Tete-a-tete with Pranav Mistry, the man of innovation

Monday, 13 January 2014 - 10:02am IST Updated: Monday, 13 January 2014 - 10:09am IST | Agency: dna webdesk

He's touted as the man with the Sixth Sense, he's rather the man who's invented it for all of us. And with a move to Samsung US as the Director of Research and head of its innovation team "Think Tank" Pranav Mistry is at the cynosure of the tech space.

I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with the man himself, albeit only for a few minutes, at the IIT Techfest as he was getting ready to zip through the continents.

How big a role do you think has the Masters Degree from the IIT Design Centre played in your career?

This degree from IIT was an eye opener for me. Although I come from an engineering background, studying design here gave me a different perspective. The culture of IIT is like a Leonardo Da Vinci culture, wherein you get to interact with other students of diverse backgrounds, like an aerospace engineer etc. So I got to discuss design and technology with other fellow dorm mates which helped me understand a lot of things. I would say that this degree from IIT was a milestone or a major turning point of my career.

You’ve studied at the best of engineering colleges in India and across the globe i.e. IIT & MIT respectively. So what do you think are the limitations / challenges faced by the Indian students?

Most of the people would say it’s the resources that are the biggest detriment to invention in India. But every environment has its own set of benefits and challenges. In low resources you can invent something that is made for that particular environment, so your invention has to be in sync with your environment. A very simple example is the DATAG2.02 glove that I made to interact with objects in the virtual world, had sensors costing only $2. It’s not that there were no hand gesture gloves at that time, a company called 5DT made its Data Glove costing $5,000. And that is exactly why APJ Abdul Kalam found my work very interesting, because I was using a basic technology consisting of strings and pulleys to solve the same problem. Design without limitation is not a good design, you need a particular limitation only then you will be able to design better and make a product that solves the problem.

In IIT we have the cultural or cost limitation, when you invent something you need to be affordable to people. You can solve many problems using an iPhone or an Android device or even an application that solves many problems of a rural farmer. But this farmer would not be able to afford an iPhone; hence we need to bring that technology on a much cheaper feature phone. That’s where the challenge lies and in challenge comes the opportunity to invent. My friend Deepak Ravindran runs a service in India called SMSGyaan wherein he provides SMS based Internet on feature phones. There is no 4G in the rural area today, but still he has managed to bring Internet to the rural folks with the existing limited infrastructure.

So resources should never be a problem in inventing something for a particular region. May be resources will help you understand things better, but those learning’s will only be applicable to that region. More than 50% of my inventions have come in India. (Smiles)

Where do you draw your inspirations from to keep churning out inventions at such an impressive rate?

That’s a good question. A lot of people ask me if I get motivated from sci-fi movies. I personally get a lot of motivation from Indian mythologies like Mahabharata & Ramayana. There is a lot of magic there which I want to realise in the future.

What do you think is the future of personal technology with our personal devices getting larger & larger by the day?

Our devices are getting bigger and bigger as the people want to have a bigger and better experience with their devices in order to see better, read better. But wearable technology is the solution to moving away from these rectangular screens. Like right now I’m talking with you, I don’t need a smartphone to click your picture (Quickly takes a snap with his Galaxy Gear watch), it frees both your hands.

Wearable technology like Google Glass can solve your problem of wanting to see bigger and better at much more convenience. So you don’t need a larger screen you can simply put it nearer to your eyes. Hence I would say that wearable technology is the future making things compact and still giving us better personalised features. 

Tassavur Shaikh is a former tech editor and currently heads marketing at ArtisanGilt.com

You can view Pranav Mistry's full lecture at IIT TEchfest 2014 here:

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