Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Mapping The Moods

Nitin Vasanth has invented an electrode that traces the mental state of a person, with the help of a smart phone

Photos: Nitin Vasanth by Albin Mathew; the Rajeev Circle Fellows; Nitin is fourth from right 

By Shevlin Sebastian

As his name was called, Nitin Vasanth felt a shiver of excitement as he strode on stage at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on March 17.

The 23-year-old received The Gandhian Young Technological Innovation Award from Ramesh Mashelkar, a former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Nitin’s prize-winning entry was called ‘NeuroBuds - Brain Wave Mapping Smart Earphones’.

Apart from the award, the Kozhikode-born Nitin received a grant of Rs 15 lakh to do further research.

While doing his B. Tech in electronics from the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), Nitin came up with the idea of tracking the mental state of any person through an app on the smartphone.

With that end in mind, Nitin put electrodes inside an earphone and then placed it in the ear. “These electrodes are similar to what we use to measure the heart,” says Nitin. “You have seen doctors placing them on the chest. But it is based on a different principle called the Electro-Encephalography.”

In this case, the electrodes help in tracking your mental state. “For example, when you do meditation, the brain emits a particular frequency, which is different from when you are angry or sad,” says Nitin. These messages will appear on the app.

When you find that your stress levels are too high, you can take steps to bring it down, by taking deep breaths, going for a walk, listening to music, or seeing a film,” says Nitin.

Nitin is targeting the stressed-out working professionals, from the ages of 25 to 45. “They are usually short of time and not aware of the stresses they are under,” says Nitin. “This device will make them realise they need to ease up. As a result, they can avoid health issues and save up of on medical costs.”

But Nitin is not yet ready for mass production, as he wants to fine-tune it some more. For that he is getting help from companies like Bosch and Intel.

In fact, in February, Nitin was selected for a five-month ‘accelerator’ programme, organised by Intel and the Department of Science and Technology. So Nitin and the members of his firm, ‘Neuro Tech’, were able to access the Intel Lab at Bangalore and interact with the engineers.

But his turning point came when he was selected for the Rajeev Circle Fellowship to spend the month of May in Silicon Valley, California. (Rajeev is the first name of the late Motwani, a professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, who was a mentor to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin).

I met a lot of entrepreneurs, investors, and venture capitalists,” says Nitin. “I got to know what works, what doesn't, and what I should focus on. Our group of 11 was allowed access to the R&D labs of Google and Facebook. We saw the frenzy of innovation first-hand. It was a huge learning experience.”

And Nitin was very much taken up by the work culture in the Valley. “People are ready to help each other, even among start-ups,” he says. “There is competition, but they believe that there is space for everybody. Failure is not seen as a disaster. If one thing does not work, they try something else.”

Today, the Bangalore-based Nitin is working hard to ensure that his ear plug becomes a world-class product.

Meanwhile, one who is sure of his success is Unni A M, Associate Professor, Electronics Engineering, CUSAT. “Nitin is extremely dedicated to his work,” he says. “Since 2013, he has been working on this project. He wants to ensure that it materialises and becomes useful for society. I am sure, in future, he will be someone to reckon with.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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