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    The Smartest of them All

  • The Smartest of them All

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September 13, 2013

"Shifu is your smart friend who lives in your smartphone. It observes when and how you use your phone. It knows what important things need your attention and when is the right time to show them to you... Shifu reminds you to do things which are important to you... Shifu reminds you of things which you otherwise would have missed and it does so without being intrusive. Shifu is the sidekick you always wanted."

Sounds interesting, right? Welcome to the world of smarter Made in India application Shifu. Yes, this app with a Chinese name pronounced "shur-foo" in China, and "shee-foo" the Indian way, is smarter than your iPhone voice assistant Siri or your Google Now assistant for Android phones.

Prashant Singh, Co-founder, Signals, the fledgling company behind Shifu, explains how Shifu is very different from Siri and other apps in this space."Siri provides a voice-based interface to control smartphones. In this, the user has to think what to do. Siri does not do the thinking for the user nor does it suggest what the user can possibly do at a given point of time. But Shifu does exactly that. It makes suggestions and helps the user make smart use of not just his smartphone but also his time."

For all of us who just can't live without our smartphone, Singh makes a startling declaration: "One thing most people don't realise is that in spite of all the advances we have made in smartphone technology, it is still not that smart." He backs his contention saying, "Beyond some surface level detail, a smartphone is not very different from a regular one as, for example, both show call logs in reverse chronological order and not in the order of importance of calls. Neither phone can sense when to go on silent mode on its own. Shifu is our attempt to solve such issues."

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Pedalling a Green Cause

Bambikes promises physical exercise, fresh air and in addition reduces your carbon footprint on Mother Earth. The architect of India's Bambikes, Mr Vijay Sharma, passionately desires that more people take to cycling for the health and ecology benefits that it packs in its pedals. It is this singular wish that is driving him to persist with building these ecofriendly Bambikes. The bikethough has created plenty of buzz in the India and abroad.

The popularity of Sharma's Bambike pans across the globe. From Mauro Vanoli, a bike enthusiast from Italy who came down to Bengaluru to get a customised mountain terrain bike (MTB) made at Sharma's workshop, to the German granny who was on a mission to travel across the world on her bike in 10 years, and chose Bambike for her forward journey after meeting Sharma in Bengaluru in 2010.

Sharma, an alumnus of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, credits his creative skills to his carpenter father whose workshop was his childhood playground. Perhaps the reason he was always keen to have his own space—a workshop. When his wife Niyati bought a bicycle to commute to work in 2008-09, his interest in bicycle design was aroused and he started researching online. Meanwhile, after a short stint at a furniture design company, he set up his own workshop in collaboration with two friends—6mm Designs and Furniture. Interestingly though, it was not a bicycle but a tricycle or a trike that first rolled out of Sharma's workshop. The next invention was what he called a unique Tandem Trike. Both the varieties were an instant hit in Bengaluru, especially with kids, to whom Sharma would give free rides as a reward for doing their homework.

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Building Robots with Human Intelligence

Aakash Sinha, Robotics Scientist and Founder of Omnipresent Robot Tech, has an impressive resume. He has worked with some top US robotics companies including Lockheed-Martin. As an employee he proved his mettle, winning the outstanding employee award as the Technical Head at iRobot Corp, where his team delivered over 3,000 PackBot robots to the US Army. As an engineer-scientist too, he was making his mark with more than 15 international publications in robotics. After 10 years in the field of robotics and accolades galore, it was just about two years ago that the MS/Ph.D in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University decided to become an entrepreneur.

Omnipresent, the company, was initially launched in the US. "It was started by my wife Jyoti, who is the co-founder, and me on a shared vision to build truly intelligent robots for the future," says Sinha sharing the belief that is the foundation of Omnipresent. The move to India was motivated as much by ideals as sound business sense. "We wanted to contribute back to India and also saw the emerging market here in robotics," says Sinha. The first branch of Omnipresent was set up in Delhi and its first contract was with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to build a bomb disposal robot. "We were so excited with this prospect that we decided to move all our operations to India," says Sinha. Currently, Omnipresent is based in Delhi. The project was successfully delivered to DRDO which was earlier convinced that robots could only be built abroad, reveals Sinha.

Sinha sees a bright future for robotics in India. "It is one of the big disruptive technologies coming up in the next 10 years," he predicts adding, "this wave will be similar to the rapid movements witnessed in the information technology industry. Nobody could have predicted the extent to which they would revolutionise the world, as they have done today." In fact, Sinha envisages a big role for robotics in human life. "Robotics will become eubiotics (eu=good/bios=life) and omnipresent (present everywhere simultaneously), just as our company name suggests. We can see robots cleaning our homes, guarding our borders, fighting wars for us, assisting our elderly and being our companions, doing monotonous household chores and also protecting us. In domestic and civil life, robots are going to be the future of our civilization and in 10–15 years we will realise how integral to it they have become."

