J for Joy-of-reading

Most of us happen to transition smoothly from listening to our parents tell us stories to reading beautifully illustrated stories ourselves. Even with claims of technology making our lives better, there are millions of people in the world who do not possess the means or knowledge to read text due to vision impairement. Sure, there is text-to-speech on almost every computer, but talk to a visually impaired person, and he will tell you that listening to a computer read out words is far less intuitive than reading a book at one’s own pace.

Making a strong case for the importance of Braille education is this beautiful video from White Print, India’s only lifestyle Braille magazine in English.

It’s 24-years-old founder and publisher Upasana Makati also happens to be lending her soulful voice to the video’s soundtrack.

Amsteraction

Amsterdam

Canals, bicycles, beautiful buildings, design, red light district, tulips, museums, psychedelics—visiting Amsterdam is a deluge on the senses. And yet, we were blown away by even more—Interaction ‘14 conference was a whole new experience for us, where designers and developers were arduously exchanging views about pixels and people, information and behavior, data and impact. We were absolutely blown away by the talk on food interaction by Bernard Lahousse—did you know that you could sweeten the taste of your wine by touching a cuddly soft toy whilw you drink it? We were left awestruck by Scott McCloud’s beautiful visual narrative consisting of 100 odd slides (believe it or not, they went past in a jiffy!), and were charmed by the beautifully woven story of the new Rijks Museum family tour called The Pancake Expedition, designed by a graduating student at TU Delft (families embark on a playful expedition on which they answer some simple questions to form a ship pop-up that also gives them an ancient Dutch pancake recipe).

Rijks Museum in collaboration with TU Delft.

Rijks Museum in collaboration with TU Delft.

Even with all this amazing stuff happening around us, we were waiting excitedly for the final day, for the Interaction Design Awards (IxDA) night. It was a beautiful event held at the The National Maritime Museum, Amsterdam, with its nightsky-inspired ceiling.

A starry ceiling at the National Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

A starry ceiling at the National Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

It was a humbling feeling to be in the middle of some of the most talented people in the field of interaction design, and an even greater feeling to know that Fittle was chosen by them to be one of the 5 finalists in the Empowering category. But, after the craziness of the evening and the trip got wrapped up, all we could think of was, how rad do we look holding that finalist trophy!😀

Debanshu and Tania with the IxDA Finalist Trophy for the Empowering category.

Debanshu and Tania with the IxDA Finalist Trophy for the Empowering category.

Meeting Inspiration

“To succeed in life and achieve results, you must understand and master three mighty forces – desire, belief, and expectation.”

Such are the inspirational words of the man that we got a chance to meet in person. It is said that every engineer and scientist dreams of meeting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam one day. Let us assure you that it is the dream of most Indians, irrespective of field of study, to be able to talk to one of the most respected former Presidents of India; designers included.

Former President of India, Dr. Kalam inaugurating Srujuna innovation center with Mr. Mohan Reddy, Dr. G.N. Rao, Prof. Ramesh Raskar, and Dr. V Sangwan

Former President of India, Dr. Kalam inaugurating Srujuna innovation center with Mr. Mohan Reddy,
Dr. G.N. Rao, Prof. Ramesh Raskar, and Dr. V Sangwan

 

On 25th October, 2013, Dr. Kalam inaugurated Srujuna, an initiative by LV Prasad Eye Institute in collaboration with the Camera Culture group of MIT Media Labs. Supported by global IT firm Infotech, the innovation center aims at fostering young talent in the field of technology, design, and healthcare.

Team Fittle (Dr. Vipin, Tania, Debanshu) presenting to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

Team Fittle (Dr. Vipin, Tania, Debanshu) presenting to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

The innovation center will start off with supporting and guiding some students from the last DIy Workshop. A lot of students from the workshop were present at the inauguration, and some of us got the chance to share our projects with Dr. Kalam. He was very happy to see students working on innovations, and gave us advice on life and success, that kept us thinking even after the event was over. His words will continue to motivate and inspire us to keep working toward betterment.

“No matter what you achieve, you should never be completely satisfied and should always be searching for ways to prove yourself” — Iyadurai Solomon, as quoted by Dr. Kalam in his book, Wings of Fire.

Read more about the inauguration of Srujuna here.

