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Turning trash into treasure

Guided by an American professor, around 300 students from VIT University’s innovation centre are engaged in various innovations with recycled materials

education Updated: Jul 17, 2013 13:05 IST
Jeevan Prakash Sharma

Can plastic waste be converted into butanol, which is something like petrol? If this happens, it will solve the huge problem of disposal of household and industrial plastic waste in the country. Realising this urgent need to convert plastic trash into a ‘treasure’ for mankind, a group of students from Vellore Institute of Technology’s innovation centre are working day and night to make this breakthrough.


Making an innovation through waste material is not something unusual at this centre. In the recent past students have come out with some extremely interesting devices from waste products which could be the answer to many small as well as big social problems. Audio-tactile speech aids for the hearing-impaired, OpenSource Software for the visually challenged, an affordable prosthetic arm, clinical support software for low-resource medical facilities, fly trap for reducing housefly infestation in roadside food shops and many more from various waste materials sets an example for other educational institutions to take a cue from. And one person who should take the credit for this novel cause is 35-year-old US professor Theodore Moallem.

Moallem has helped students create many devices for the visually challenged, including the BlindView Suite: OpenSource Software for the Blind. The software will have a wide range of functionalities including a screen reader and Android OS navigation (akin to VoiceOver for iOS) as well as text editing, audio editing, music composition, and a camerabased mobility aid.

Rimmie and some other students are concentrating on the innovation of a safety alarm and lights for the cane by attaching some electronic components which emit sound signals to others to make way for the visually challenged person. The ‘noise’ from the cane is made with three different volume controls. The alarm costs just Rs. 50 and at night the lights attached to the cane emit warning signals when the visually challenged person is crossing the road.

In this innovation centre, around 300 students from the different branches of engineering collect recycled materials on their own. “They are available easily and sometimes we collect from various sources to produce low-cost material for the poor people who could afford to buy within their income limits,” says Ayush Agarwal, a student.

Utkarsh Pandey, an electrical engineering student from Uttar Pradesh, said that his team is engaged in making a mechanical braille display that they expect to be far less costly because of using the commonly available computer printer parts and lowcost microcontroller circuitry.

Another team, led by Spandana Chervu, an electronics engineering student from Andhra Pradesh, is making braille sensations by minute electro-tactile stimulations of the user’s fingertips.

Chandan James Dhal, a third-year electronics student, is leading a team developing a prosthetic arm with myoelectric control and tactile sensory feedback.

“While such arms already exist, they are extremely expensive. The main aim of this project is to make it affordable to the majority of persons requiring them, while also maintaining a high level of functionality,” says Dhal.

At the innovation centre, the young engineering students who have invented Audio Tactile Transducers can make the hearing impaired know what is happening around them. The transducer sends signals to the body through vibrations, when it is attached with the body of the deaf person.

“Fly Traps” has been developed merely out of plastic sheets, and made of several boxes that will help in catching flies. Lately, the students have been conducting research to convert all the flies into fertiliser.

Shivangi Bajpai, an engineering student working on the project, explains how this is made possible. “The high nitrogen content in the flies that are trapped will be converted as fertiliser and soon our team would come out with successful results.”

“We have been successful in finding solutions for the people at a cheaper cost, because we rely totally on recycled material, thus our projects, which could have easily run into crores of rupees are getting done at a lower cost and satisfying the buyers which encourage us to innovate more,” says Sonali Despande, another student at the centre.



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