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Innovating for the Farmer

In March 2012, then President Pratibha Patil presented the Sixth National Grassroots Innovation Awards to 47 innovators of India. Among the top three honorees was Mr Gurmail Singh Dhonsi of Ganganagar, Rajasthan, winner of the National First Award.

Rapid Compost Aerator and Tractor Mounted Tree Pruner, innovations that fetched him the national recognition, are prime examples of what drives Dhonsi. The compost aerator, in fact, was a follow up of the tree pruner. It was a remark by Surender Kumar Jakhad of Maujgarh, a Punjab village bordering Rajasthan, that set him thinking. Says Dhonsi, "Jakhad said why don't I make a machine for him that could use all the leaves and fruits wasted in pruning?" That was the lead for Dhonsi to start drawing for his next invention.

It was Jakhad, again, who inspired Dhonsi to develop his award winning tree pruner. A tractor mounted device, the pruner draws upon the tractor's hydraulic system to power its motor and operate the blades. The beauty of the simple device is that it can be mounted on any tractor of 40 hp and above. It can prune trees of up to 20 ft height; in about one hour it can prune and dress 200 trees consuming just 3.5 litres of fuel. The tree pruner is a cost, time and fuel-efficient innovation that can revolutionise farm production in orchards and horticulture gardens. NIF has filed a patent for the pruner which is priced at US$ 8550.

This 53-year-old inveterate innovator is not ready to hang up his boots yet. He is currently in the process of perfecting a ridge-maker. There are other machines on his agenda—all of them inspired by the grassroots problems of farmers and aimed at easing their workload. He wishes to produce these on a large scale for economy of scale benefits and hopes for subsidies on raw material for himself and for farmers on finished goods. "If farmers get subsidy, it will be good," he says. Given Dhonsi's sincere pursuits, more inventions are sure to come out of his ‘workshop'.

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With a Human Heart

The field of biomedical engineering is just coming into its own in India. CGN Research Labs is unique in its devotion to the promotion of cutting-edge research, technology and innovation in a field that would add lustre to India's growth story. Dr C Jairaj Kumar, Director, R&D, and Chief Medical Officer, CGN Research Labs, is confident of the country increasing its presence in the field: "Majority of the medical equipments that we use are currently imported or non-Indian innovations. We do not have established Indian medical device innovations that rule international market. But this field offers huge potential with increasing promotional programmes aimed at encouraging Indian innovations. We are sure several Indian companies shall make their mark in medical device industry in the near future." The researcher firmly believes that "established mid-sized medical device companies in India must focus on path breaking innovations rather than making small technical improvements to their existing device." This is the way for India to make its mark as an innovator of medical equipment on the global firmament.

CGN Research Labs was founded in 2010 by Dr Jairaj Kumar, Joint Managing Director of the company and Mr C Satish Kumar, Chairman and Managing Director, with two inventions-the first was a device that uses the revolutionary chaos theory to diagnose diabetic neuropathy and the second a device called Thermo Scan, that was developed using a patented nanoparticle focal plane array.

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A Green Extension

It is a bit incongruous to find a game application on a website which is purported to have unleashed a quiet revolution in India's countryside. But right below the neatly stacked vignettes of farming activities is the link to the game which takes you to Facebook. You're inclined to dismiss it as a takeoff on Farmville, another app that has 21 million Facebook community members hooked. But, Wonder Village, with 22,000 registered uset, does what it says—bridge the real and virtual, with the aim to raise social awareness and help raise funds for the development sector. There are many such technological marvels in store as you trawl the website to understand what exactly Digital Green innovates.

Digital Green was established in 2006 in Bangalore by Rikin Gandhi, a young computer science graduate from Carnegie Mellon University and masters in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A pilot with ambitions to become an astronaut, Gandhi changed course midstream. In fact, it was to help start a biodiesel venture on the wastelands of Maharashtra that had brought Gandhi to India. No one could have foreseen that the boy born and raised in the US would decide to soon ‘reverse migrate' to India and work in the rural countryside.

Today, Digital Green's ‘agriculture extension innovation' has wrought beneficial changes in the lives of 109,911 farmers of 1,541 villages belonging to six states of India. Not surprisingly then, the International Fertiliser Association (IFA) has recognised Gandhi for the 2012 IFA Norman Borlaug Award. In 2010, Gandhi also featured in Technology Review's Annual List of 35 Innovators under 35 years of age. The same year, he was one of the eight visionaries to feature in The Fortune Global Forum Visionaries List.

