting a microphone under the nose and mouth, and then sniffing it to convert it into breath. The invention, which can help people with disabilities associated with hearing and speech impairment, earned him the privilege of being the only Google Science Fair 2014 finalist from Asia in September. Dilbagi is looking to make the device commercially available by next year. When asked about his future plans, Dilbagi, who is also the chief executive officer of Arido, a start-up he founded in March, says that he wants to “do something to make the world a better place to live”. In March 2011, he won the Inspire award from former Indian president Pratibha Patil for making an unmanned gun vehicle for the army. Dilbagi was also the Indian Robot Olympiad Winner in 2010 and 2011 for his projects in robotics.

Preventive healthcare for mother, child

INVENTOR: Aparna Hegde

YEAR: 2010

Aparna Hegde graduated in obstetrics and gynaecology from Mumbai University, and did her Masters in biological sciences from Stanford University.

During her tenure as a resident doctor at Mumbai’s Sion Hospital, she saw the systemic problems faced by underprivileged pregnant women and children, which often led to deaths that could have been prevented. Hegde then decided to design cost-effective solutions for complex healthcare services and founded Armman (Advancing Reduction in Mortality and Morbidity of Mothers, Children and Neonates), a non-profit organization in 2014.

Armman provides a free mobile voice call service called mMitra on preventive care and simple interventions to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in urban India, combined with a similar service called Phone Sakhi for rural India. The organization also hosts a helpline for emergency response operations that provides real-time information about the availability of intensive care unit beds at all hospitals and blood units of the specific group at all blood banks in Mumbai. It also has Arogya Sakhi, a programme where women are trained to perform home-based preventive, diagnostic and treatment interventions for a nominal fee.

Hegde was awarded the IUGA (International Urogynecological Association) International Fellowship in urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery in 2013 and has done pioneering work in the field of 3D and 2D sonographic assessment of the pelvic floor. She is a member of IUGA education committee, and a reviewer for the International Urogynecology Journal and the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology.

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