VILLUPURAM: With rapt attention, a young Balaji Thirunavukarasu observed how a farmer plowed his land. On the small piece of land, the farmer would go back and forth with his tools from dawn to dusk. It was then that Balaji wondered how this much time and effort could be reduced. Eureka! The answer was a robotic plow, he thought.
“So, I decided to pursue a career in robotics. I joined mechanical engineering in Mailam Engineering College at Mailam in Villupuram and then completed my post graduation in Robotics Engineering from SRM University with sponsorship from Doctor Navalar Nedunchezhiyan College of Engineering in Cuddalore,” said the 32-year-old robotics scientist. Hailing from a town in Kandachipuram near Villupuram, Balaji takes a small module on robotics to government school students. He hopes to inspire them to venture into this field.
“Out of my own interest, I chose robotics and learnt by reading and researching. Many think it’s a difficult field. But, if we learn, it will be easy. I wanted to create an interest in students about the field and prepare them for their higher studies. I have taught robotics to 15,000 government school students across TN for free,” said Balaji. I started teaching robotics in Tamil as it can be understood by students, he added.
After his post graduation in 2014, he started a small company to invent small-sized robots for day-to-day support. He invented 25 small robots and only three have made it to commercial use. Balaji’s first commercial invention, Lillipot, is a small robot through which students learn how robotics works. Priced at Rs 2,000, the small robot is easy to dismantle. It is set up to give the perfect learning method for a student to grasp the concept easily. With Lilipot as his aid, Balaji teaches robotics to the students.
Next in the list was the wooden aeroplane which he uses to teach the physics of flying in a simple way to students. The third one is a Medical Care Robot, which can be customised according to the buyers’ requirements. During Covid-19, people bought these robots for supplying food and medicine to people in quarantine. The scientist is now on a mission to supply medicine to patients through a drone-operated machine in auto pilot mode.
Balaji’s inventions have gotten him many accolades including three prizes in Malaysia and one in Japan in 2014 and 2016. He is not just an innovator, an author too, with a book titled ‘ How to Make Robots’ in 2018.
Speaking about his son, Balaji’s father M Thirunavukarasu said, “I am a carpenter and since his childhood, Balaji has been very interested in robotics and would make wooden toys. He achieved his dream despite poverty. His elder brother, who was a taxi driver, supported him.” However, in October last year, his brother passed away. “This affected Balaji and he didn’t want to go anywhere. But people started calling him for seminars. Robotics, which he loves the most, helped him recover and slowly move back into life,” his father added.
To add to his long list of achievements, Balaji also runs his own company, Village Tech School for the new inventions. He is currently on the lookout for investors. “Robotics is the future of our world and I am training government school students, for whom learning this is a difficult task, due to their economic status. I am happy now, as I hope to mould future robotics scientists,” explained Balaji.