Meet 18-year-old Diwakar Vaish. Ex-student of Bal Bharati Public School, Delhi, he is currently a first-year BTech student at Sharda University. Apart from his academic pursuits, he spends a considerable amount of time working on humanoid robots that possess much of the physical functionality a human body does.
An admitted techno-freak, Diwakar spent much of his school years participating in tech competitions. But what gave him the boost he needed was winning at Quanta, an international competition for science, mathematics and computer science held in Lucknow in 2009, for which he created a race boat that beat out competition from 40 countries.
Less than a year since and Diwakar is all set to storm the FIRA (Federation of International Robotsoccer Association) World Cup in Bangalore this September with three of his robots that have been designed to perform as defender, goalkeeper and attacker.
Here we speak to the young talent about robotics, how he got started and his plans for the future
How did you get interested in robotics?
All through school I was always participating in tech competitions. I won the international Aqua Challenge competition of Quanta, where about 40 countries participated. Winning Quanta was a huge morale boost. That gave me the belief and confidence that the money and effort that I had spent would be fruitful.
At that point it was quite scary for me. I did not know exactly how much I was putting in and I did not know if it would be worthwhile. And it was quite daring for my dad too [who paid for it].
However, it turned out to be very rewarding. Once you have the determination and belief that you can do something, everything else falls into place.
'My school identified my interests early'
How did you manage to balance your studies?
My school saw that my studies were sufficiently good and said that if I was interested in robotics that I should pursue it by doing research. So I was able to do all kinds of work. I developed new technologies that I hope to introduce soon.
So how did the robots come about? And how did you manage to put them together so quickly?
Isotope was a 'dancing robot' which took me about 6 month to put together. The other three took a lot less time since I had already established the basics.
Secondly, for the first robot I had limited means, since there was no sponsorship. The others were sponsored by ASET (Advanced School of Engineering and Technology) so that helped speed up the process.
Another reason why work progressed so fast was that the latter three robots are all participating in RoboSoccer; they are for a particular purpose, so all the tasks they perform are football-related, it's much narrower.
At the FIRA World Cup, robots from different countries play football with each other. Around 130 countries are expected to participate in this year. It is a truly a global competition and this is the first time such a sophisticated robot will be participating on behalf of India.
'I want to create technology that has use for every individual'
Tell us about the robots?
Isotope has a gyroscope, which allows dynamic motion, ie allowing it to walk on tilted surfaces, irregular surfaces. It automatically corrects itself according to its surroundings. Then we have the accelerometer, which helps in standing stability. This helps not only maintain balance but also, if it happens to fall, it is this that helps it get back up much more quickly that any other robot. So there are a number of sensors we have used. In addition we also have a temperature sensor, a pressure sensor, all included to facilitate dynamic movement and to provide added control and agility to the robot.
They do not have fingers but we do have three degrees of freedom at 3 different locations: at the hip, the lower joints and for the torso. This allows the robot to turn within a very small radius and makes it capable of different kinds of motions.
How are the robots different from each other?
The first (Isotope) was a bit economical and we found a few drawbacks when experimenting with it, so we developed a second kind of robot, which will participate in the FIRA. We have tried to correct the errors and improve on the functionality, which is why the new versions are much more expensive than Isotope.
How much did you spend?
On Isotope it was about Rs 5 lakh. I am not allowed to disclose the investment in the newer versions, but it is a lot more.
Did you have any help while working on the robots?
Robotics is very new in India, so there was noone I could really talk to about my project. That was a big problem.
My father is a computer engineer and he is working in the field of electronics and telecommunications. He is actually working with the same institute that is sponsoring me, ASET. He steered me in the right direction for the project, which helped a lot.
What are your plans for the future?
Basically earlier when I was working on the robot I did plan to go abroad to study. I cleared the SAT and also got admission in various universities but the thing is that there although the university would support me 100-per cent, these inventions would carry the name of the university and not my own or India's name. So that is why I decided to stay in India. Here I am being paid well both by the university and the institute, so it does not really make a difference where I am.
I want to create technology that has use for every individual and makes their life simpler. There are a number of technologies that I am working on right now and by the end of the year, I think they will be out there for people to see and use.