A lost wing

A lost wing


Losing a wing is so devastating for a butterfly! I wonder what happened to the beautiful one which lost its wing yesterday  —  I saw a fallen wing on my way to the office and it made me think of what could have happened for one to lose a wing like this. The wandering thoughts led me to admire the grit of all those among us who live life despite losing a wing!

ButterflyIt is amazing how millions of differently-abled people continue to be brave towards life, and all its struggles, and yet remain far more positive in their outlook and perseverance than the rest of us who take everything for granted.

I cannot imagine what it would mean if I lose a wing! It’s a scary thought indeed. At times I feel my eyes are most important because as an editor I read all day and I need healthy eyes to do that, to earn. But then the day you get a leg sprain and are unable to move, you realize you need every ounce of your human body to be in good working condition to be able to function properly.

The realization reminds me of millions of things that we take for granted, without being thankful for any of them at any time. All the material comfort, a good job, family, friends, network — all of that rather weigh less against the fact that so far I have lived life as a physically and mentally fit individual.

I have seen my mother live with dignity and a true zeal for life despite being paralyzed below the waist. I have seen her struggles but I have never seen her feeling restricted because of her condition. I cannot stop admiring the will power that makes people fly despite losing a wing! More power to you!

To err is human…

To err is human…


Do you feel that the power of tolerance and patience in people is reducing at a great speed? We all play so many roles in our lives on a daily basis – that of being a daughter or a son, wife or a husband, a friend, a colleague, a sibling – that it is undoubtedly tough to give a stellar performance in all or any of these roles that we all play all the time.

As I observe, I feel when people make personal remarks, or judge others too soon, they forget that others too are like them, struggling to get somewhere or achieve more with less.

I agree that at times this is not as easy to be patient with an irritating lot, but even then there is always a little scope for patience before declaring the other as entirely unworthy of positive thought. After all, are we not all the same at some level and yet different? And as Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” A bit of patience here, an ounce of understanding there, and an open mind can make a better day, for everyone.

Kommunic8 Converts Gestures Into Speech for the Speech-impaired

Kommunic8 Converts Gestures Into Speech for the Speech-impaired


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. 

Challenges

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.

 

Initial prototype of Kommunic8
Initial prototype of Kommunic8

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.

 

 

Next steps

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 dhananjaisrmgpc@gmail.com and +91-8765379454.

 

New App Allows Real-time Search for Voluntary Blood Donors in the Vicinity

New App Allows Real-time Search for Voluntary Blood Donors in the Vicinity


BloodBag_470At the 2015 MIT Design Innovation workshop, a MIT Media Lab India initiative, a group of students and professionals has created a mobile application called Blood Collective that allows those in need of blood to search for voluntary blood donors available in the vicinity.  

The team developed the application prototype at the 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop in Gandhinagar as part of the Civic Innovation track which focused on building “the tools that help change the world together”and “a better technological infrastructure to support the engaged citizens who are already acting to make their communities better, and inspire others to join them”.

The home screen of Blood Collective app
The home screen of Blood Collective app

Combining different skills, each team member contributed differently to create the alpha version of the app and test it during the workshop. While IT industry professional Pragnendra Rahevar (32) floated the idea and shared the concept, National Institute of Design graduate Akshah Ish (27) designed the complete user interface of the application. The core development of the app has been done by Ayush Sharma (20) of Arya College of Engineering and IT, Jaipur, with necessary research and support provided by Abhimanyu Kumar (20) of Haldia Institute of Technology, West Bengal. 

Bridging the Gap

Voluntary blood donation is considered the highest form of humanitarian service as it is done without the expectation of knowing who it will eventually help. Each unit of blood donation helps many patients as blood is usually segregated into RBCs, Platelets, WBCs and Plasma and given away as per requirement. But then there are yet not enough people who opt to donate blood. 

In India there is constant shortage of blood. According to a 2012 World Health Organization (WHO), every country needs at least a one percent blood reserve. India, with its 1.2 billion population, needs 12 million units of blood annually but collects only nine million of which 70 percent is from voluntary blood donors while the remaining 30 percent is from family/replacement donors.  

