[Techie Tuesdays] Aravind -The open source hardware genius who has burnt more than his proverbial fingers


Aravind M A is an open source enthusiast both in software and hardware. While pursuing his interests he burnt a lot of electrical appliances at his home and college! He has conducted workshops on Android, mechanical workshop like lathe, drilling machine etc. and has a dedicated group called PhotoElectricChefs where they believe in learning by doing.

His area of interests is robotics which ranges from a line follower robot to deeper aspects of advanced robotics like image processing.

Aravind with his Puppet Project

He says that he is involved with 10 colleges in Bangalore like PESIT, BMS, BMSIT etc where he helps final year students by training them to do their projects in open source. He says that it is disheartening when some students do not share their work. “They learn and after that they are nowhere to be found,” he rues.

Generally, when talking about Open Hardware it is assumed to be just Arduino, but that is not the case he says. He explains this by taking the example of Home Automation (which alone can be built as a company itself) where he mentions that it is not just the circuitry, but the mechanical and industrial design should be made open source. The end product is both software and hardware and that is the reason he doesn’t restrict himself to a particular domain.

Along with his friends, he ensures that the product they make serves end to end purpose i.e. the hardware you manufacture and the final product should be such that you should be able to feed an open source code on it.

When not experimenting, Aravind is also a consultant. He has contributed in the development of a water management application, various Android applications and media control devices. He is currently the Junior Research Fellow in the Intelligent Control Systems area at IISC, Bangalore. “An intelligent control system works on a thin line between Artificial Intelligence and Human Intelligence,” he explains.

Aravind’s final year project brought him fame. His final year project was a puppet; but it wasn’t any ordinary puppet. He had this puppet stringed to motors and had it made in such a way using a kinnet camera that if he moved his hand or danced, the puppet mimicked his movements. His journey started from the project where he had to do everything from designing using mechanical components to core electronics which involved extraction of 3D image. It was a complete open source extravaganza from there on.

When asked about softwares like Matlab, he says that he isn’t in favor of it because of its huge cost. He agrees that in open source too everything need not be free and quotes the example of RedHat which is priced reasonably.

When talking about hardware, he again quotes the example of home automation saying that the leading companies in this field like Honeywell charges quite high when compared to the making the PCB board and other equipments. “The price reduction might be around 80 to 90 percent,” he claims.

It all started with the inspiration from FSMK (Free Software Movement of Karnataka). He says that he was a Windows guy and gradually changed to Linux guy after encouragement from his friends to do open source based programs. I got better with time and people helped me in this learning journey. The freedom which his alma mater, PESIT, gave has helped him hone his skills. The freedom provided to experiment in the college was immense, and he says that they once even burnt their lab down! But that is not all; he has burnt his house down too, while experimenting on home automation.

He feels even Arduino is a little costly and one can design their own at a cheaper price. Not many try this because of the fear of not meeting the high quality standards. “At best, you will fail. Make another one then,” he advises.

He had made an app called ‘Happy Auto’ where customers can rate their experience which will then get redirected to the police via their server. The next version is the tablet, whose prototype has been built. It will be placed behind in the auto and will contain information about the driver, the GPS location tracker which will be redirected to his server and have an emergency button on the side. In case it goes offline, the nearest traffic police will be able to track down the auto from the last know location of the auto. He is looking for someone to fund the idea. He maintains that this is a social cause rather than establishing it as a commercial model.

Hardware industry is not booming in India even when there is a lot of potential. At a student level, he wants to set up an incubation center where they can design, manufacture and produce products. He feels the government should kickstart the project of establishing the hardware industry in Karnataka. “There is going to be a gradual change and revolution from Open Source Hardware to Freedom Hardware, a free will to change the hardware and not put caps on the price of the product,” he claims.

You can know more about building hardware startups in India by attending the meetup - http://yourstory.com/2014/06/hardware-startups-india/ 


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