Invention by students of IIT Madras, Cube – a compact assistive smartphone port to help the blind

Chennai, October 2020 Students ofIIT Madras won the much coveted runner up title at the Indian National James Dyson awards 2020 for their invention, Cube a compact assistive device for the blind that fits into a smart phone. This device will assist the user to navigate through space, recognise people and objects with the help of an additional camera, as well as type, learn & read Braille.   

Dyson provides a platform for students of the engineering/ product design/ industrial design verticals to develop problem-solving inventions that challenge convention, and showcase them on a global stage every year.

 The James Dyson Award runs in 27 countries and regions worldwide. These are:  Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UAE, UK, and USA.

From each of the participating countries an independent panel of jury members identify a national winner , and two runners-up after evaluating the entries on the parameters, which are standard across all participating markets. All three entries from each market are considered for the final round, out of which 20 entries are then shortlisted.  In addition to the International winner, and two runners-up, we will also recognise a sustainability award, starting from this edition. This recognises the most sustainable invention this year, and celebrates the determination of our entrants to create more environmentally conscious designs.

This year marks the 16th anniversary of the James Dyson Award globally, and fourth in India.

The industrial revolution heralded an era of technological progress, giving rise to many innovations that have contributed to the world today being a global marketplace. Through large scale manufacturing, the present system has not only brought material comfort unimaginable to previous generations, but also made technology accessible and affordable.

However, the current manufacturing process, which relies on raw materials that cannot be reused, and leads to a lot of waste; is not sustainable for either businesses, or the environment.

Waste and pollution are by products of decisions taken at the design stage.

This year’s Indian national James Dyson Awardwinner Shashank Nimkar, from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad; has attempted solve this problem with his invention – Earth Tatva.

Earth Tatva is inspired by the concept of circular economy, where waste is seen as a design flaw, and the focus is on developing mono-material that can be recycled for multiple production cycles under closed-loop zero-waste manufacturing.

The Earth Tatva is a unique material composition that reduces mining for natural resources by up to 60% through recycling of post-industrial fired ceramic waste. This unique material composition is made under zero-waste manufacturing process, adhering to the principles of circular economy; also supporting United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 12) of ensuring sustainable and responsible consumption and production patterns.

For Earth Tatva, Shashank procures the pulverized form of post-industrial ceramic rejects called ‘grog’, from the surrounding production cluster, which forms the major portion of the raw material (between 60% – 70%), and virgin clay. This virgin clay acts as a natural binder that helps in giving shape to the grog. As clay naturally converts to ceramics after the firing process, this essentially is like working with a mono-material, which is a huge advantage while upcycling or recycling a material. Using a casting method, called ‘slip-casting’, this material can then be mould into any shape and size. The high proportion of grog means that the composition has a quicker drying cycle increasing its production yield, and also uses less energy to fire. It matures at 1120 °C where virgin materials mature at 1220 °C.

The Central Glass & Ceramic Research Institute (CGCRI), a national research institute under Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India (Ministry of Science and Technology), has reported Earth Tatva to be 35% stronger than traditional ceramics; and hence doing more and better with less.

27 year old Shashank says,“I have always been fascinated by the idea of turning waste into a valuable resource. While working on design solutions, I often wonder what happens to the products & materials at their end of life. On this project, I kept asking myself how I can add shared value from the inside & not just from a functional or aesthetic point of view. That is how the idea of a universal material was conceived against making a product. Since day one, the aim was to make a closed-loop material that can be incorporated in a zero-waste manufacturing process.”

“One ancient material that has been used by mankind in a linear operation is clay. Archeology has shown us that ceramics don’t biodegrade for centuries. Earth Tatva is a unique material composition that turns post-industrial ceramic waste into a universal reusable material.”

Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject £2,000 (approx. INR190,000) into the Earth Tatva project.

