Exploring the Sixth Sense

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He has seamlessly managed to connect the digital world with the physical world; created intelligent sticky notes that can send one a reminder and a pen that can draw in 3D! Pranav Mistry, India’s very own tech genius wowed the world along with his MIT Media Lab advisor, Pattie Maes at TED2009 as he demonstrated the mind-blowing SixthSense technology. It all began with a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from Nirma Institute of Technology, Ahmadabad and a Masters in Design from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, after which Mistry went on to pursue a Masters in Media Arts and Sciences from the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT). Today, the ‘designeer’ continues his extensive research as a Research Assistant at the MIT Media Lab, blending technology with design and vice versa. For this PhD candidate, life has evidently not been the same since his TED moment!
SixthSense is a gesture-based technology that comprises a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera, which can be worn like a pendant. The possibilities are endless and using any surface, one is able to simply draw a watch and see the time, pick up a book at a bookstore and read Internet reviews on any page of the book, or even check whether your flight is running on time using your boarding pass as the receptive surface. The technology aggregates all searches from the Internet.
Speaking of the inspiration behind his 2009 invention Mistry says, “SixthSense was a result of lengthy research conducted by me from a very long time. Basically, I have always wanted to create something that world be as easy as interacting with things we use everyday, such as a cooking utensil or even a pen. My inspiration was the real world, since the physical world is so beautiful! Spending much time in front of computers tends to take us away from the human experience. We are confined to this ‘rectangular screen’, which acts as a block in making information free to all. Simply put, I wanted to paint the world with pixels.” When asked whether he feels that the human experience will diminish with this technology, he goes on to explain that it is in actual fact, the other way around. “I want people to meet face to face; to actually touch products and learn more about them. This is very important instead of just seeing something on screen. The key reason is that the physical world is still important. The digital world offers one the advantages of speed and connectivity,” explains Mistry, who hopes to eventually do away with computers. “ It’s about time we stopped asking what the computer can do for us, and instead ask ourselves what we can do for the computer,” the innovator says.
Mistry believes that in the future, this technology could be developed to such an extent, that we could even come to know which materials were used to make an object like a spoon. “The human mind is curious to know more. We will always want to know whether the spoon has been made in India or abroad. Th at’s when the digital world comes in. So yes, it’s very possible the technology will reach that stage,” he states.
Unlike most tech companies today, Mistry has made SixthSense available as an open source code, allowing anyone and everyone to utilise this amazing piece of technology. After all, he believes that technology should not reach just a handful of people. “It should even be used by the developing and under developed countries.” says Mistry in the humblest of tones.
As someone who has studied at the Mecca of technology – MIT, Mistry who started off with a brilliant foundation at IIT, Bombay feels that the visibility offered by Indian schools is fantastic. “At conferences, I’ve seen many promising projects by Indian students. However, to improve our educational facilities, the solutions should come from within India; we should not look to the West for the same,” he believes.
Mistry, who hails from the small town of Palanpur in Gujarat visits his hometown often and plans to go back in January 2012. “I get so many emails from young students in my hometown and elsewhere in India as they are inspired by me. The power of the youth is the key for a country to become successful. The youth must continue to follow their passions and at the same time leverage the educational facilities,” feels Mistry.
When asked about whether he always dreamed of becoming a scientist, Mistry replies with a laugh saying, “Yes and no; in fact, I still dream a lot. I’ve always dreamt of doing something on the lines of being a creator and not just a consumer. This has helped me build my skills to innovate new things. I continue to contribute in the best way that I can.”
“We have become very social and we take this social aspect into the virtual world too. Computers could become invisible in the future,” concludes an optimist Mistry. The young innovator who is strangely not a huge fan of science fiction continues to woo global imagination with inventions like Teletouch and Mouseless. At the moment, he is working on a blinkbased robot control programme in Japan. All one has to do is blink at the robot, and move their head and blink in another direction, after which the robot gets the message that it has to move. We can only wait and watch as this genius continues to add new dimensions to the real and digital world!

Volume 1 Issue 4

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