Meet Abhinav Kulkarni, currently working as an electronics engineer, who loves exploring how technical skills can be put to application for solving surrounding problems. He has innovated a braille machine during his Engineering course through which the blind can have access to all e-books. After giving a TEDx talk about the innovation, team TEN got a chance to know some more details about this braille machine and his future plans. Some excerpts from the interview:
Braille reader is an electro-mechanical device which enables blind people to read digital text books. It basically converts the alphanumeric characters into Braille characters which is a standard script specially designed for blind people. E-books need to be stored in an SD-Card and the latter needs to be inserted into device for reading. The three button interface of the device along with a sound buzzer for file operations provides an accessible device control.
There was no prolonged plan as such to build the device. It was actually a case of serendipity. I was very enthusiastic to do an internship after second year of the college, but could not secure one owing to my poor communication skills. So to do something worthwhile with the practical skills obtained through workshops, I decided to do something with electromagnets. With some inspiration from my seniors, finally the idea of Braille reader formed and I was able to complete the final working prototype in about 3 months of summer vacation.
It’s not entirely new concept. There are sophisticated models available but those are not suitable for the Indian market. Also the two tactile design is a new addition which is not seen in the existing products.
The device design is as good as open source and anybody can develop it further. Personally, I do not have any immediate plans to develop the device any further. It is because I think that, I still need to learn more technical skills to take the idea further.
The idea developed out of a video called B for Braille video
The video depicted enthusiasm of a blind kid to read story books and his struggle to achieve that. Inspired by this video, I took help of some my seniors and discussed the idea with them. Then I proceeded ahead with the idea. My parents also helped and supported in the process. In fact, I have inherited the passion for electronics from my father while my mother built a strong foundation for my formal education.
The main challenges involved were availability of hardware resources and lack of professional support and co-operation from the college in which I was enrolled. Also, the lack of personal communication skills at that time inhibited me from asking for direct help from outside ventures. There were times, as it happens during any innovation process, when self doubt took over and I used to sit idle for days wondering would it work? I would start work again and eventually it did work, not as I expected but still sufficed the purpose.
Currently I am focussed more on the learning curve in a professional environment. I have received a great opportunity to learn more sophisticated technologies and that would require full commitment towards the process at least for 3 more years. So no immediate plans for any new hobby projects lined up. Although, it’s hard to predict if something new might come up during the course! My future plan is quite simple;
I want to work and keep on working and growing with things that I always dreamed of doing since I was a kid.
The academic environment in Singapore is very different from India. More freedom is provided for research. Even though hierarchy exists here too, but I personally found that the student and teacher share a more cordial relationship here. Asking questions is encouraged in action and student feedback is seriously taken into account while designing courses. Most of the things are digital, even facilities like e-lectures are provided which makes it more convenient to focus on actual skill development, rather than unproductive academic requirements.
After interacting with students from other places, I realized that way too much emphasis is put on entrance examinations in India. I think that cracking an entrance exam might be considered as an exaggerated achievement only in India, maybe China too. It might be a convenient system, but very little actual skill development occurs during that phase.
My short advice would be:
– Be cognizant of the technology world though tech magazines, linkedin etc. Not only about the happening and cool gadget stuff, but also ponder upon unglamorous problems like climate change, energy and other general problems around which you simply might overlook.
– Develop skills to use Google and Internet in general productively to access related knowledge, it’s also an art.
Don’t wait for anyone’s approval to start innovating.
There might be many qualified intelligent people around you who might tell you that it is not possible. Consider the opinions, but anyways go ahead with your gut feeling as innovation involves risk.
That was Abhinav Kulkarni, a dreamer and an achiever!