A member of the external jury, Mr Srijan Pal Singh, CEO and Co-Founder of Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam Centre, a non-profit organization, said:  “The human mind has unparalleled capacity to solve critical challenges. Some of the most innovative products around us were made in some of the most critical times. Hence it is of great value to give platforms for innovations to be showcased and supported – that is what the James Dyson Award provides. When I carefully went through all the entries, I found it very encouraging that the participants thought compassionately and solution centric focusing on how their ideas can independently and sustainability improve human life.”

Previously, Shashank and Earth Tatva has also received numerous other accolades. It was recognized as circular economy pioneer by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, London, it has received the REX Karmaveer Chakra Award, and was adjudicated as the winner for Sustainability by Design, Indus University. Earth Tatva was also one of the finalists at TIP Summit, Abu Dhabi; and at the Green Product Awards, Munich.

Shashank is currently working towards converting the Earth Tatva project into a start-up, and has received numerous inquiries from various individuals and production units about this innovation. “These tableware products are in demand with the environmentally-conscious hospitality businesses. The businesses who want to serve their guests while operating on a low carbon footprint and the ones serving organic food items have shown interest to use these recycled ceramic wares. I am also in talks with designers and architects known for their sustainable and unique approach towards their work who have shown interest to use this material for their projects,” he said.

This year, The James Dyson Awards India received 241 entries, out of which 93 entries were shortlisted basis their adherence to the submission parameters, and shared with the submission parameters, and shared with the members of Jury

The Runners Up

For runners-up, there was a tie between the team from Indian Institute of Technology Madras (Chennai); that submitted their invention Cube; and the team from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad; for their entry Drishti.

Cube

Problem: Unfortunately, around 285 million people globally and 40 million people in India have either a partial; or a complete visual impairment.  Absence of a compact, all-in-one device for blind useful for both navigation and faster communication (major issues) because of low field of view (while using a single camera) and slow response of current systems (Orcam) pushed the team from IIT madras to understand the detailed requirements of the visually challenged, and work towards a solution.

Solution: CUBE is a compact assistive device that fits into a smartphone port to help the blind self-navigate through space, recognise people and objects with the help of an additional camera, as well as type, learn & read braille with tiny refreshable braille cells.

Team Members: Sundar Raman P, Adil Mohammed, Shivam Maheshwari, Andrea Elizabeth Biju

Drishti.

Problem: The monetary transaction is heavily vision dependent, and something that is often taken for granted. But for the visually impaired, this simple task of the transaction of money is not so straightforward, and which is where the team from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad tries to find a solution and allow them to perform this task with ease.

Solution: Drishti is a product, designed to empower the visually challenged to identify the Indian currency note on their own. Through the combination of the width of the template to the height of the template, a person can identify any one of the 12 notes that are currently in current circulation.

Team Members: Mrudul Chilmulwar, Mani Teja Lingala

To view all the entries to the James Dyson Award 2020, you can click here.

James Dyson Award

The competition is open to student inventors with the ability and ambition to solve the problems of tomorrow. Winning solutions are selected by Sir James Dyson and show ingenuity, iterative development and commercial viability. With students from 27 markets and regions now competing, the award is set to welcome new approaches to a broader range of global issues than ever before.

Since the competition first opened fifteen years ago, the iconic inventor has already contributed over £1m to championing boundary-breaking concepts. To help finalists to develop their novel idea, each year the International winner is awarded £30,000, and Nationalwinners in each participating region receive £2,000. Unlike other competitions, participants are given full autonomy over their intellectual property. New for 2020, Sir James has introduced another international prize: the Sustainability winner, who will also receive £30,000 in prize money.

The James Dyson Award forms part of a wider commitment by Sir James Dyson, to demonstrate the power of engineers to change the world. The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, the James Dyson Foundation and James Dyson Award embody a vision to empower aspiring engineers, encouraging them to apply their theoretical knowledge and discover new ways to improve lives through technology and design engineering.

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