This is a report of the Open House of the 5th Annual Design Innovation Workshop held by MIT Media Labs on 23rd January at PDPU, Gandhinagar

Over 50 fascinating exhibits, all made in the span of a week; It was quite literally Maker’s Heaven. Attending as I was, on the day of the exhibition of the final models, it was difficult to imagine what kind of magic must have taken place in the workshops held in the previous week. There were 10 different tracks, spanning from synthetic biology and civic innovation to immersive storytelling.

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All the projects were made by the students of different colleges and research institutes across India, under guidance from the mentors from MIT Media Labs. The exhibits were truly innovative, with many aiming to solve critical design problems, while others were all about the Human perception, and how to express ideas in ways that are impossible to ignore.

Among these, I felt the most intriguing one, was a device which puts you in the feet of someone who has just taken LSD. Yes really. Looking something like an Oculus Rift (it was actually made of cardboard, and used a smartphone for a screen, but let’s be considerate guys) the device actually made me woozy after the entire experience. I must be frank here. It was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Shadow Soldier was an adventure game which had users using two accelerometer-embedded balls to control shadows and progress in the game. A really cool physics simulation!

Super Fibers

From the Smart Textiles track, there were several projects that really piqued my interest. Added here it must be, this important point : A lot of these projects used electronics almost completely constructed from fibres.

Looks funny eh?

The pictures above are of a speaker made completely from fabrics and a single Neodymium magnet. It uses conductive thread for wiring, and the fabric itself acts as the diaphragm. This concept is absolutely amazing. They are looking to create a pillow with this device, that also functions as an alarm!

3D printers which print plastics are common, but this device can print textiles. The printer uses woolen thread on foam pads to create layers of 2-dimensional patterns which can be attached together to create any piece of clothing you want. (Supposedly).

We can make our own clothes now. How advanced!

3D touch sensors have loads of applications, and one team decided to have fun by building one completely with fibers. Their oh-so-cushy sensor is also pressure sensitive, and thus happens to be a great game controller. Now we can call, text, and control objects in 3 dimensions by just pressing a pillow. A TV-remote cushion? Oh please oh please oh please.

Smart Rugs and Carpets

There were many different projects using the idea of fabric based electronics and sensors embedded in rugs.

Footfall is a smart carpet which has pressure sensors stitched inside the fabric, with the idea that it can be used to gain crowd information in a big convention or exhibition, by monitoring where and how the crowd moves.

Here is another smart fabric - one that can sense when it is wet - that uses just conducting thread stitched into a super-absorbent cloth which is then placed under a blanket, and using a small external chip, it can detect where the fabric becomes wet, and can send notifications to a smartphone app whenever there is, eh, a wetness on the cloth. Yes we know the most obvious application here…

Enabling Toys

This track focused on building cost-effective devices to ease the everyday burdens of differently abled people.

Featuring on this category are two simple, low-tech prosthetic arms which have been made to be easy to use.

One of the projects that stood out was a thermal vision system for the blind. Essentially it uses electricity to generate heat on a grid. By heating individual units of the grid in patterns, the system can help the blind ‘see’ a grayscale image of their loved ones, or of pretty much anything.

Unfortunately, no live demonstration

The glove multimeter (tada) was one device I absolutely loved. This beautiful piece of technology lets you use a glove as a multimeter. Sigh.

Want. Like THIS much

The Synthetic Biology Track

Several of these projects actually featured things like DNA programming with a piano (Oops, no pictures) which could also make music from any DNA you give it, gene implantation into microbial cells, and other magical practices from a subject I understand very little.

Graffit-E-coli was by far the coolest exhibit of the Synthetic Biology track. The team had extracted genes from coral, implanted them in the notorious E-coli bacteria to generate bio-paint. And they had a spray paint can with an arduino stuck at the bottom, which supposedly can be used indefinitely, as long as you ensure the E-coli keep living inside. Unlimited Grafitti. Let the vandals feast.

Eyecatchers from the other tracks

Neo was a great IOT smart door concept. A groovy looking panel that can be attached to any door and monitors when you are in and out of your home, and can send automated greetings to family members when you leave for work every morning, and give you the latest news and happenenings in your social circles after you return Home.

Being an

device, it can be used for things apart from doors, with its adaptability and portability being its greatest feauture. The team members also told me that its future functions included automatically locking and unlocking your door, and acting as a smart security system too.

Sense is a smart bio watch which along with a smartphone app, and a sensor worn on your body acts like a total health monitoring system. It has the capability to give warnings when your diet is poor, or warn you of any illnesses you may have even before symptoms appear. It can co-ordinate with doctors too. Also it happens to be sleek and great-lookin’.

Yep. That's me wearing the watch. Right there. That's me!

Last but most certainly not the least on my favourites list, is the project which I felt will attain instant success world over, without a doubt. Calling all occupants: The P-Racer is a game system that can be installed in Men’s urinals which promotes friendship among strangers. It has a simple rule : The guy who goes fastest wins. It (apparently) uses a halifax sensor to measure the rotation of a small disc which spins when, well, ‘liquids’ fall on it. Genius.

This is just a very small list of the projects exhibited by the students who participated in the design innovation workshop. The open-house was very well organised, and beautifully done to the very end.

Apologies for the low picture quality.

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