Three graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, Ankur Kumar, Kanika Prajatat and Pracheer Dutta have developed a machine that can convert the hardy straw of paddy into a fibrous raw material that can be used by the pulp molding factories to prepare disposable cutlery.
In India despite a Supreme Court order, and a government scheme that offers stubble management machines at subsidized rates, farmers continue to burn crop residue after harvest, as they find it cheaper than clearing the crop residue manually or by using machines. The practice is rampant across rice-growing belts as paddy straw is neither a suitable fuel nor can be used as cattle feed. The situation is worse in Punjab and Haryana as the smoke resulting from burning the residue chokes Delhi and envelops the entire northern India with dense toxic smog for weeks.
Paddy straw is rich in silica, which slows down its rate of degradation and hence farmers choose to burn it post harvest to make the land reusable faster. The new machine, created by the trio as the first product of their startup Kriya Lab, uses an environment-friendly chemical that can strip the straw of silica, making it supple and usable. The pulp can be used as raw material for the pulp and paper industry.
For now the machine can convert one ton of paddy straw into 500 kilograms of pulp, which can then be sold at Rs. 45 per kilogram. It holds promise for those who want to start commercially viable ventures as there is a growing demand for ecofriendly cutlery and packaging materials, particularly the ones made from biomass waste. Read more
Bangalore-based Dhananjai Bajpai, 24, is using the gesture-recognition technology to develop Kommunic8, a wireless wearable device that converts hand motions into speech. The device holds promise of improving communication for over 19 lakh speech-disabled people in India alone. A pilot project is currently being done with EnAble India, Bangalore, to test the functioning and accuracy of the device in the hands of actual users.
Dhananjai, who belongs to Kanpur city of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India, has completed his Bachelor’s in Electronics and Communication Technology degree from Shri Ramswaroop Memorial College of Engineering and Management, Lucknow, UP. He works at KFX Circuits and Systems in Bangalore and is also associated with Excubator, a startup incubator and corporate venturing advisory organization, where he works on Kommunic8 in his spare time. His aim is to use gesture-recognition technology for social benefit.
According to the 2011 Census of India, of the 268+ lakh total disabled population about 19+ lakh people suffer from speech disability. This population struggles not only in communicating with their surrounding environment, but also faces low job prospects that lead to another fight for quality sustenance. Kommunic8 aims to enable this populace to “talk” with anyone without any hesitation.
One of the challenges in bridging the divide between the speech-impaired and the common folks is that the sign language is difficult for a common man to understand and is restricted to the speech and hearing disabled community. Also, there is no standard international sign language that is followed consistently across the globe – each region and culture has its local sign language. These reasons prevent the differently-abled to communicate with others and live their social and professional life normally.
Kommunic8 equips the speech-impaired with a lightweight, wireless wearable ring-shaped device that can convert their sign language gestures into reasonable sentences in real-time and provide output in the form of an audible speech as well as a readable text on the K8 smartphone app.
With 97 percent accuracy and self-learning capability, the current prototype of Kommunic8 can be customized and programmed for any local language.
How it works
Kommunic8 is still in the development phase. Dhananjai began working on the technology in 2013, as a final year project, by creating a wearable glove which could detect the degree of bending of fingers and show respective alphabets on a mobile phone screen as per the American Sign Language. That was just the beginning which got its fair share of media attention. However, the wearable glove had its shortcomings in terms of size, speed, cost, and usability.
The current prototype of Kommunic8 uses a small circuitry packed neatly inside a ring like structure. The circuit uses gesture algorithm and a motion sensor that recognizes the sign and orientation of the user’s hand on which the device is worn. When the user moves or bends his/her hand to make a gesture, the sensor collects information and the software processes it to convert data into a sentence. The sentence is then spoken by a mechanized voice that is made audible through an inbuilt speaker. The same output can be presented in the form of a text on the K8 smartphone app.
The device operates on inbuilt battery that lasts for 10 hours – Dhananjai is working on increasing the battery power to last up to 24 hours. The device can be charged by any micro-USB charger.
