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Business News/ Science / Health/  Kepler: a touch of innovation

Kepler: a touch of innovation

At this innovation lab, the idea is to create human experiences, working around sight, sense, touch, smell and sound

The Touche. Photos: Ramesh Pathania/MintPremium
The Touche. Photos: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Tucked away on one side of SapientRazorfish’s innovation lab, Kepler, in Gurugram, is a table full of circuit boards, mini-computers, capacitance meters and magnetic screwdrivers. Virtual reality (VR) headsets and controllers rest on a coffee table at the centre of the lab. Beneath the table stands a big Cooler Master computer case that is connected to a monitor and keyboard. There are technology-related components everywhere. And there’s a brainstorming corner.

Kepler, started two years ago, works on emerging technology, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and VR.

The idea is to create human experiences, working with sight, sense, touch, smell and sound. For example, as part of the “objecTable" innovation, the team designed a cube and used an actual table connected to sensors, camera and micro-controllers to create an immersive experience. The table works like a screen that can showcase different applications. For instance, a travel guide app.

The cube, when placed on the table, starts the application. “ObjecTable" uses machine learning to identify daily objects (coffee mugs, a toy car, a star-shaped coaster) and add contextual meaning to them. A camera placed above the table identifies the objects.

If you place a coffee mug on the table, it suggests nearby coffee shops on a map (displayed on the table by an overhead projector). If you want to know the route to the coffee shop, you place a toy car on the table and the route gets highlighted. A star-shaped coaster, when placed on the table, displays coffee shop ratings.

“I wouldn’t say we are just an IoT or VR lab. For us, the real motive is to look at emerging technology and contextualize it to a business problem," says Alok Kumar, director, technology, SapientRazorfish, who leads the team at Kepler.

Mirror (IMI: Interactive Mirror Installation)

Imagine walking into an apparel store and not having to go through the various racks of clothes on display. What if you could go straight to a mirror that would display recommendations for you to try?

The idea behind the “Mirror" is to give a store’s inventory greater exposure. Market research suggests that optimizing inventory management can have a positive effect on sales, says Kumar.

It recognizes gender. So, for instance, when one of the female members of the team stood in front of it, the mirror offered recommendations for women.

The “Mirror" uses a deep-learning framework that detects the presence of a person as well as the gender. There’s also the option of using an iPad, which works like an interaction medium, to look at different dressing options—shirts, T-shirts, etc. A small camera and JavaScript comprise the front-end, while a recognition system comprises the back-end.

“We are working on features like figuring out a person’s age so that the recommendations can be improved based on that. We are already in discussion with a couple of clients," says Kumar.

Neural creativity

It has long been said that digital learning will change the way education is imparted. At Kepler, one innovation has been created around the age-old concept of hand-drawn sketches.

Using a convolutional neural network and a JavaScript-powered game engine, the Kepler team has created “Neural Creativity". Imagine drawing a man on a wall. Moments later, the “man" starts walking, jumping and running.

The team at Kepler has recreated the concept of hand-drawn sketches by integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI system creates a story around whatever you draw with your finger on a wall. An infrared camera and a projector recreate the screen experience on the wall. It’s basic computer-vision technology. Behind the scenes, a deep-learning framework called Caffe recognizes what a user is sketching.

“We have no control over the story. The system has been trained in such a way that different characters have different attributes.... A car can move and a bird can fly, etc. It is up to the system to pick up different elements and create stories," says Kumar.

While one of the most lucrative areas of application for “Neural Creativity" could be the education sector, this technology has been used so far by brand promotion companies on an experimental basis.

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Touché —an affordable refreshable braille display

Refreshable Braille displays provide the visually impaired with content by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in Braille cells. This content could be translated from a peripheral device, such as a pen drive or a microSD card. But these displays usually cost a lot. Depending on the number of characters displayed, the price of Braille displays could cost up to Rs1.2 lakh.

The team at Kepler has made use of easily available components to create a refreshable Braille display that would be available to users for roughly Rs30,000.

Members of the Kepler Labs team.
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Members of the Kepler Labs team.

With the help of vibration motors that are used in cellphones, Touché manages a purely electromagnetic arrangement that converts the content into a Braille-dot pattern. These motors rotate in an up down (1,0) configuration that pushes the pins up.

Touché reads the content, converts it into a Braille-dot pattern on the go and mirrors it on the surface for anybody to read. Since it is a smart device, Touché has its own intelligence and memory. “We are doing all the conversion here on the go. We use an open source library, called Liblouis, which supports all Indian and global languages. So it’s not restricted to just English or Hindi. Whatever (text) you feed into Touché, is translated on the go. So rather than translating everything into Braille and then feeding into the device, I can actually give a copy of a PDF to somebody and it will be converted within a few seconds," says Vasu Agrawal, a product designer with SapientRazorfish.

Touché runs on a Raspberry Pi computer. It can read the content of a peripheral device and even has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. One can download content from the internet. It also has a microSD slot for storage expansion. The Pi has an HDMI port for better connectivity.

“It will be an affordable device. The Touché has been designed in such a way that if something goes wrong, the components can be replaced easily. The device still remains usable. Most of the refreshable Braille displays out there, if you spill any water or coffee on them, they are gone. The idea is to make customer support affordable too. When this device hits the market, it will come pre-loaded with 20,000 books," adds Kumar.

The lab is also in touch with an Australian organization that creates hardware and other solutions for the visually impaired. The idea is to create a subscription-based model to make content available on the Touché.

The development of the device is happening in both Bengaluru and Gurugram, and Kumar expects at least 200-300 devices to be distributed to blind schools and institutions across India by March-April next year, before it hits the market.

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Nitin Sreedhar
Nitin writes about science and technology for Mint Lounge. He also occaisionally reports on the environment, space and sports. He's an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi. He loves trying new craft beer, and closely follows football, Formula 1 and kabaddi.
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Published: 17 Nov 2017, 01:18 PM IST
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