Janhavi Joshi was in her third year of Industrial Design at MIT, Pune when she happened to watch a dance performance by a group of deaf students. This led her to develop an interest in understanding the needs of people with hearing impairments. “I was in awe watching them move in synchronization with the music despite not being able to hear a single beat,” Janhavi recalls.
As she started researching how hearing-impaired people perceive sound by relating to its vibrations, Janhavi, along with her classmate Nupura, thought of using this fact to create a smartwatch that can convey any sound to the deaf.
“We designed a prototype of the watch for a college project. But our professors told us it wasn’t attractive enough and asked us to focus our efforts on something more ‘practical’ and ‘commercially viable.’ The watch couldn’t fetch us more than a C+.”
Technology for the deaf was a novel concept, still, Janhavi took it forward. She conducted a pilot study at schools for the deaf, but she wasn’t taken seriously, “We were told that several college students visited the school to test our innovations but nothing concrete ever came out of it. They were doubtful if we could accomplish anything with the watch.”
But Janhavi didn’t let the odds beat her. After two years of hard work, she built a working model, ‘Blee Watch’, which converted sound to vibration and text to speech. Things took a turn for the better when IIT-Bombay’s Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Tata Trust’s Social Alpha agreed to step in as investors.
Although the Blee Watch wasn’t commercially successful, Janhavi used it as a catalyst to launch Blee TV, a free mobile app and web portal, on which people with hearing impairments could gain access to content in sign language.
Today, she is the co-founder of BleeTech Innovations, a startup that offers design and technology-based solutions for the deaf community. Her platform has reached over 13,000 deaf youth and 2000 deaf children all over the country since 2018.
Mahindra salutes the challenger spirit of people like Janhavi who remind us that with grit and determination, we can change the world and help the people around us. #Rise