Speech for those with speech impairment, mobility for those whose bodies are paralysed. For Kuldeep Singh Rajput these are not utopian dreams. He and his friends have already designed a glove-like device called TalkAble, which converts sign language into speech. They are working on the design of a wheelchair for motor-neuron disease patients, which can be controlled by the blink of an eye. Kuldeep dares to dream the impossible. But he was not so always. And that’s what makes his story even more endearing. He and his friends had a basic knowledge of electronics and algorithms. All that he had was an idea to create a device which when fitted to the hand would convert signs into alphabets.
Unsure of the way forward, he sought help from his professors at BV Bhoomaraddi College of Engineering and Technology in Belgaum in 2012. “One of them told me that I should take up such a big project later in my life after I have a thorough knowledge of electronics and algorithms. Few others told me it was not the time to do it and that I need to concentrate on my studies,” says the young innovator.
Why was he not discouraged? “I then remembered what my professor in high school once said: ‘You never know your capabilities until you try’,” says Kuldeep. Perhaps the weight of the mission was also something that propelled him forward. Kuldeep awakened to his calling when he saw a person with hearing disability go home frustrated, after failing to convey something to a shopkeeper. “I was heartbroken. The incident kept coming back to me for weeks. Communication is as essential as oxygen in our lives. Without communication, the growth of an individual is hampered.”
With complete sponsorship from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Engineering Projects In Community Service (IEEE EPICS), they decided to design a right handed glove on which accelerometers were mounted. IEEE EPICS provided them the funding to test prototypes. The accelerators would convert the mechanism of hand signs into text and voice output. The prototypes were tested at some NGOs in Mumbai. “The sense of satisfaction we got by using our technical skills and giving back to the hearing-impaired and speech-impaired community was immeasurable. It was really cool to see those children use the glove that speaks,” says Kuldeep, who got to know of IEEE from a faculty advisor. They won many awards at various design innovation contests and were able to seek collaborations from various organisations. They were also awarded the i3 Young Innovator Award 2012-13 by the Government of India and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).
Kuldeep and team are now working on making the design more durable. The accuracy of the wheelchair for those with motor neuron diseases is being improved. “Currently, my team and I are working with MIT Media Labs to design a mobile ECG monitoring system.” The design they are aiming at can be worn like a belt. It measures heart rate, respiration rate and other parameters. The data can be transmitted to a mobile and can be viewed on an app. He calls it a doctor in your pocket. “Our major target is to reach the remote areas of India that lack healthcare facilities,” says Kuldeep.
At 22, Kuldeep has understood what he wants from life. “It’s necessary for every individual to come out of their comfort zones and follow their passion,” he says. Work on TalkAble finished in 2013 and distribution is likely to start in December this year, mostly through NGOs.