What if a robot can sense what you think

A 3D printed humanoid robot, completely made by an Indian and designed in India, can be taught to learn and respond like a human being.

Surrounded by small yet sturdy pieces of 3D-printed plastic, a Macintosh and a couple of 3D-printers, sits 22-year-old Diwakar Vaish at New Delhi-based A-SET Training & Research Institute’s robotics lab watching a robot move its mechanical joints to groovy songs from old Bollywood movies. Vaish, who has a faint smile playing along his lips while watching the show, has jolted the robotics sector with his new first ever 3D-printed humanoid robot.

Manav as Vaish calls it is the first ever 3D-printed humanoid in the country and the robot was unveiled during the IIT-Bombay tech fest earlier this year. A humanoid robot is defined as one that is shaped to resemble a human. Weighing 2 kg and almost looking like an over-sized action figure, Manav has in-built vision and sound processing capability, allowing it to talk and act exactly like a human. It has a total of 21 sensors, two cameras for eyes in the sockets at the head and two mics on either side of its head.

“Manav is a game changer in many ways because the price proposition we are offering is approximately 85% lesser than the available products. It is designed in such a way that it takes less cost to make and hence the selling price comes down and the product becomes more affordable for end-users,” says Vaish. He explains: “As all the parts are made in India, we can manufacture Manav at a very affordable prices. We are selling it at just R1.5-2 lakh, compared with other robots available in India at the present that are priced between R18 lakh and R20 lakh. It is completely in line with the Prime Minister’s Make in India initiative.”

It took Vaish two months to design, programme and test Manav whose outer frame is made of plastic, 3D-printed from Buildkart Retail, A-SET’s self-owned 3D printing venture. The humanoid uses an Open Source code, that can be compared to Linux when it comes to an operating system ,and enables it to learn anything and respond accordingly like a human. It also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and has a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that dole out an hour of performance after on a single dose of charge . Vaish is constantly working on it to increase battery life and change the design and size to make it more efficient.

Further explaining the humanoid’s capabilities, Vaish, who is also a lecturer at some of top engineering and technical institutes in the country, says: “Also, unlike other robots, Manav’s processor and programmed sensors allow it to perform tasks such as walking, talking and dancing without the help of a laptop, just in response to voice commands.”

The humanoid has been made for research purposes. “In spite of having robotics enthusiasts in India since the 1970s, the availability of proper training courses especially practical in nature was difficult. Manav fits the bill perfectly. It can be easily repaired, costs less and can be bought by institutes offering courses in robotics thereby increasing the robotics ecology in India,” he explains.

Vaish is in talks with some of India’s top engineering colleges like all the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Rajasthan, and to other research institutes that offer robotics as a subject of study to ship Manav. “Manav also has two degrees of freedom in its head and neck, allowing it to move its head sideways and up and down—a feature that is not seen in other robots in India.

The 22-year-old robotics researcher, a B Tech, from Delhi’s Sharda University, who tasted success with a dancing robot at the early age of 18 and also has been recognised by two Presidents APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil—believes that robots have been restricted to playing behind-the-scenes roles in the manufacturing industry and other remote locations. Vaish is working on five-six prototypes of Manav that have more advanced features and are made from sturdier carbon fibre.

To his credit, Vaish has created India’s first fully autonomous football playing humanoid soccer team. He is also working with mind control software and robotics which he plans to use in smart home solutions and other areas. He has also been working on a seven feet, life-size humanoid since the past two years that should be available by the middle of this year to research institutes in India and abroad, which can work non-stop for 10-15 hours a day.

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