Inclined to Innovate

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Agency: DNA
INK Fellow Anirudh Sharma appeals for cultivation of a spirit of innovation at the grass root level, in a chat with Gauri Rane

During college, building stuff and dreaming ideas was my favouritepastime, which didn't quite fit within our rigid education system. Myfriends and I 'failed' a lot of exams due to this, which rendered meunfit for any 'regular job'. So I pursued what I knew I could do —innovate and create. I made friends with carpenters, radio repairmenand the like. How can one describe innovations? Sometimes they solve a purpose;other times they are more of an artistic expression of magical ideasand storytelling. I have been inspired a lot by magicians in thepast, who use technology, chemicals, music, and optics to createmoments of surprise. I have about 12 innovations to date. The haptic shoe for the visuallyimpaired, the soot printer and the intelligent ruler are a few themwhich have been quite appreciated. At present people with limited orno vision depend either on other people or on walking canes, to helpdetect obstructions. The maximum technology that they can avail of isvoice-based navigation aids, which can be very distracting for theblind as they mostly depend on their sense of hearing. Also, suchdevices are expensive to buy. Le-Chal or the haptic shoe goes a stepfurther. It uses a language of vibrations to help the visuallyimpaired to navigate. The unobtrusive design of the haptic shoe isits most significant feature. The system comprises of a mechanismthat condenses complex geographical navigational information and letsthe user feel the directional and proximity information throughvibrations. Another invention works on re-purposing the soot particles that aregenerated by sources of pollution through a contraption and mixingsoot with vegetable oils to create ink that can be used in printers.I am now working on a device that can be attached to vehicle exhaustsso as to convert fumes into ink. Inventing is nothing but telling a story using a variety of tools. Ican tell a story with technology, design, art and also music. Workingwith Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT Media Lab, which is aninterdisciplinary research group at Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology, I have got a huge opportunity to ideate and experiment.India has a great culture of innovating, for instance, a guy who isre-purposing his rickshaw as a juice-maker is an innovator. We needto create more opportunities for such 'misfits' by giving them aplace to foster crazy ideas. There is also a need for grass rootstudents to invent more to create a better society around them.Gandhi with his wheel was an inventor—the wheel being his inventionto create a social change.

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