Eyes in the Air

Have you ever seen a surgery happening on an airplane? In a fully equipped Operation Theatre? We have! We were lucky to attend the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Orbis group, who give specialised eye care and surgery training to clinicians all around the world on their one-of-its-kind Flying Eye Hospital (FEH).

Fittle Fish proud to meet the Orbis plane.

Fittle Fish proud to meet the Orbis plane.

Tania Jain, the founder of Fittle, was invited to the craft to present the concept to the “students” in attendance. She was totally blown away (not literally, thankfully) by how well managed the hospital-on-aircraft is, and by the warmth of the doctors managing and training the FEH. Besides getting a bit creeped out by watching an eye being almost taken apart live on the craft, she also presented at the Susrut Eye Foundation & Research Centre, and a State hospital for eyecare in Kolkata, where Orbis had organised a training session and symposium, respectively.

Dr. V. Sangwan introducing Fittle

Dr. V. Sangwan introducing Fittle

Tania explaining the 'F's and the 'I's of Fittle to ophthalmologists under training on the Orbis plane.

Tania explaining the ‘F’s and the ‘I’s of Fittle to ophthalmologists under training on the Orbis plane.

Mr. Ahmed Gomma, MD of Orbis, appreciating the project, with a packaged Fittle Airplane in hand.

Mr. Ahmed Gomma, MD of Orbis, appreciating the project, with a packaged Fittle Airplane in hand.

The Medical Director of Orbis, Mr. Ahmed Gomaa seemed really impressed by the initiative, and expressed his happiness on the fact that the project is open source. Tania gifted him a Fittle Airplane to take around the world on their actual, flying, airplane (yes, the Fittle Airplane shall also fly now), and she got some amazing braille learning toolkits developed by Al-Noor institute in return.

Al-Noor Geometry Kit Cover

Al-Noor Geometry Kit Cover

Al-Noor Geometry Kit

Al-Noor Geometry Kit

Al-Noor Qatari Cuberithm

Al-Noor Qatari Cuberithm

As the day flew past, we were left happily wondering about how amazing the Fittle Airplane is going to feel—probably as amazing as Dr. Vipin feels about becoming a part of his dream hospital through Fittle.

Like a Kite Soaring High!

There are highs and lows in our lives, and then there are those EPIC moments. Like the one in the picture below, where the captain of our ship, Tania Jain, presented the Fittle concept to the legendary Ex-Chairperson of the Tata Group, the-one-and-only Mr. Ratan Tata.

Mr. Ratan Tata with the Kite Fittle.

Mr. Ratan Tata with the Kite Fittle. Photo by John Werner.

As much as chests swelled up in pride, we were also extremely humbled by the kindness of Mr.Tata, when on the August 23rd, 2013, Tania Jain presented Fittle to him, along with two other projects by Tusshar Saigal and Angad Daryani, fellow participants at the DIy workshop, Hyderabad. All 3 students got the opportunity to present to Mr.Tata, because of the DIy Organisers—MIT Media Labs and Tata Centre for Design & Technology, where the amazing John Werner led their way; and curator & lead organiser of TEDxGateway, Yashraj Akashi, helped them prepare their presentations.

We’d like to share with you, the other brilliant projects that were selected to be presented:

Angad Daryani, “the” 15 year old, is working on the development of a virtual brailler along with 3 other students, Vijay Raghav Varada, Raghavendra Sh, and Ankit Prajapati. These students have created an e-reader for the blind, which converts English text to braille tactile feedback. They are working on developing it into a commercial product to be sold at a very low price. When materialized, this device can be a tremendous boon and may replace present-day braille printers, which cost over 2 Lakh rupees.

Tushhar Saigal’s project, a game called Gazemo, is a low cost portable device that automatically diagnoses different eye problems as well as gamifies various eye exercises. The portable device can reach out to millions by travelling to remote areas, instead of thousands travelling to hospitals, as is the case currently. He worked on the project with a team of doctors and engineers, including Vinay, Rajat. Shireesh, and Parag.

Gazemo by Tusshar and team (Vinay, Rajat, Shireesh, Parag)

Gazemo by Tusshar and team (Vinay, Rajat, Shireesh, Parag)

After the students’ presentation, Mr.Tata said that he was extremely moved by their passion and dedication to their work and also that the business group may look into funding these projects. At the end of the session, we also presented a Kite Fittle to the man of the moment.

Ratan Tata

The Man himself. Photo by John Werner.

