Everyone likes to succeed. But while success eludes some, for others it may come ahead of time, indicating that they are made of sterner stuff and have the determination and grit to pursue their dreams. A case in point is Susant Pattnaik, an 18-year-old inventor and social entrepreneur from Orissa, who already has a long line of awards behind his name.
He is the youngest inventor in the country to be selected and published in MIT Technology Review’s TR-35 (It is an annual list of the world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35) category for inventing Susant’s Breathing Sensor Apparatus. He was 17 years old then.
Susant, son of Narasingha Pattnaik, a veterinary doctor, and Rajashree, a housewife, has created a breath sensor device for the wheelchair-bound. The device could help them do normal chores just by breathing into the sensor. “One day I saw a completely paralysed person, who couldn’t see clearly. I wanted to develop a technology that will allow them to do all types of work. The most common aspects between a physically fit human being and a paralysed person are the brain and breath. I then developed a sensor-based remote control device, which uses breath to transmit electromagnetic signals,” explains the inventor.
In 2008 during his school days, he began working on his concept. After two years and incurring an expense of Rs 2-3 lakh, which was borne by his parents, he finally created his dream apparatus.
Sense the device
Resembling a plastic toy-chair mounted on a maze of wires with sensors, the device could look like a fancy gizmo. “But for me, it is my way of empowering disabled people,” says Susant.
The wheelchair device has four components: sensor, controller, transmitter and an electronic rotter. The breath sensor is attached to a headphone-like battery operated device that uses wireless signals to communicate with the wheelchair.
When the device is switched on, it activates an electronic rotter, which looks like a LCD screen.
The device comprises some circuits and LED bulbs (each LED bulb on the device will remain lit for three seconds). When a bulb corresponding to a particular function lights up, it is a signal to the user to breath into the sensor.
When the user breathes into the sensor, the signal gets transmitted and the controller starts performing that particular function, which may be eating, drinking, going to the washroom, moving the wheelchair, or even turning an electric switch on/ off.
According to Susant, if the electronic switch panel is integrated with his system, then it will be possible to use breath to operate the switches wirelessly. He says his breath sensor apparatus technology can even be implemented in a tractor — this will allow a paralysed person to control the tractor with just his breath.
“With a bit of forceful breathing, one can operate all electrical and electronic appliances, move the wheelchair, even call and type alphabets through a specially designed mobile phone attached to the headphone. It takes a little longer than normal communication, but feelings can be conveyed through this method,” says Susant.
Going ahead with the project back in 2008 was, however, not an easy task for him. “My board exams were around the corner when I invented the sensor and I had to focus on academics. At the same time, many of the scientists I approached thought my innovation seemed impossible. It was only after a year that I got support from some NGOs,” he recalls.
The device’s success, he says, has instilled a deep desire in him to create more innovative tools for the differently-abled.
Susant is at present working on another innovation — the Super Sense Technology, where one need not use a keyboard or mouse. The device uses motion sensor to control any laptop or computer, without having to manually operate them. “To be honest, I was inspired by the Hindi flick Krrish where the actor is shown doing many things in the air,” he smiles.
“This apart, I am currently starting my own venture, which will manufacture a low cost voice-operated electrical and electronics device. As my parents funded my initial invention, I wanted this device to be as inexpensive as possible. It works only by saying the name of an electrical appliance into any cellphone,” he says. The device would cost just Rs 2-3000.
“When it comes to social entrepreneurship, I believe the product has to be affordable. My innovations are in semi-product stage and need further modification. Once they reach the product stage, I would either go seek a patent or mass produce them,” says Susant.
While his innovations have earned him appreciation from Indian President Pratibha Patil and former president APJ Abdul Kalam, he was invited to NASA this June for one of his spacecraft designs that aimed at destroying heavy meteors with laser beams.
The INK-Fellow 2010, Intel IRIS-2010 Award, Intel IRIS Best Popular Invention-2010 Award, DLF-Pramerica Spirit of Community Award-2011, IGNITE 09 (National Innovation Foundation) Award and Orissa Rajiv Gandhi Prativa Award-2010 are just a few of the awards he has received so far for his breath sensor device.
A resident of Bhubaneswar, Orissa, Susant is presently pursuing first year BS-MS (a dual degree) programme from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal. He simultaneously works as manager for Research and Development with Armaan Foundation, Gujarat, to initiate more inventions and empower the differently-abled. He has also joined hands with Techpedia to promote more prototypes from youngsters, convert them into real products and also link up inventors with various industrialists. “There is immense pleasure in doing social work. Through my organisations, I help many poor inventors develop their innovations as per international standards and enable them to become entrepreneurs,” he says.
The social entrepreneur
For Susant, social entrepreneurship is a tool for change, to bring about a lasting impact in the lives of many. “Success depends on combining cost-effective models and innovative ideas with greater reach. Identifying innovators, who have the right frame of mind and commitment to serve the nation, and providing them the resources to take their innovations to the marketplace are key to the success of a social entrepreneurship movement,” feels Susant.
This year, he founded Scientific Innovation Foundation (SIF), an organisation to promote, generate, document and conceptualise innovative ideas from all corners of the world. “Through SIF, we are hunting for individuals who have ideas that can make a difference to the country. We want innovations that lead to technological or scientific breakthroughs,” he says.
SFI will also document interesting innovations that are being undertaken at the grass-root level.
A bright student, who earned several accolades in his school — DAV Public School, Unit-VIII, Bhubaneswar — Susant had a craze for dismantling and assembling electronic gadgets since his childhood.
When he was in Class 9, Susant had invented a security system — a laser beam surrounded the entire house. If any thief crossed it, the shutter (a shutter would be buried around the house’s perimeter) would rise up and prevent the thief from escaping.
In Class 10, he invented an accident-proof technology for vehicles — the device comprises a specially-designed obstacle sensor circuit and a photo diode sensor circuit, which are to be placed near the number plate of any four-wheeler. These circuits sense the road situation ahead and will splash it on an LCD screen that will be planted inside the vehicle. Though it is yet to be used in any four-wheelers, Susant has fixed it to wheelchairs. For this technology, he was given a special award by Kalam at IIM-Ahmedabad in 2008. The project was also appreciated by several scientists from across the country at the 96th Indian Science Congress in 2009. Besides, it bagged the best project award at Jawaharlal Nehru National Science Exhibition for Children in 2008 at Solan, Himachal Pradesh.
The same year, he developed a technology by which a differently-abled person could type in a specially designed cellphone, and a special vehicle that can transverse both in air and on land at low cost and with higher efficiency.
Given his strong foundation in science, the long list of academic awards that his resume contains doesn’t come as a surprise.
Regular on the
Susant has also been invited as speaker to many national and international conferences like The INK Conference (in association with TED), MIT Technology Review Conference, TEDx NIT Kurukshetra, TEDx IPSA Indore, TEDx IIT Kanpur and TEDx NIT Rourkela.
But it is not all work for this youngster. He gets enough time for hobbies, including playing soccer. “I am fond of soccer and watch both Hollywood and Bollywood movies at times,” he says.
In the future, Susant hopes to become a successful entrepreneur. He opines that invention needs to be marketed better. “This is why I wish to combine marketing and inventions in future,” he says.