Ankit shows me his latest hack which he did using Arduino. It syncs with your Google calendar via wifi, and alerts whenever there is an important meeting coming up. Well that is how he reminded himself of our meeting. Ankit Daftery is a programmer, a hardware hacker and a photographer, all rolled in one.
Ankit is also an Interaction Designer at Arduino India. While most techies start quite early with their education, Ankit’s claim to fame was the fact that he flunked the interviews for his LKG the first time he appeared for it. His dad got a computer when he was in the first standard and he started learning along with his dad.
“I just used to sit next to my dad and observe him doing various things. He used to explain things once in a while. It was during this process that I messed up the Windows installation multiple times. My dad was very patient with me; he never scolded me for messing things up.”
Soon Ankit had his way with LOGO and DOS, and started learning more things with technology. When he was in class VI, his dad got a casio digital diary. “I used to play around with the diary after dad would go to sleep and would keep it back before he woke up in the morning. It was a very interesting piece of technology.” When he was in class VIII, one of the friends of his dad taught him oracle. Ankit says, “Even though I learnt all the commands, I had no idea what they were used for, I could not make any head or tail of them.”
It was in school that he learned C and C++. “I used to go and ask for the program which we needed to do next week so that I could prepare in advance. “After finishing my task, I would go around the lab solving problems of my friends and acting kind of over smart.”
His real education began when he joined college. “I did not take computer science because I could learn that anytime. However, I was more interested in what goes on behind the scenes and hence took electronics.” He joined the robotics society in the college to learn more.
Ankit says, “One day, I walked into the robotics lab and asked a senior who was working there what he was doing. They were extremely patient with my questions and then it was just a matter of time before I was fascinated with what they were trying to accomplish. The first email I sent was to Raghav (Head of Robotics Society) asking him what I could do to join the Robotics Society. I was really lucky to have a patient and amazing bunch of seniors.”
During his college technical fest, they made a wireless hand gesture based device using which you can interact with computers, play around with robots and do a lot of cool things. “It was only afterwards when I saw a TED talk by Pranav Mistry, I realised our project was outdated.” In the third year, Ankit attended a workshop on Design and Innovation which changed the course of his life. It was in that workshop where he learned about Android, Hardware, Integration and different aspects of design. Later, he made the application eZpaste on Android using which one could seamlessly paste text between the computer and cell phone. In another instance, Ankit made an app called BrailleType, which is a keyboard for the visually challenged, using Android touch devices.
Ankit says during his placements when everyone was writing programs in C and C++, he impressed his interviewer by writing programs in Python. Needless to say he was placed. But Ankit didn't take that offer and joined MediaLab Amsterdam which was a Makerspace sort of place where you could do interesting projects for clients.
Some of the very interesting projects he did there involved Building Amsterdam reality, where he was involved in making a prototype of a physical object which was to be placed in public spaces that makes people aware of the past and present of Amsterdam. This installation came with a local wi-fi network to act as a mobile access point to browse all the information available on the physical installation via a mobile interface.
Another interesting project which Ankit did involved an Arduino-based device known as Thought for a Penny, where you can drop a penny to know the thought for the day. And another Arduino-based Breathlyser which is an alcohol sensor and logs your alcohol intake in a Google spreadsheet and can also tweet it for you adding a social element to your drinking habits.
Ankit came back from Amsterdam in September 2013 and has been working with Arduino since then. Paranoid about data, Ankit has an interesting idea for his DeathNote (A sort of onlineWill). He says it is highly encrypted and can be accessed by three of his close confidantes only in coordination with each other. Talking about his future dreams, Ankit says he wants to be a travelling photographer and recruiter for companies.
For people who are starting out in the field, Ankit has one advice, don’t restrict yourself to technology; and as an aside quips, “don’t spend time reading about such advice, instead go out and build things to learn.”
He ends with a parting quote that he came across, “We are all musicians, painters and artists, everything else is just a way to pay the bills.”