We take pride in this beautiful moment, and also resolve to take Fittle forward as our responsibility to brighten up the lives of blind children! Help us spread the love!

Fittle with the Fellows!

The month long preparation and hard work has finally culminated into a great start. In the resort town of Whistler, Canada, Fittle is being exhibited among an enthusiastic and amazing set of people at the TED Fellows Retreat. The conference, which is the first ever, has over 225 people in attendance from over 70 countries. And Fittle is among the few selected projects presented. This is an epic moment for us and we’re totally jumping off our chairs!

Tom Reilly, TED Fellows & Community Director showcases FITTLE at the TED Fellows Retreat in Whistler, Canada.  Photo: Ryan Lash

Tom Reilly, TED Fellows & Community Director showcases FITTLE at the TED Fellows Retreat in Whistler, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash

Tom Rielly, Community & Fellows Director, TED Conferences, showcased the new cricket bat Fittle at the conference on August 19, 2013, apart from showcasing the Fittle introductory video. We are told that the TED community, which was already charmed by the original Fittle fish, got totally bowled over by the video, and has been keeping Dr. Anthony busy with questions about Fittle. Many speakers, senior fellows and other delegates were so moved by this simple idea, that some of them shared their beautiful stories with him. While Dr. Anthony is giving demos at the Open Lab everyday, the four brand new Fittles are also getting printed there, courtesy the awesome Makerbot Replicator 2!

TEDFellows Retreat 2013. August 17 - 21, 2013, Whistler, BC. Photo: Ryan Lash

Fittle video being showcased at the conference. Photo: Ryan Lash

Fittle video being showcased at the conference. Photo: Ryan Lash

Fittle video being showcased at the conference. Photo: Ryan Lash

Here is a video of the cricket bat Fittle being printed, hot and fresh!

On another good note, Fittle has already collected $960 from patrons and kind-hearted do-gooders within the first 4 days of its Indiegogo campaign. To know more, visit the link here. We would love to have your support to help us reach every visually challenged kid in the world. Show some love, and help us spread the word!

Quote-Unquote “People who have less but can do more”

Recently, we came across an incident in the life of the amazing Satyabrata Dam, where he trekked with three differently abled, high-spirited gentlemen to Celliac. Although, we have no knowledge about treks or mountaineering, but the sheer delight in human determination, the pride in life with all its surprises, and the excitement to have begun work in education for visually challenged kids, made us sit up and pay attention when we read Satya’s blogpost.

In his own words, this was his ‘best climb’ till date. When Dam undertook this trek about 16 years ago, with 3 courageous men, Marc, Matt and Jeff, he had no clue whether they would make it to the summit. No, it wasn’t the toughest climb, nor was it the highest peak; but he was infused with a sense of responsibility towards his (just-made) friends—Marc, a middle-aged athletic man with a wide grin and artificial lower limbs; Matt, who was profusely determined to trek despite being totally blind, and Jeff, a paraplegic who couldn’t move or feel anything on his right. This wasn’t the responsibility of helping them reach the top, because as you read the blog you’ll realize that, with the amount of faith and determination these men had, there was no stopping them. The responsibility was to be with them as they realized this dream, the responsibility was to show enough trust in their capabilities, and the responsibility was to be fully aware of the limitations, as well as special abilities, of this special team.

Reading this, we realized how much one can achieve just through one’s dreams and conviction, and how little we know about the power of our minds. If you’ve ever felt let down in any of your attempts (and we’re pretty certain there must have been such instances if you’re human and not a bot, or the-guy-wearing-his-underwear-over-his-pants), you should definitely read it—not for them, but for yourself.

Satya’s mom, Mrs. Sabita Dam, braille expert, educator, and a social worker, has agreed to be a part of Fittle, and help us in our endeavor to prepare the first curriculum for visually challenged children. We’re pretty kicked about it!

Satyabrata Dam

Satyabrata Dam, is a leading mountaineer and polar explorer with nearly 35 years of climbing career. He is the only person in the world who has successfully led expeditions to the three poles—Mt Everest, North and South Poles. He has climbed the highest peaks in all the seven continents. He is a published author and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (UK) and of TED (USA). He was a Submarine Commander in the Indian Navy and had commanded two submarines. He took voluntary retirement in 2010 after 22 years of commissioned service to pursue a full time career in the field of adventure, environment advocacy, writing and photography. See his full profile here.