“The way you use your fingertip to move the mouse, I would use my nose to move the screen. This was a tedious task, my neck would hurt as I had to bend a lot even if I had placed the mobile phone on the table.”
That is Nonita Gangwani talking in a video for Dextroware Devices, an IIT-Madras incubated start-up. The senior resident doctor in physiology uses the wheelchair and has multiple sclerosis that curtails her hand functions.
She has found a helping hand in a head-wearable device called Mouseware that allows her to make power point presentations on the laptop, paint and independently shop on eCommerce sites.
A major credit for this goes to Chennai-based engineer Pravin Kumar who was instrumental in designing this assistive device for persons with disabilities, especially upper limb (arms) amputees, or those who do not have control over their hands and fingers.
Recently, Pravin was declared the national winner of the prestigious James Dyson Award 2023 for his innovation — Mouseware. The technology enables control of smart devices, allowing individuals to interact with digital devices. The 25-year-old would get ₹5 lakh as prize and also represent India in the international round that is scheduled to be held in November.
“We launched Mouseware last year and we are now in the process of deploying it in the market to see how it will do,” says Pravin who is pinning his hopes on the international exposure the product will get.
As per an Indian study, nearly 40,000 people lose their upper limb a year and 85% of them continue to live without any redemptive solutions. Pravin and his six-member team at IIT-Madras Research Park are working to make the assistive device more accessible.
The eureka moment
Pravin did not sit for campus placements and started Dextroware Devices after his engineering study in 2020.
“The human and computer interaction has always fascinated me, and during my second year of college I had come up with some ideas that revolved around assistive technologies,” says the electronics and communication engineer from Rajalakshmi Engineering College.
A cap for the visually-challenged that will capture an image and narrate what is happening in front of them, a glove that will help people with speech impairment communicate and a device for those with limited hand movement were some of those ideas, and in the latter he saw maximum potential.
“My earliest prototype was in the form of a headphone (sensors were placed on a headphone),” he says. After meeting and talking to specially-abled people, the device went through a lot of changes. “The product went through a lot of changes functionally and ergonomically,” says Pravin, founder and CEO of the start-up.
The start-up wants to reach out to special schools, hospitals and rehabilitation centres that work with people with upper limb disabilities.
“We have partnered with a non-profit to promote this product,” he says. Non-profit Vidya Sagar, where he co-created the product, continues to support him.
“We are next working on a technology that will help a wheelchair user move with head movements,” says Pravin.