Life Hack

Hearing Glasses: Delhi Boy Invents Wonder Tech

@digitalfables

MADHAV LAVAKARE is a typical teenager. He listens to rap. He loves playing basketball, tennis and soccer. He plays the guitar and piano. He knows how to code. And he likes to invent things.

OK, so he’s your typical *ambitious, techie* teenager, who’s been interested in engineering since he was five.

It all started with a…

 


THE PRACTICAL PROBLEM SOLVER

Madhav is an enthusiastic problem-solver. He’s also innately practical. He says he’s always been interested in finding creative and, usually, technical solutions for simple day-to-day problems.

And like most kids his biggest problem, or rather inspiration, has been:

When he was six-years-old, Madhav wanted to make some chocolate-chip cookies all by himself. But his parents wouldn’t allow him in the kitchen unsupervised. So Madhav did what any kid would do – he invented a solar oven. Out of a cardboard box. Naturally.

Then when he was nine-years-old, Madhav grew tired of his parents coming into his room and telling him to tidy it up. This was a problem for which he racked his brains to find a solution (simply cleaning his room was deemed too dull).

He figured the best option was to stop his parents from coming in altogether. So he connected an extremely loud burglar alarm to his door. Like you do.

A few years later his pesky parents got on to Madhav for leaving the lights and fan on in his room.

 

FALLING IN LOVE

But Madhav’s most impressive solution came when he was just 13. When he fell in love.

Priyanka Chopra_Facebook
Indian Actor Priyanka Chopra. Photo: Facebook.com/priyankachopra

Actually, no, not with a beautiful Indian actress, like most of his south Delhi classmates.

For Madhav was in love with a beautiful, powerful and smart…

…pair of specs. Not any old spectacles, mind you, but Google Glass – the voice-controlled minicomputer worn like a pair of glasses. Cool in theory but not in appearance. So, despite Madhav’s adoration, the smart glasses didn’t take off. Never mind like many first loves Google Glass was unattainable for the 13-year-old – at $1500 a pop it was out of Madhav’s league.

This was a problem. To be solved.

Yep. Madhav loved the idea of “smart glasses” so much that two years later he decided to make his own.

The timing was right. By then Madhav had been also experimenting with Raspberry Pi, the super tiny $25 computer that was created to enable more people to learn programming. At the same time he was also playing around with Arduino, an open-source platform for developing software and hardware.

 

That’s when the idea came to him – people with hearing impairments can communicate through sign language, but what about when they want to know what a shopkeeper or an office clerk is saying or even to “hear” a lecture given by a teacher?

And so the idea for Madhav’s “hearing glasses” was born. From proof of concept:

To prototype 2.0:

Applying a bit of optics he learned from his physics classes to the latest microchip technology, Madhav has gone from prototype 1.0 to 2.0 and is now working on version 3.0.

Here’s how it works:

 

JUGAAD – TURNING OBSTACLES INTO INSPIRATION

It’s taken the now 16-year-old countless hours over the last three years, working out of a spare room in his house, to get to version 3. Building such a gadget in India, where there are no hardware or DIY stores with readily available parts, has not always been easy either.

When Madhav needed a small plastic slab to reflect the text, he couldn’t find anyone selling such a part, so he did what all clever Indians do – resorted to jugaad, figuring he could use transparent CD cases cut-to-size.

But even finding someone to cut this relatively hard plastic was tough. In America, where he spent his early childhood, he might have been able to pop into a hardware store and get someone to cut the plastic for him. But in India, he had to make two visits to a huge market – packed with people, motorbikes, cows and push-carts – and hunt around until he found someone who could do the job.

 

Ironically, the hard-found man with an iron press couldn’t do the job and broke Madhav’s plastic parts. Frustrated, he went home and doggedly worked it out himself.

FROM HOBBY TO PRODUCT

While Madhav’s innovation started out as an ode-to-Google-Glass pastime, it’s now become a serious endeavor for the class-12 Sanskriti School student, who feels it can be an assistive technology product that can give people with hearing impairments greater accessibility.

Madhav has presented his hearing glasses to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the Noida Deaf Society and several deaf schools.

Anusha Sharma from the NAD found the device “comfortable, innovative and exciting.” In a feedback form she also wrote that it was “so good to see a young person like Madhav working on ways to help us.”

Another user, Shubham, wrote, “I think this device is a wonderful idea. I really love it. If you work on it and improve it, I see myself using it every day actually. It can help so many poor people as well and people, like me, who have trouble sometimes.”

The user feedback sessions have confirmed that the device, once perfected, is something hearing impaired people would use. And pay for.

How much? Rs. 3500 ($50). Not bad considering he can make his smart specs for Rs. 2500.

NEXT STEP – SCALING UP

The next step is finding a backer and scaling up.

Suman Saraf, computer engineer and co-founder of Android emulator BlueStacks, said you sometimes see young kids like this in Silicon Valley but not in India.

“In India you see a lot of people building software, writing code – and there’s a lot of support available for that – but for developing hardware, there is little experience, let alone infrastructure and expertise,” Saraf said.

Madhav is in talks with several investors who see the potential of the product, though manufacturing would most likely have to happen in China.

He’s hopeful the gadget will take off – not because his parents want it or a scholarship is riding on it. In fact, his school doesn’t even know about this project. Madhav’s main motivation is the justification to keep doing what he loves – solving problems.

 

~ENDS~

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