Even though most blood collection is done from voluntary donors, the voluntary blood donors network remains fragmented and inaccessible to a large community at the time of need. The Blood Collective smartphone application aims to tap into this existing network of blood donors and bring them at your fingertips. 

“In India it is just a chance that you will get blood when you need it. Some people do not want to donate blood, while some who are willing to do it find it frustrating to go to the blood banks criteria, fill forms and donate. Tapping into the community of voluntary blood donors therefore remains a challenge. The current gap between the demand for blood and its supply also leaves scope for touts, agents and illegal, unsafe blood donation. Paid blood donation is illegal in India.  Our application targets the problem in a simple manner – if you need blood, connect directly with multiple blood donors close by and see if any of them is willing to offer help,” explains Ayush.

How it works

During the workshop the alpha version of the Indian-centric app was hosted on local servers and directly uploaded to a few mobile phones. However, based on the feedback from mentors and users, with the help of a few volunteers the team is now developing the beta version of the app. 

The app is expected to function like this: The first time the user accesses the application, she will be requested to select from the two categories “I want blood” or “I want to volunteer”. Once a voluntary blood donor selects the latter option, her name and number gets registered in the database. However, for safety reasons, the name and number of the donor is not shared with the requester. Rather, when the requester searches for a donor in the vicinity, she can view profile icons of the available donors and can send a request to them through the app. The requester’s number is sent to the donor and the decision to respond entirely rests with the donor.

The map feature shows the requester available blood donors in the vicinity
The map feature shows the requester available blood donors in the vicinity

The volunteer category also enables the voluntary blood donors to see all requests, allowing the user to contact the requester directly and offer blood donation. 

“The most important aspect of the app is to generate awareness about safety of blood donation and encourage volunteering. Currently, whenever people need blood, they either opt to call, send SMS or post on social networking websites. The wait for a response is stressful. At blood banks, if you have donated blood in past six months, you may be charged around Rs. 1,400 per unit. If you haven’t, the chances of getting blood are dismal. The solution to all this is volunteered blood donation. Bringing volunteer blood donors closer to the needy therefore could be very helpful and that is the focus of the Blood Collective app. Using the app, both a volunteer and a requester can save lives,” explains Pragnendra who has been volunteering with a non-profit organization for over three years, organizing blood donation camps across the country. 

Next Steps

The team is developing the beta version of the app and improving its user interface, adding more features to it, and carrying out basic user testing. It is expected to be available on the Web and on Google Play store by May 2015. The group is looking for more volunteers with specialized skills to develop the application for the iOS and Windows platforms. 

The Blood Collective mobile app has a huge social potential to connect and build a large network of voluntary blood donors with the requesters, allowing the common man to save lives and be human. However, it needs to build on its unique aspects that will differentiate it from the existing apps. 

To know more about Blood Collective, contact pragnendra@gmail.com.

(This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop.)

New AI-based Smartphone App Reacts to Facial Expressions

New AI-based Smartphone App Reacts to Facial Expressions


Chennai-based Mad Street Den startup has built a cloud-based platform that uses artificial intelligence to enable any smartphone with a camera to identify faces, detect facial expressions and emotions, and react to facial and head gestures. The expression acts as a trigger for a certain action, for example, frowning at the phone when an unwanted call comes in could make it shut down forthwith, or lifting an eyebrow could send the caller a message asking ‘What now?’

This image-recognizing platform, called MAD Stack, can be used by app developers and companies to create a futuristic mobile user experience. Mad Street Den founders Ashwini Asokan and Anand Chandrasekaran  explain that the idea is to make machines more useful by making them a bit human: fun, intelligent, and relevant.

The process of recognizing a human expression or responding to a gesture is simple for a human brain, but quite complex for a smartphone camera to do digitally. It is artificial intelligence that enables a camera to do this. What’s more, the app keeps getting smarter with use, through machine learning algorithms. Read more