Photographs by Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photographs by Ramesh Pathania/Mint

EmTech 2018: Innovators under 35

Here are the 10 winners of the recently concluded Mint-MIT Technology Review competition for innovators below 35 years of age from India for the year 2018

photoThe 10 winners of the recently concluded Mint-MIT Technology Review competition for innovators below 35 years of age from India for the year 2018 are a mixed lot—hailing from areas ranging from biotechnology and human body communication to hardware manufacture and neuromorphic computing.

Abilesh M. Gunasekar, Founder and CEO Kyvor Genomics. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Abilesh M. Gunasekar, Founder and CEO Kyvor Genomics. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Abilesh M. Gunasekar

Organization: Kyvor Genomics

Designation: Founder and CEO

Education: Master’s in Medical Informatics from the University of Manchester, UK

By his own admission, the word “Kyvor" does not mean anything but the work that Abilesh M. Gunasekar is doing is in no way meaningless. On the contrary, it can bring about precision to the world of cancer treatment that still relies largely on a “one-size-fits-all approach".

Kyvor Genomics, the firm Gunasekar founded, has developed a tool called CanlyTx, which, according to him, provides doctors with an “actionable report of personalized solutions tailored to each person’s cancer", thereby aiming to reduce the high mortality rate of the dreaded disease.

Gunasekar describers his innovation as “a solution to analyse a cancer patient’s tumour DNA deeper to understand the genetic alterations, map these changes with the right treatment options, and run it in a computer-simulated environment before recommending it to the doctor". The result: more effective, personalized treatment than what is otherwise possible.

Going forward, Gunasekar hopes to decrease the turnaround time for diagnosis and analysis of cancer and develop similar products for other diseases—enough to keep him and Kyvor meaningfully busy for some time.

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Danish contractor. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Danish contractor. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Danish contractor

Organization: International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)

Designation: Research scientist, IBM Research India

Education: MPhil in Advanced Computer Science from the University of Cambridge

Computing with language has fascinated me since school—my first experiments were with rule-based chatbots," says Danish Contractor, whose innovation deals with overcoming the challenges of understanding what students need to study and the learning resources (books, videos, etc.) available to them. As he kept tinkering with natural language processing research areas such as question-answering, machine translation and dialogue systems, it led him to develop the first scalable algorithm designed to automatically label teaching material and other resources and match those with learning objectives.

The solution, according to Contractor, has been applied to subjects like engineering, maths, biology and chemistry, and has helped create IBM Watson products for personalized education and content recommendation. “As of 2017, over 2,67,000 students in nine states of the US are directly using this work," he says.

His next research challenge is in conversational systems that could lead to better chatbots and e-tutoring systems.

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Akash Gupta, Co-founder and CTO GreyOrange. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Akash Gupta, Co-founder and CTO GreyOrange. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Akash Gupta

Organization: GreyOrange

Designation: Co-founder and CTO

Education: Graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani

Realizing how the logistics industry in India relied on manual labour, especially in the warehouse, Akash Gupta sought to change that with specially-designed robots five years ago. And not only did he design and build those robots, he built a company, GreyOrange—along with two other co-founders, Samay Kohli and Wolfgang Holtgen—that has today become a leading supplier of robotic automation solutions to e-commerce and other firms. While the firm now has many products to offer, its original “Butler" robotic system is a “goods-to-person innovation that combines hardware and software to simplify the order fulfilment process", according to Gupta.

GreyOrange has also developed its own artificial intelligence platform called GreyMatter to deal with the complexities of warehousing and order fulfilment in e-commerce and retail.

It is now making inroads into overseas markets.

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Deblina Sarkar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Deblina Sarkar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Deblina Sarkar

Organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Designation: Translational fellow and postdoctoral associate

Education: PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara

Inventor of the world’s “thinnest-channel quantum mechanical transistor (six atoms thick) involving band-to-band-tunnelling", Deblina Sarkar is fascinated by the brain. But rather than get over-awed by the complexity of the 100 billion-odd neurons that make up the brain, she envisions a day when we can put a tiny nano-scale device in each neuron to record its activity—significantly enhancing our understanding of how it works.

She says that her current invention overcomes “the fundamental thermal limitations of existing transistors" and leads to record levels of energy reduction—more than 75%. This transistor device cracks the long-standing issue of “simultaneous dimensional and power-supply voltage scalability" and has the potential to replace the conventional transistors in future computers.

In her own words, Sarkar’s quantum transistor has the potential to “transform the digital world" with applications ranging from smart cities and healthcare to defence, government, education, research and entertainment.

Sarkar further aims to “bridge the gap between nano-electronics and synthetic biology" to develop disruptive technologies and create a new paradigm for human-machine symbiosis.

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Kaushik Mudda, Co-founder and CEO Ethereal Machines. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Kaushik Mudda, Co-founder and CEO Ethereal Machines. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Kaushik Mudda

Organization: Ethereal Machines

Designation: Co-founder and CEO

Education: BE in Electronics and Communication Engineering, RV College of Engineering, Bengaluru

For someone who, along with co-founder Navin Jain, established a hardware start-up in India (Ethereal Machines) at a time when software ventures mushroomed, it has been a tough journey. So much so that Kaushik Mudda wrote a book about it, titled 63 Rejections: The Fight to Break Even.

