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Rohit Singhal

Intel, in collaboration with the Indo-Us Science and Technology Forum and the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India, organized an innovative technology business plan competition for students from all educational institutions in India, called the DST-Intel India Innovation Pioneers Challenge 2006-07. The Team Sparsha Systems from IIT Kharagpur, with the Product Sanyog, consisting of Rohit Singhal and Soumyajit Dey, won the First prize. The winners were felicitated by Shri Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Science, Technology and Earth Sciences, on July 20, 2007 at New Delhi, and were awarded a prize cheque for Rs. 3 Lakh, along with the unique opportunity to represent India at the Intel - University of California Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge 2007, to be held in November, at Berkeley, USA.

Rohit was part of the ISC 2003 batch at Loyola School, Jamshedpur. He is the son of Dr. Naresh Singhal (Class of 1965).

Rohit presenting the plan

The contest was organized in multiple stages, spread over a period of 11 months. In September 2006, the organizers received 190 entries, from which they short-listed the top 20 business ideas. In the second stage of the contest, the teams were invited to Bangalore in November, to present their business plans to a panel of successful entrepreneurs from the industry and academia, and venture capitalists, who then mentored the top 8 teams for a period of 5 months, after which the final round of the contest was held in Bangalore in May 2007. Some of the evaluation criteria were the analysis of the elevator pitch of the entire business plan; its feasibility; the products and services provided; the marketing proposal; the financial aspects of the business idea; and the strength of the participating team.

Receiving the award from Mr. Kapil Sibal, Minister, DST

Rohit Singhal graduated from IIT Kharagpur in May 2007 with a Bachelor of Technology (Honours) degree in Computer Science and Engineering, and is currently an Assistant Manager at ITC Limited. Soumyajit Dey is a Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering, 2006, from IIT Kharagpur, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Computer Architectures at IIT Kharagpur.

Madhuri Kapur is a young woman from Kolkata, suffering from cerebral palsy. Her complex communication needs can be gauged from the fact that she uses an alphabet-board to communicate, and a head-pointer to access a computer keyboard.

Sanyog is a unique vernacular augmentative and alternative communication tool for the disabled, developed at the Communication Empowerment Lab in IIT Kharagpur, under the guidance of Prof. Anupam Basu, to be used by people like Madhuri.

Sanyog has been developed for the speech-impaired, and patients suffering from cerebral palsy and autism. The system comprises of three speech-enabled communication interfaces: (i) Icons based, (ii) Pre-stored messages based, and (iii) A soft keyboard for message composition. In the Iconic communication interface, the system displays words and their pictorial representations, from which the user can select the desired icons to construct the sentence to be communicated. The sequence of icon selection starts with the verb in the sentence, followed by the subject, the object, and the desired tense. The icon selections are converted into a sentence in the chosen language, which is subsequently converted into speech output. The second interface aids a disabled person with restricted communication needs by allowing the person to select the desired sentence from a customizable list of pre-stored sentences, and converting it into speech output. Use of the soft keyboard interface to construct sentences eliminates the effort required for typing on the computer keyboard.

The desktop version of the software

Access to the system is made simple using a single input signal. Currently, the system is available for three different languages: English, Hindi, and Bengali; and can be easily extended to incorporate new languages into the system. The product will be available as software for desktop platforms, and will also be bundled into a dedicated handheld platform. Special access switches have also been developed for users with high degrees of physical disability, which can be used between a person's palm and the handle of a wheel chair to operate the system.

The set of icons denoting the subject of the sentence

The desktop-version has been successfully field-tested and deployed at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP), Kolkata; Action for Ability Development and Inclusion, New Delhi; and the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Hyderabad. The handheld-version is proposed to be ready for use by December 2007. An Indian patent for the technology used by the system was filed in 2005.

Sanyog targets 0.26 million speech impaired, 0.08 million cerebral palsy patients, and 1.05 million autistic patients in urban India. Currently, no such product exists in the Indian market. The product will provide communication empowerment to the disabled, generate vocational employment, and can also be used to provide vernacular education. It is proposed to price the desktop-version at Rs. 10,000, whereas the handheld-version will be available for Rs. 20,000. A web-based version will also be available for annual subscription charges of Rs. 2,500.

IICP has officially endorsed Sanyog and has expressed intent to purchase more units of the desktop-version and the handheld-version when the product would be available in the market.

Contact Rohit Singhal.

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