The initial device will come with 50 actions predefined for ready use. The software, however, uses machine learning and will keep updating the database of gestures and sentences as the user starts using Kommunic8 regularly. Speaking of the storage capacity, Dhananjai says, “For now, Kommunic8 will come with a memory of 2 GB which can store up to 3,000 actions. This is sufficient, as on average a user may use maximum 100-300 actions in general. However, there is a provision for users to update the dictionary by connecting the device to a computer and make changes through the K8 desktop app.”
The device is supported by the K8 app available for Android and Windows phones that can be used to display the text, configure the device, recreate database and produce the speech output for interactions. Here is a demo video.
There is still a lot to accomplish before a market-ready version of Kommunic8 is complete.
Dhananjai has filed a provisional patent for the technology innovation.
Now he is primarily focused on drastically improving the aesthetics of the device and using a more human voice output instead of the mechanized one. He is also working on including a small screen in the device with four push-buttons that can be used to reconfigure, expand and delete the database on-the-go, thereby removing the need for a secondary device for any kind of updates or assistance.
Meanwhile, Dhananjai is reaching out to non-government organizations that might be willing to support pilot projects and provide sponsorship for further improvement of the device.
EnAble India is using Kommunic8 to:
Help teachers learn and improve their sign language and make classroom learning more attractive
Empower EnAble associated speech-impaired employees to use Kommunic8 for their daily communication at work.
“Results from the pilot will help me improve the device for the users. I am hopeful that Kommunic8 will allow them to get front-end jobs,” says Dhananjai.
Dhananjai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and +91-8765379454.
For the 220 million smartphone users in India, a Bangalore-based startup Street Smart Mobile Technologies has launched an app, SMS Sunami, to organize the deluge of transactional and promotional text messages we receive on our phones daily. The app, which is built using Android Studio, is based on an artificial intelligent platform that uses natural language processing to understand the context of messages and automatically classify them into predefined categories such as bills, entertainment, food, health and fitness, lifestyle, telecom operator, tickets, travel, and more.
According to a recent study, there are over two billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide who use the short message service (SMS) to exchange more than 350 billion text messages every month. Of these over 15% are promotional messages. The SMS Sunami app is aimed organizing and categorizing text messages of the Android smartphone users, making the messages in the default inbox easier to sift.
Incubated at Tata Elxsi’s Incub@ate, StreetSmart Mobile Technologies was founded in May 2014 by 27-year-old Prabhu SNM of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, with software engineers Prakhar Dighe (25) of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and Sudeep (24) of Narsapuram, Andhra Pradesh. The trio developed the SMS Sunami app as an offshoot of another app that was aimed at offering hyper-local offers to consumers on their smartphones.
The hyper-local offers app could not succeed but the research for it led the team to realize that consumers are receiving host of text messages directly from service providers and merchants. And besides these messages, people also receive transactional messages processed by banks and of course, personal messages as well. No wonder our message box keeps filling up. And as the name suggests (and refers to tsunami), to help the users clear their inbox without having to delete their messages, SMS Sunami automatically categorizes the overwhelming number of messages a user receives.
“Our algorithm categorizes all text messages except those received from 10-digit numbers, which are personal numbers. This feature ensures privacy,” explains Prabhu.
Besides organizing the incoming messages into defined groups, the key feature of SMS Sunami is that it is capable of reading promotional text messages to serve contextual offers based on the content. For example, if you have a confirmation message from an airline on your travel tickets, SMS Sunami will serve you a cab-rental offer on the date of your travel. The concept applied to smartphone is much similar to what Google does by reading your mailbox.
Addressing the privacy concern on messages being read by the app, Prabhu says, “The SMS Sunami app does not store any messages to read and understand them. The program is built to ensure that the app works offline, without the need for the Internet, and does not store any data on the server. Our program simply functions within the app, reads the message, and pulls contextual offer from the associated merchants. The only time when the app uses the Internet is to identify the message sender with the brand logo to serve the message to the user in a more aesthetic manner.”
