Technology Innovations

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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.

 

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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.

Street Smart Mobile Technology team (L-R): Prakhar, Prabhu, and Sudeep

Street Smart Mobile Technology team (L-R): Prakhar, Prabhu, and Sudeep

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.

 

Key features

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. 

SMS Sunami app screenshot-Lifestyle

Lifestyle category screenshot of the app

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.

The free beta version of the app is currently available on Android Play store.

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.”

 

Next steps

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 ceo@smssunami.com and +91-9790949400.


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.)


Series: MIT Design Innovation Workshop 2015

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.

Prototype of 3-D Fabric Printer by Team Squeeshy

Prototype of 3-D Fabric Printer by         Team Squeeshy

3-D Printing

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 Prototype

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:

  1. Creating the 3-D printable design model of the desired object with a computer aided design (CAD) software.
  2. The file of the model is converted into a .STL or .OBJ format that is readable to the printing software.
  3. 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.

 

Nitesh Kadyan at the 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop

Nitesh Kadyan at the 2015 MIT Design  Innovation Workshop

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 niteshkadyan@gmail.com.

This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Design Innovation Workshop.


Bangalore-based RightCloudz Technologies has developed a new evaluation methodology that offers comparison and evaluation of cloud vendors based on the enterprise customer’s specific business needs.

With the increasing number of cloud services and vendors, enterprises find it challenging to not only purchase the right type of cloud for their specific requirements, but also to identify a suitable vendor that can offer better returns on investment. Scientific and rational comparison of vendors and their services can therefore become a daunting task for cloud consumers.

RightCloudz Technologies, a cloud intelligence startup by four cloud professionals of the city’s IT industry, has developed a proprietary software based on its evaluation methodology called RankCloudz. The application offers comparison and evaluation of cloud vendors based on the customer’s specific business needs. RankCloudz incorporates static and dynamic information about the world’s major cloud vendors and their services. Using this information, the software application enables comparison and evaluation of cloud vendors based on the enterprise’s business and technical priorities.

Vikas Mathur, Sreehari Narasipur and Subhranshu Banerjee co-founded RightCloudz Technologies in early 2013 with Archana Nukal joining the team in mid-2014. In November 2014, the company launched the first online beta version of RankCloudz for enterprises. In the beta phase, the startup has released Web-based, customized cloud recommendations reports comprising detailed analysis of cloud vendors along with qualitative information on each listed vendor. The reports capture the results of online interactive visualizations which help enterprises in evaluating major cloud vendors for a wide range of business scenarios. Read full report on page 2

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Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, have developed a handheld device that can diagnose malaria within 30 minutes, from just a little drop of blood.

The team has developed a lab prototype of the low-cost diagnostic instrument that takes a small sample of blood, analyzes individual cells, and detects cells that are infected by malaria.  

A team of researchers led by Dr Sai Siva Gorthi, assistant professor at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc, developed and incubated the device at the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber Physical Systems (RBCCPS) at IISc.

The device, which is small enough to fit into a hand, has a common optical reader into which the user slides the blood sample in a replaceable microfluidic cartridge, each time a new test is to be performed. Cartridges are preloaded for automated processing of the blood samples. The affected blood cells display morphological features that are different from normal cells; just by looking at the cell images on the LCD display, it’s clear if the cell is infected or not. The device uses algorithms that run on a smartphone-like platform for automatic evaluation and therefore does not require a skilled technician for handling the instrument. Qualitative test results can be known instantaneously while quantitative parasitemia levels are assessed and displayed in about 30 minutes. 

Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is rampant in developing countries. In India, over 13 lakh malaria cases were reported in 2011 of which 754 people died. In rural India, due to lack of primary healthcare, villagers have to travel to the nearest town or city for diagnosis. The diagnostic process — from taking blood samples, to manually analyzing them under a microscope, to preparing a report — usually takes more than a day and makes it challenging for healthcare workers to get back with recommendations for treatment. The new approach, however, combines technologies like image processing, microfluidics and microscopy.

Compared to traditional diagnosis methods, the new device collects significantly lower quantities of blood. It analyzes each and every cell present in this tiny drop of blood and gives a visual representation as well as quantitative count of the malaria affected cells. The portable handheld device can easily be modified and extended for diagnosing other diseases as well. Read more


Australian startup called GoFar has created a telematics system that tells you in real time how well you are driving and what it is costing you. The startup is run by its founder Danny Adams and a team of four including partner Ian Davidson and Indian maths olympiad medallist Imam Syed. 

The GoFar is a pocket-sized device that is based on a Formula one performance meter. Using the device, drivers would know exactly how well they drive, the cost per trip and the savings they can make by driving well – both from an operational and insurance point of view. With GoFar placed on the dashboard, the driver is instantly informed if he or she does any of the following things: corners badly, swerves, over-brakes, overspeeds and/or over-accelerates.

The device plugs into the diagnostics port and shows the driver through a simple red and green display how he or she is driving. The driver subsequently “learns” how to avoid “wasteful” behaviour. The linked app also records and stores all the information on every trip, and gives a dollar value in petrol terms. So far the app has proven to cut petrol costs by between 13 percent and 23 percent.

This form of telematics is not completely new. However, most companies are concentrating on the adaptation of their products for the fleet ­market. Fleet cars are fitted with a black box and information is sent to a third party. GoFar can be used personally or adapted for fleet use.

The device can be adapted for insurance ­purposes in countries such as Britain where those electing to use telematics in their car have been offered discounts of about 25 percent. Young drivers, normally ­facing abnormally high premiums, have been able, through proof of good driving, to achieve ­substantial drops in premiums. Read more in a report by Adam Courtenay.


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