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Nurturing Innovation

Genome Valley is India's first biotechnology cluster and home to some of the most prestigious research and development (R&D) institutions. It provides world-class infrastructure to more than 100 biotechnology companies for conducting cutting-edge research in life sciences, training their scientists, scientific collaboration and manufacturing activities. In the heart of this cluster, the IKP Knowledge Park sits on a sprawling 200-acre campus. Launched in 1999 by ICICI Bank in partnership with the government of Andhra Pradesh, the park fosters innovation in life sciences. The park contains five facilities that it calls innovation corridors. The first of these corridors holds 10 cavernous laboratories.

The park's mission is to "create a world class centre for leading-edge business-driven research in India," says Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, its managing director and CEO. The IKP Knowledge Park has some of the most distinguished scientist entrepreneurs on its board who have made it their mission to deepen India's research achievements.

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Asking the right questions!

Giri Balasubramaniam, founded Greycaps India Pvt Ltd in Bengaluru in 1999. It is now the country's second largest quiz company.

"Greycaps began as the translation of a passion. When we were quizzing in our college days in the late eighties and early nineties we found that quizzing needed the infusion of fresh blood and ideas. For the audience, quizzing was also very difficult. There were two kinds of attendees—those who had read up, and those who did not even understand the questions, leave alone know the answers. People found quizzes for the brainy, not for entertainment. Perhaps because in that era quizzing was largely confined to statistical data—remembering dates and numbers, per capita income, growth, production data etc." said Balasubramaniam.

Therefore, he wanted to make quizzing entertaining, easier and more widely sought and enjoyed. Soon, Giri and some of his classmates began developing such quizzes. These quizzes, were more awareness based, they were about recent happenings.

Greycaps holds the merit of having held India's biggest business quiz—for Tata Sons in 2004 called Tata Crucible–the quiz formed part of the centenary celebrations of the Tatas, and has now become an annual event.

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Wood Worth

Imli Toshi Namo, a young innovator who grew up in Nagaland, spent his time roaming around the sprawling bamboo plantations and observing the grass being harvested and processed, before it was shaped into furniture or items of handicraft.

In 2006, Imli designed Arulepsa, the prototype of an integrated, precision-controlled, bamboo processing machine. Arulepsa processes five feet of highly finished bamboo per minute. That is approximately 25 times the speed of manual processing. "Even then, the finished bamboo that Arulepsa produces is far more uniform, better finished, well-planned and surfaced," according to Imli.

The prototype and its improvement cost him a total of INR 300,000 (US$ 6,725). He received funding from the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the National Bamboo Mission (NBM).

Imli says the first of the new machines should roll out by August this year. He is thinking of pricing them at INR 80,000 (US$ 1,800) each.

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Express Innovation

Satish Deb of Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, an inspired innovator, has revived the dying treadle presses with a cheap and easy conversion kit. He has converted the slow and foot-operated treadle press into a smart screen printing press, and has a US patent for his innovation.

Satish received his first patent on March 10, 1999 and now has five patents for various versions of his machine. The innovation successfully combines the technologies of screen printing with letter press machines. The cost of the Motek India Treadle press kit is about Rs 25,000 (US$ 550), against Rs 125,000 (a little more than US$ 2750), for a new offset press. Satish's kit increases the efficiency of the treadle press at least five times, and makes the press versatile.

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The Coolest Little Refrigerator For Rural India

Godrej has developed a low-cost refrigeration solution, ChotuKool, to cater to rural households in India. To popularise this 7.8 kg eco-friendly refrigerator in rural India, Godrej is partnering with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and micro-finance institutions and collaborating with self-help groups.

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Cloud Surfing

Mumbai's Rajesh Jain, 41, founded Novatium, a Chennai-based company that makes NetPC. The machine is based on cheap cell-phone chips and without the hard- disk drive, extensive memory and pre packaged software that add hundreds of dollars to the cost of regular PCs. Instead, NetPCs are little more than a keyboard, a screen and a couple of USB ports - and use a central network server to run software applications and store data. Novatium sells the NetPC for only US$ 155.

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A Space Odyssey
Studsat, for student satellite, has been designed and built by 45 engineering students across 10 colleges in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Studsat, the tiny satellite, carries a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) camera and four small solar panels mounted for power supply.

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The New Life of Pi
The well-designed Pi is a pretty smart reader. Sleek and handy, the device fits into the palm of your hand and holds more page-turners than the average bookshop.

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The above articles have been taken from IBEF's publications.

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