Sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration to create a world of huge possibilities. Santosh Kodimyala is driven by the power of his ideas. It is this belief that drives him to tinker with science to create gizmos to simplify everyday activities of people with physical, intellectual or sensory disabilities.
The electrical engineer from Raichur, Karnataka who was in the city recently, believes that designing a world that bests suits the ability of the users is the way forward. Enabling people with limited motor skills, low vision or speech impairment to enjoy the simple joys of life — writing a letter to a friend, or reading a book or just expressing their inner most thoughts — has become a way of life for him.
Working in the Enabling Technology Lab in Wayne State University, Michigan in the United States, the researcher has interacted with care givers and occupational therapists to learn the ground reality about persons with disabilities to cater to their needs. But his maiden venture, a ‘smart clock’ to help people with short-term memory loss to schedule their food and medication, remains close to his heart. He explains its workings:
“Each event, say taking medicine or food is recorded by the care giver as a five-minute message in their own accent to remind the patient,” he says. That’s not all, it was used to transmit signals to the caretaker in an assistive apartment — through wireless communication — to alert them if the patients didn’t take their medication on time.
“When I saw that the project had actually changed somebody’s life. I realised it was my calling. This is what I was born to do,” says Santosh, who specialised in electrical engineering in JSS College, Bangalore.
Reading between the lines
As part of his lab project, the down-to-earth engineer has analysed reading habits of children by watching their eye movements when they read. The results of the study, made possible an eye tracking hardware, had a significant impact on improving illustrations in textbooks, thereby enhancing the students’ comprehension of what they read.
“Illustrations have a lot of science behind them. An illustrator has to ensure a child understands a story. If they don’t do a good job, a child will not see the link between what they read and what they see,” he explains.
For patients with cerebral palsy, their typing speed is restrained due to their limited hand movements and in some cases, they even have speech impairments. Santosh realised that tailoring designs to suit their specific needs is the key.
He recalls the eye-tracking device he conceived for his friend, Srinivasa Kumar, who had severe cerebral palsy. He narrates the overwhelming experience:
“He even typed out a big letter to his parents. He put on paper all the emotions that he had felt for all these years, from childhood. It was about 15 pages long. It was emotional. I went home a winner that day.”
Santosh has to his credit a low-vision enhancer device that can be plugged onto a TV to view the magnified fonts of text-messages or newspapers that he created from scratch. It is a portable, and low-cost model.
“You don’t need to be a genius. When I can do it, there are so many brilliant engineers here, they can do it too,” Santosh exclaims.
“Not everyone is aware that small ideas can make a big change. I want to give direction to our engineers to design systems for the disabled. That’s my mission.”