While on one hand, ‘Siri’ and ‘Alexa’ are performing our menial tasks on a single voice command, at the same time, even now, over eighty-five lakh Indians with hearing and speech disability find it extremely difficult to communicate properly with the rest of the population. Though the standard Indian sign language is prevailing for decades and vehemently used in the country, very few of the ‘hearing-abled’ people learn it willingly.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
To bridge this gap, Jaipur-based Sonant Technologies has developed a futuristic device for individuals with hearing and speech impairment. Named as ‘VOIS’, the device converts the text entered through a tactile glove into speech which is conveyed through a speaker. In addition, any interactive speech is converted into readable texts for the user, which is displayed on a wristband screen synced with the device. Recently, the device received considerable appreciation from the Prime Minister himself and presently it is awaiting a patent.
From a hobby project to a hope for millions: Sonant Technologies
“During my childhood, I was in close acquaintance with a neighbour who was hearing and speech-impaired. That was how I learnt about the day to day struggles faced by these people. In the absence of a proper mode of communication, they are forced to stay isolated from the mainstream,” Abhinav shares with Efforts For Good, adding that the urge to discover a solution to this crisis had always been at the back of his mind. As an engineering student, Abhinav started working on a prototype of the device as a ‘hobby project’. “I tested the basic version of the device on my neighbour. The ray of hope gleaming in his eyes after a trial usage, motivated me to devote myself to this project full-time,” he mentions while sharing how he surrendered his dream to pursue higher research abroad to make ‘VOIS’ a reality today.
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The device comprises a pair of smart gloves with several ‘touch points’ – each of which represent a particular letter, word or sentence. “As of now, we have programmed the device to work only in English and Hindi, but we are working to incorporate around 80 other regional languages as well,” declares Abhinav.
The device can be used in three distinct modes – Sentence Mode (where each distinct spot designates a frequently used sentence or phrase, as customised by the user), Word Mode (each spot represents a regularly used word) & Full Language Mode (each touch spot corresponds to one alphabet or sound). When these spots are touched accordingly, the desired sentence/word is spoken out through a speaker.
Additionally, the ‘VOIS’ comprises a Listening Mode, when someone’s voice is converted into corresponding text for the deaf user, which he or she can easily read from the screen on the wristband.
Another significant feature of the device has to be the ‘Essential Alert’ system. “I knew a couple, both hearing-impaired, whose guilt feeling knew no bounds when they discovered that their newborn baby has been crying for a long time at night. The ‘Essential Alert’ system can be a saviour in such cases,” Abhinav explains, “Critical sounds like alarms, the crying of a baby, the doorbell ringing, a car honking on the street will be converted into vibrations of different patterns and intensity, alerting the user in time.”
Appreciations aplenty from the PM himself
‘VOIS’ is scheduled to be commercially launched by March 2019, in an affordable price range. It has already garnered international attention through a number of innovation conclaves and entrepreneurship competitions, most of which ‘VOIS’ has aced. Abhinav Vashishtha and Abhishek Gupta co-founded Sonant Technologies, which manufactured this technological marvel. “Our company has received financial and mentorship support from the State and Central Government. At the Indo-Israel Summit, this year, PM Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Netanyahu seemed to be visibly impressed by our device. In fact, PM Modi has even appreciated the product more than once in his speeches,” shares an excited Abhinav.
“They don’t trust us easily”
More than one unscrupulous agencies have duped the hearing-impaired community with promises of magical solutions to their limitations, causing the people to grow sceptical, even apathetic in some cases when Abhinav approached them with his device. “They do not want to be treated with sympathy or be deceived. That is why it took us a long time to blend in with them, understand their daily struggles and needs,” he shares.
How ‘VOIS’ can impact the society
“In Western countries, hearing and speech-impaired persons are able to read and write perfectly correct sentences. They are working as doctors, engineers, lawyers and what not. Whereas, look at India, where these people have no opportunities for accessible education, skill training and employment,” regrets Abhinav, when asked if they feel their device will bring forth a change.
The sign language in India is so poorly taught and communicated that only a handful of people with hearing or speech disability will be able to articulate a proper sentence. “If they want to say “My friend’s name is Rajesh”, most of them will end up arriving at “I friend Rajesh,” he reveals. With ‘VOIS’, the spirited duo is hoping to do away with this hindrance.
After testing their device on around a hundred people in India and over twenty people in the UK, the founders are content with highly positive feedback.
“Though the usage of the device involves an elaborate training procedure, we are working day and night to make it more comprehensive and user-friendly,” Abhinav assures.
The significance of the name
The founders have thoughtfully christened the device as ‘VOIS’ – derived from the French word ‘vois’ meaning ‘to see’. “We are opening a new vision for the hearing and speech-impaired community while gifting them a voice,” elaborates Abhinav.
Efforts For Good applauds this amazing innovation and hopes lakhs of Indians are truly benefitted from it.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.