Besides this feature, the app allows easy search through the message box that allows you to search through your messages, by vendor name or by keywords. It also allows you to delete messages in bulk. SMS Sunami also automatically identifies key information in messages, such as contact numbers, web links, PNR, tickets, and provides them as ‘call for action’ links, making it easier for the user to use the information instantly.
Asked about the release of the iOS version of the app, Prabhu says, “The message APIs [application program interfaces] in the iOS are restricted for developers. This means we cannot develop any iOS app that requires reading the user’s messages. In this matter, I have written to Tim Cook requesting the need for leniency. I am awaiting his reply.”
The team is working on scaling up the app into free and premium versions. The beta version is in the pre-revenue stage with 1,000+ customers. The trio’s short-term target is to increase the user base to 10,000 customers by the year end.
Sharing his plans for the future, Prabhu adds, “In future we plan to introduce ‘personal’ as a category so that our algorithm can detect personal messages without intruding privacy and categorize them appropriately. We also plan to enable the app to both receive and send messages. The idea is to eventually replace the default messaging application on smartphones with the SMS Sunami app.”
Improved user interface and enabling the user to customize the categories are also part of the plan. The team is also mulling over the idea of patenting the app’s software in the U.S.
The SMS Sunami team can be contacted at email@example.com and +91-9790949400.
The project, Colored Yarn, has been created to provide technology advantage to the weaver community of India.
The Spinning Wheel
Charkha is one of the oldest known forms of the spinning wheel. It works with a drive wheel being turned by hand, while the yarn is spun off the tip of the spindle. It is a small, portable, hand-cranked wheel that is ideal for spinning cotton and other fine fibers. Mostly, the charkha is used for spinning cotton and the hand spun cloth is called Khadi in the Indian peninsula.
According to the Handloom Census of India 2009-10, India has about 29 lakh handloom workforce working on 23.77 lakh looms across household and non-household handloom units. About seven percent of the 20.91 lakh working household looms continue to use the hand spun yarn, supporting the Khadi programme. The most extensive use has been observed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where 30.1 percent and 24.4 percent looms operate with hand spun yarn, respectively.
It is for the community of weavers who provide hand spun yarn for the looms that the young innovators wanted to change the traditional way the charkha works.
The Colored Yarn
Attendra Sharma (20) of the Institute of Hotel Management, Gandhinagar along with Monica J. (21) of PESIT University, Bangalore, and Lavanya Gupta (20) of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar, have developed an innovative prototype of the charkha that allows for the yarn to be colored on the fly.
The trio developed the project as part of the ‘Sensors Across Scale’ track at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop that was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in January. While the track focused on building new sensor systems working across scales, it also encouraged innovations that “affect human relationships and social problems”.
The 2GB team (two girls and a boy), as they called it, focused on innovating with the spinning wheel not with the sensors but by using basic components such as the box charkha, a pulley, a coloring unit, and a spool.
The team used a briefcase charkha that weighs just about 1.4 kilograms. Here’s how it works:
A tightly rolled tube of cotton, called pooni, is one of the ways to fine and even spinning. Weavers can make poonis from pre-carded cotton by laying a thin layer of cotton on a flat surface and rolling it around a thin stick and compressing it with hands.
For proper tension, the spindle support post must be positioned far enough so that the spindle drive cord holds it vertical. Also, the post base should be angled so that, when the spindle is spinning freely, its pulley rotates midway between the post arms, not touching either one.
For the first time, a leader is added to each spindle to help start the spinning process. The drive wheels turn together smoothly and the tension of the thread gets adjusted by moving the small wheel.
A spinner begins on this apparatus by drawing out the yarn to arm’s length with one hand while turning the big wheel clockwise with the other hand. The trick is to coordinate the speed of the draw with the speed of wheel turning, so that the yarn holds together but not too much twist travels up into the cotton in one’s hand. (Source: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Charkha.html.)
