Dhruv Jain dreams of making systems and devices that enhance mobility and communication for people with disabilities. And it is not an idle dream, he is well on his way to realising it.
Hearing impaired himself, 23-year old Dhruv is an IITian and a trekker, and was a competitive swimmer in his school years. Born in a family of doctors, he successfully fought against the odds to make it to the IIT. But he well knows that many others with disabilities fail to wade through myriad challenges of life. Little wonder, then, that he chose to be part of an assistive technology group in IIT Delhi after his graduation.
His project is Roshni, a mobilephone-based indoor navigation system for the visually impaired. The device, funded by Korean cellphone major Samsung, is likely to hit the market in the next six months. "Our department was frequently visited by visually impaired people. We spoke to them and found that one of the major problems they faced was difficulty in independent indoor navigation. That was the trigger that started this project," Dhruv said.
After two years of work, the navigation system, which consists of wall sensors, a waist-worn device to receive and detect signals, and a user interphase in the form of a mobile application, have been installed and successfully demonstrated at Bharti, the building which houses the computer science department of IIT Delhi.
The device talks to the user with the help of the mobile handset that uses variants of the Android operating system.
Now the six-member team at Delhi IIT's computer science department, led by Dhruv and guided by Prof M Balakrishnan, is giving final touches to Roshni. With the help of the National Association for the Blind, the research group has tested the device with two dozen visually impaired persons from different age group and got satisfactory responses.
"Initially there were battery backup issues. We have now sorted that out. We hope to launch the device commercially in the next six months," said Abhinav Saxena, a project associate, who handles the hardware aspects of Roshni.
"This product is meant not only for the visually challenged, but also for others. It is especially useful at places such as museums, where there is very little light," he said.
The team will soon install the updated version of the Roshni prototype at the National Science Centre in Pragati Maidan in the Capital.
"In countries such as the US, it is mandatory to make public buildings disabled-friendly. If such a law comes into force in India, this device will have a great market," said Saxena.
Dhruv and his team are in the process of filing for a patent for the technology. "It is a little early to talk about it," he said. Besides Samsung, which funded one year of research and development, Indian Angel Network, a community of start-up funders, has shown interest in supporting the project, and the IIT team is in talks with them.
Dhruv, who wants to pursue his higher studies in assistive technology, believes that it is important to inculcate a spirit of independence so as to boost the confidence of physically challenged people.