But that was in the past. With his current invention—Halo, the world’s 5-D printer—the manufacturing firm is gaining traction. But what exactly is a 5-D printer? Mudda describes it as “the world’s first simultaneous 5-axis hybrid manufacturing machine which enables one to perform both subtractive and additive manufacturing/3-D printing on 5 axes".

According to Mudda, in the past three years that Ethereal Machines has been making CNC machines, many customers have started their own businesses “by virtue of owning our machines". Creating Halo was only “the next logical step" in the firm’s evolution. The company is now setting up distributor channels across India and overseas to expand its reach.

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Swapan Rajdev, Co-founder and CTO Haptik. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Swapan Rajdev, Co-founder and CTO Haptik. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Swapan Rajdev

Organization: Haptik

Designation: Co-founder and CTO

Education: BS in Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

Swapan Rajdev was convinced about chatbots’ future far back in 2012, when the term “chatbot" was not widely known. “We (he and the other co-founder of Haptik, Aakrit Vaish) noticed that messaging apps were taking off significantly but were only being used for peer-to-peer communication. This led to our idea of combining messaging with smart technology to connect users and businesses," he recalls. Today, Haptik is one of the world’s largest chatbot platforms.

Explaining the benefits of chatbots—automated tools that can act as virtual agents or assistants—he says, “Companies spend a lot of money on operations like customer support, lead generation, human resource management and many others, all of which can easily be automated using chatbots, thereby saving millions of dollars." Haptik uses proprietary machine learning algorithms and natural language processing technology to “build and maintain great conversational interfaces". Going forward, Haptik plans to support multiple languages and expand globally.

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Manan Suri, Assistant professor IIT Delhi. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Manan Suri, Assistant professor IIT Delhi. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Manan Suri

Organization: Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

Designation: Assistant professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

Education: PhD in Nanoelectronics from the Grenoble Institute of Technology, Grenoble (France)

Drawing inspiration from computational neuroscience and “learning mechanisms inside the brain", Manan Suri has developed multiple techniques for performing neuromorphic computing, intelligent-sensing and cyber-physical security with emerging memory nano-devices and circuits.

He believes that his innovations will contribute towards advanced unconventional computing systems and architectures that are “inherently intelligent, sustainable, secure and very apt to handle complex data problems".

Towards end-2016, Suri began experiments in “pushing memory beyond compute" and, in 2017, came up with two more inventions—“intelligent sensing and introducing security into the system" using non-volatile memory (computer memory that can hold saved data even when power is switched off). He plans to continue research in neuromorphic hardware and non-volatile memory tech.

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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Vikram Goel

Organization: Incredible Devices

Designation: Co-founder and director

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar

The innovative machine developed by Vikram Goel reduces the cost of catheters by 99%, thereby making the treatment of cardiovascular diseases accessible to millions of people. The machine in question is the world’s first fully-automated Catheter Reprocessing System (CRS)—a computer-guided system for cleaning catheters. A catheter is a tube-like device inserted into the body for various medical purposes.

Catheters, used routinely in procedures such as angiography and angioplasty, can typically cost Rs2,500 to Rs90,000, says Goel. Most hospitals in India reuse the catheters but do so through manual cleaning. This, he says, is prone to errors and may result in other patients catching infections.

The CRS developed by Goel and sold by the company he co-founded (along with Rajwinder Kaur) can not only clean the catheters very hygienically but also cost-effectively. The firm has set itself the goal of benefiting 3.6 million patients by 2020.

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Shreyas Sen, Assistant professor Purdue University. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Shreyas Sen, Assistant professor Purdue University. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Shreyas Sen

Organization: Purdue University

Designation: Assistant professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Education: PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Shreyas Sen describes his invention as one that uses the human body as a “wire" to build “a communication network on the body that will securely connect wearables and implantables at a fraction of the energy-cost compared to today’s wireless (systems)". This work falls in the domain known in the scientific community as Human body communication (HBC).

Sen explains that instead of sending signals through airwaves in usual wireless communication (which could be hacked by a nearby attacker), HBC uses the body’s “conductive properties" to communicate safely. HBC also uses relatively much lower energy which, he says, will lead to a longer lifetime for the battery of implanted medical devices.

Going forward, he wants to continue developing the core technology to harness its full potential and is also working on commercializing it through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization.

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Deepak Solanki, Founder and CEO Velmenni. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Deepak Solanki, Founder and CEO Velmenni. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Deepak Solanki

Organization: Velmenni

Designation: Founder and CEO

Education: BTech (Honours) in Electronics and Communication, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar

Deepak Solanki was “always fascinated" about wireless communication while doing his engineering. To pursue his interests, he applied for an amateur radio licence and “became the first licensed ham operator" from his city. He also participated in pitches for early stage start-ups.

One thing led to another and Solanki ended up with an innovation that uses “an optical wireless mesh network" to achieve ultra-high-speed data transfer (one gigabit per second) through LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. Velmenni—the company that Solanki founded with offices in New Delhi and Estonia—has secured its own intellectual property in Li-Fi or light fidelity. Unlike Wi-Fi, which uses the radio spectrum to transmit data, Li-Fi uses visible light for the same.

Solanki believes his innovation can help businesses and governments in creating better internet infrastructure, especially in developing countries and rural areas. Velmenni is working with multiple organizations on creating proof of concepts for different use cases of its technology. The next stage, he says, is standardization of the technology with various international bodies.

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