The 2GB team introduced a coloring unit as an attachment to the briefcase charkha. As a spinner spins, the plain thread passes through the unit where color is dropped on the thread through a funnel, producing a clean, dry, dyed hand spun yarn.
“This is a new and unique use of technology on a traditional product. The process of spinning the yarn and then dyeing it in a color of choice is a five-day process. Our prototype not only allows the weavers to color the yarn within a few seconds, but also provides them the freedom to experiment with different colors of their choice for the hand spun fabric, without much dependency on the dyeing process. By making minimal changes in the charkha, we have tried to retain the authenticity of the product and yet modernize it enough to save the art,” said Lavanya and Attendra who conceptualized and engineered the prototype.
The team plans to improve upon the design and function of the coloring unit to create a final product.
To know more about the Colored Yarn prototype, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
A team of three students, Shreyas Kapur (16) of Modern School, New Delhi, Kaustubh Shivdikar (20) of Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, Mumbai, and International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore alumnus Nitesh Kadyan (25), recently created a three-dimensional (3-D) printer that can print using fabric.
As part of the Smart Textiles track at the recent 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop, the team has developed a prototype of the 3-D fabric printer using the RepRap open-source hardware and software.
3-D printing is primarily a process that is used to make a three-dimensional object. The printer uses additive manufacturing over the traditional subtractive manufacturing.
In subtractive manufacturing, the excess material is milled or subtracted using a milling machine to get the desired shape. In additive manufacturing, however, the 3-D printer produces successive layers of the desired material under computer control until the entire object is created, preventing wastage of material. The objects printed by a 3-D printer, therefore, can be of almost any shape or geometry.
The focus of the Smart Textiles track at the MIT Workshop was to reimagine “the seamless integration of textiles with electronic elements like micro-controllers, sensors, and actuators”. Even though the use of 3-D printers is now being explored in several areas such as healthcare, automobiles, manufacturing, food, and consumer goods, using the technique to print fabric samples is a less explored area as of today.
With the prototype, the trio explore a mix of 3-D printing and conductive thread that can allow users to print circuits inside wearable fabric. On a simpler and lighter note, the 3-D fabric printer could allow users to print soft toys at home!
How It Works
The process of 3-D printing comprises three stages:
Creating the 3-D printable design model of the desired object with a computer aided design (CAD) software.
The file of the model is converted into a .STL or .OBJ format that is readable to the printing software.
The converted file is processed by a software called Slicer which converts the 3-D model into multiple thin 2-D layers and produces a G-code that contains instructions tailored to a 3-D printer.
Once the G-code is generated, the 3-D printer lays down successive 2-D layers of the input material (plastic, resin and even food pastes like chocolate) to create the 3-D model from a series of cross sections. This laying down happens in different ways for different materials. For example, plastic requires a heating extruder to melt it and extrude, while resin requires a laser beam to cure it. The layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined or automatically fused to create the final shape.
To create the 3-D fabric printer prototype, the team has followed a similar process but instead of using the hot extruder that is used in plastic printing, it used a felting needle which moved up and down through a thick foam base. Here is how the prototype works: the felting needle is connected to wool and the up-down movement pushes the wool inside the foam base. The movement of the base in the 2-D space provides shape to a layer and the process continues til the final object is created. To do this, the team used an old 3-D printer and custom-made a felting needle which used wool as the primary input.
There are multiple use cases for the prototype. “Just imagine if you can print soft toys for your kids at your home. Imagine if you have a washable sensor-based circuit inside your t-shirt which is connected to LEDs to tell you if it’s going to rain or not in your area. Another example could be a health monitoring shirt which can read our pulse rate. All this could be possible if we have a 3-D printer that prints with soft materials like wool or with conductive thread. Possibilities are endless,” says Nitesh.
Next Steps A similar experiment has been done by students at Carnegie Mellon University and by the Walt Disney Company. However, both were proprietary experiments. Team Squeeshy aims to contact the RepRap team and work with them to build the prototype further, improve its felting mechanism, performance and design, and make the project open source.
To contact the innovators, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop.