NEW TECHNOLOGIES IMPACTING LIVES

From virtual reality to artificial intelligence, robotics, meta-materials, 3D printing and smart objects, Indian companies are lighting up the path with their advances in these new technologies.

Words: Priya Narayan

With the 21st century, we have stepped into a new world and the next phase of technological change. Our lives are enhanced by the introduction of new materials, and more importantly by the merging of devices with networks and software.

Many Indian companies, research and academic institutions have taken the plunge into these rapidly changing domains, impacting our lives from home to work to recreation and to the services we use. They are enhancing our experiences, bringing greater ease and are enabling us to do things that we couldn’t have thought of a decade ago.

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VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality creates a computer-generated simulation of a realistic environment for a person, through an electronic device. A person, in such a scenario, can virtually become a part of that environment, interact with it and also manipulate it.

It creates a sense of being physically present in a completely different environment, providing a practical solution to things that cannot always be experienced in reality.

A range of specialised electronic equipment such as helmets with screens, gloves with sensors and omni-directional treadmills are commonly used for creating such a simulated reality that enable the user to sense this virtual environment, while also modifying itself based on the user’s actions.

Some start-ups in India are currently using this technology in the architecture and construction industry to provide customers with a realistic simulation of how their future property will look; some are using it as a tool for story-telling, combining technology with creativity to offer customers a live experience of stories or even video games; some are using it to recreate incidents that could range from an individual’s memory to a thrilling cricket match; and there are others who are using this as a tool for education and training.

Virtual Reality has found applications in fields ranging from sports to medicine and even defence. It is changing the way we interact with our digital technologies, while also humanising our technology.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Artificial Intelligence or AI as it is commonly known is an area of computer science where intelligent machines that can work and react like humans are created.

They can now perform tasks that require visual perception, learning, problem solving and decision-making, to name a few.

Such intelligent machines perceive their environment and maximise their chances of success at a particular goal.

AI has multiple applications in almost every field and entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers and physicists are exploring the possibilities of its application in each field.

There are companies in India that make advanced AI tools which in turn can be used to develop robots that can assist professionals in their tasks; some that are enabling computers to perform tasks like object recognition, gaze tracking, emotion expression detection and 3D facial recognition that can be used in finding specific objects on e-commerce sites; some that gather data, structures and facts in companies and help them communicate this information in a personalised way; and there are others that are using AI to create chat bots that help people buy whatever they want through a simple chat interface

In all these examples and many others, it is clear how easily machines can become a substitute for certain human tasks.

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ROBOTICS

Robotics, a popular field, is a branch of technology that involves designing, constructing and operating robots. These robots resemble humans in appearance, behaviour or cognition and are meant to operate autonomously and carry out human functions. Robots could be used for most tasks ranging from the most basic or menial jobs to advanced ones such as defusing bombs, finding survivors in ruins and exploring mines and shipwrecks.

Some Indian start-ups are doing cutting-edge work in the field of robotics that involves robots doing all kinds of work right from cleaning, massaging and even making dosas to surveillance, photography, disaster management and policing. There are organisations that are working towards creating robots that can be used in the defence forces and others that have found medical applications in the form of prosthetic robotic limbs. Companies are also focusing on mobile robots, open source robot libraries and tele-presence robots, to name a few. A number of Indians are now pursuing Robotics to create robots that can help the people of this country live simpler lives.

METAMATERIALS

Metamaterials are materials that are built to have properties which are not commonly found in nature. They get their unique properties from the newly designed structures and can be used in medical devices, aerospace, solar power management, high frequency communication and even in shielding structures when natural disasters occur.

Institutes in Russia that conducted experiments with metamaterials found that these materials could be used to create optical devices that can even make things invisible by manipulating light. Organisations and universities in India too are conducting research on metamaterials that have been found to be capable of reversing several natural phenomena, bringing reality closer to science fiction.

Research is being actively carried out on such metamaterials across the world to determine their applications in various fields and also to discover new properties that were previously unknown.

Smart objects enhance our interaction with other people as well as with other objects which could be devices or virtual objects. When we refer to physical objects, we are talking of a physical device itself, like smart phones, tablets, smart watches, smart bands, smart key chains, smart computers, smart lights, smart cameras, smart locks and even smart houses.

3D PRINTING

3D printing is a process that can use a physical object to make three-dimensional digital models, which many consider to be the beginning of a third industrial revolution.

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Materials and objects that are printed are first created with a computer-aided design or a 3D scanner or simply through digital cameras and photogrammetry software.

The 3D printing industry is growing in India thanks to local 3D printing manufacturers. Students and hobbyists are using 3D printers for study and for research, architects and builders are using it to create a sample structure of the buildings they design, even designers use printers in art. These printers have also found applications in fields like education, medicine and space science.

While low-end printers typically cost around Rs. 40,000, high-end 3Dprinters can be as expensive as Rs. 15 lakh. Organisations are now working towards building robust, low-cost 3D printers, so that more people would come to experience the thrill of this technology.

SMART OBJECTS

Smart objects enhance our interaction with other people as well as with other objects which could be devices or virtual objects. When we refer to physical objects, we are talking of a physical device itself, like smart phones, tablets, smart watches, smart bands, smart key chains, smart computers, smart lights, smart cameras, smart locks and even smart houses. They can even be ordinary products with embedded electronic tags like RFID tags or sensors. Virtual objects can refer to simulations and cyber games.

By offering these smart solutions, Indian ventures have already entered the realm of the Internet of Things which connects your physical devices, vehicles and homes to networks allowing us to control them from wherever we are. Smart cardboards which offer an amazing video-viewing experience and smart watches that let you manage your schedule, offer digital notifications and call alerts, track your physical activity and help you stay up-to-date on social media and are one part of the smart game.

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Other companies in India allow you to control your home devices through your smart phone or tablet when you are away from home.

Some lighting companies connect your LED lights through wireless technology to your smart phone to create the perfect ambience along with the ability to change the colour of the light and to dim the lights too. You can even set times to turn the bulb on or off and sync the light with music or to a schedule.

We are at the beginning of a wave of technological change. While industrialisation brought us physically closer to other parts of the world through changes in transportation among other inventions, the evolution of the World Wide Web brought information closer to us and made communication faster and smoother. The current wave of technological change does all that and much more. It is helping us turn our dreams into reality, easing our lives, helping us express ourselves, as well as bringing us closer to others in a virtual sense.

GRAPHENE

Graphene is a thin layer of pure carbon, so thin that it is just one atom thick. Carbon atoms are packed in a hexagonal honey-comb like pattern. It is 100 times stronger than steel. It is efficient in conducting electrons and hence of heat and electricity and it is almost transparent. It can also be levitated by magnets. With all these properties, graphene can be used in solar cells, LEDs, touch panels, smart phones and windows. Indian companies produce graphene for a wide range of uses including tools, mobiles, aerospace, water purification, RFID, smart textiles, batteries, conductive polymers, desalination, smart glasses and more.

3D PENS

A 3D pen looks like a fat pen and uses plastic to create 3D structures. Once you insert the plastic, it is heated within the pen and you can ‘write’ on practically any surface to create 3D structures.

When you move your hand, a trail of the melted plastic emerges, turning into a solid as it cools. So you draw it string by string to create the 3D structure that you want. Indian companies are offering 3D pens of their own which can be used in education, architecture, art, jewellery and more.


Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at
priya@urbanvaastu.com