3D Print to TALK: An Interview with Arsh Shah Dilbagi

1625609_669006186495854_1728802139_nIn February this year we built ourselves a 3D printer, not knowing what would come of it, but excited by the possibilities of what it could potentially allow us to do. Since then we’ve facilitated 3D printing workshops, played host to Delhi Maker Events, and now have the semblances of a Maker Lab within the Vihara Innovation Campus. At one of the Delhi Maker Events we hosted, we were introduced to a young man, Arsh Shah Dilbagi, who was building a device for people with speaking disabilities, caused for a variety of reasons. He demonstrated his 3D models to the group, and even printed some of his parts on our 3D printer. Arsh it turned out, is a 16 year old high-school student from Panipat, who was traveling back and forth, from Panipat to Delhi, to develop his device. In 2010 his parents gifted him a LEGO Mindstorms Kit and since then he’s been making & learning. He’s been honored by the President of India, for a working prototype of an Autonomous UGV he conceived and designed. He has won National and Regional level prizes at the IRO 2010, IRO 2011 and FLL 2011. Arsh is now one of the 15 finalists in Google’s 2014 Science Fair, his entry being the device that he demonstrated at the Meet. It’s called TALK. So when Arsh reached out to us to ask is he could borrow our 3D printer to prototype his device over the next month before the final round in the Google CA Headquarters, we couldn’t hesitate to yes. Certainly it’s in the facilitation of the creation of, and research into new and impactful products, such as TALK, where the learning networks built by institutions like the Vihara Innovation Campus, and communities like Delhi Makers, become important and necessary. Below is a brief interview with Arsh, we look forward to more details on his device, but until then we wish him at the best.

What is TALK?
TALK is an Augmentative and Assistive Communication (AAC) device for people with Developmental Disabilities like Locked-In Syndrome, ALS, people who have gone through Tracheotomy Surgery, people with Vocal Cord Paralysis, Speech Impairments like Dysarthria and even Mutes. It is the world’s first and only wearable AAC Device for people who are almost entirely paralysed. TALK requires the person to give two distinguishable exhales either from the nose or mouth which are interpreted as Morse Code and converted into sentences and phrases. It has 9 different voices not only for different genders but also for different age groups. TALK also has a Command Mode wherein the user can specify a word or a phrase for each letter and Encoding using which the user can trim down commonly used sentences like ‘Hello, How are you?’ to ‘HH’.

What was your inspiration to create TALK?
The major inspiration was ‘To do Something for the Mankind’. I have always been inspired by what Stephen Hawking has given to this world inspite of the motor neuron disease he is suffering from. I wondered why the technology could not move forward from cumbersome, bulky and slow devices to the ones of 21st century. The main ideology behind TALK was to make a difference in the lives of a very particular set of people, which have not been under the radar of existing inventors & innovators.

What has been the Journey of TALK so far?
My research started around an year ago, and it took me somewhere near 3 months to collect all the know-how on what problems are and how can I actually solve it. I started-off by looking at all the existing solutions, either commercially available or still under development, and by looking I mean critically analysing them all. Their pros-cons where they lack and how can they be better. But by the time I was done with my research I decided not to build over or improve an existing solution but to start all over again with an unheard idea of using Breath as the means of communication. Though I was able to hypothesise what I wanted to make, the research went parallel with the project. Finding the best sensors, the best binary code which can be used and so on.

Tell us about Google Science Fair.
Google Science Fair is a worldwide event. Students between the age of 13-18 yrs can submit their ideas and projects. Projects are submitted online at GSF’s own website and relevant information has to be provided under the right headings like – Summary, Method & Design, Research etc. In the first round Google selects Top 90 who are interviewed by the judges and if deserving promoted to the Top 15. The Top 15 Global Finalists are called at the Google CA Headquarters for the final event.

How have you/are using 3D printing in your work on TALK?
I strongly believe that the form factor of a product weighs equally when compared to any other aspect. I’m a bit fussy about small details and the same is true for the enclosures I put the circuits in. This is where 3D Printing comes in, I am currently using two 3D Printers, one for early prototyping (Prusa i3) and other for the final industrial grade enclosure (uPrint SE Plus).

Method - 09

Method - 10

What have been the challenges or obstacles you have had to overcome with TALK?
It has been really challenging to build something entirely different from the ground-up while using limited resources I had. I was constantly travelling between Panipat and Delhi, which is no less than a 3hrs drive, to get the enclosures printed, PCBs fabricated, consulting doctors and testing TALK. Using Breath also posed a lot of challenges in coding the firmware. It took me nearly 7 months to make a computation engine, which I call the Morse Engine, from scratch. Morse Engine deletes the noise from the input, distinguishes the signals as short or long bursts, then converts it into Morse Code (applying auto correction if necessary) and thereafter combines the data into words/phrases for further synthesisation. Since I wanted TALK to be in reach of everyone, I had to fit the Morse Engine in a processor with a storage of less than 1mb.

What is next for TALK?
I’m working on apps for Android and iOS smart devices, for wearable tech like smart watches, doing away with the need for an independent synthesising circuit. I’m also designing a Learning Program for TALK, which will work with all majors OS’ and help users learn Morse Code and how to use TALK. I also wish to add Machine Learning to the Morse Engine in the future versions of TALK.

For more details on Arsh’s device, click here, and if you’d like to vote for his project, click here.

About Namrata Mehta

Namrata Mehta or @littlenemrut, is Director of Innovation at the Center for Knowledge Societies, New Delhi. She has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Delhi University, and a postgraduate diploma in Experimental Media Arts, from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore.
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