AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Hunny Bhagchandani founder of Torchit Electronics and Director Dot Inc, a company that produces braille smartwatches

March 28, 2023 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Hunny Bhagchandani
AXSChat Podcast with Hunny Bhagchandani founder of Torchit Electronics and Director Dot Inc, a company that produces braille smartwatches
AXSChat Podcast
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AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Hunny Bhagchandani founder of Torchit Electronics and Director Dot Inc, a company that produces braille smartwatches
Mar 28, 2023
Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Hunny Bhagchandani

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Hunny Bhagchandani is a social innovator and entrepreneur who is passionate about empowering people with disabilities (PwD) with the power of independence. He is the founder of Torchit Electronics Pvt. Ltd., a company that develops affordable and innovative assistive devices for PwD, such as Saarthi, a mobility device for blind people. He is also a director of Dot Inc., a company that produces braille smartwatches.

Hunny Bhagchandani has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), India. He has also been a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK and the MIT Media Lab, US. He has received multiple accolades for his work, including the National Award from the President of India and being featured on Shark Tank India.

Hunny Bhagchandani

Hunny Bhagchandani was inspired to create assistive devices for PwD after witnessing a terrible accident involving a visually impaired person during his internship at the Blind People’s Association (Gujarat) in 2013-14. He realized that existing devices were inaccurate and unreliable, and decided to use his technical skills to make a difference. He came up with a prototype that later became Saarthi, which uses ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles and provide haptic feedback to users. Hunny Bhagchandani is also a member of Meaningful Business, a global community of leaders who are combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. He is also an ambassador of One Young World, a global forum for young leaders. He is also a business mentor at Founder Institute, an accelerator program for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Show Notes Transcript

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Hunny Bhagchandani is a social innovator and entrepreneur who is passionate about empowering people with disabilities (PwD) with the power of independence. He is the founder of Torchit Electronics Pvt. Ltd., a company that develops affordable and innovative assistive devices for PwD, such as Saarthi, a mobility device for blind people. He is also a director of Dot Inc., a company that produces braille smartwatches.

Hunny Bhagchandani has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), India. He has also been a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK and the MIT Media Lab, US. He has received multiple accolades for his work, including the National Award from the President of India and being featured on Shark Tank India.

Hunny Bhagchandani

Hunny Bhagchandani was inspired to create assistive devices for PwD after witnessing a terrible accident involving a visually impaired person during his internship at the Blind People’s Association (Gujarat) in 2013-14. He realized that existing devices were inaccurate and unreliable, and decided to use his technical skills to make a difference. He came up with a prototype that later became Saarthi, which uses ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles and provide haptic feedback to users. Hunny Bhagchandani is also a member of Meaningful Business, a global community of leaders who are combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. He is also an ambassador of One Young World, a global forum for young leaders. He is also a business mentor at Founder Institute, an accelerator program for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Support the Show.

Follow axschat on social media
Twitter:

https://twitter.com/axschat
https://twitter.com/AkwyZ
https://twitter.com/neilmilliken
https://twitter.com/debraruh

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/antoniovieirasantos/
https://www.linkedin.com/company/axschat/

Vimeo
https://vimeo.com/akwyz




This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. Axschat with Hunny Bhagchandani NEIL: Hi and welcome to Axschat. I'm delighted that we are joined today by Hunny Bhagchandani. Hunny, you're joining us from India, it's late for you but quite late for me too because I'm still in a place where I'm not normally. So, great to have you with us. Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do and particularly your, you know Debra has told me you work on assistive technology; can you tell us a little bit about this work that you're doing?

HUNNY:

Definitely, definitely. Thank you so much for inviting. It's really a pleasure to be here. So, we make innovative and affordable assistive ways for persons with different disabilities. So, we have our product which is helping a blind person to walk independently in any scenario and it will help them to identify what is coming in front of them, two different paths of vibration. So, a blind person can walk anywhere, in any scenario, independently. From this product, do we have combination product for hearing and speech impaired people. So, this is the with the smart gloves, with the help of smart gloves a hearing and speech impaired person can communicate with anyone at their ease. At the same time, we have the smart crutches which is for mobility impaired people, which allows them to go to anywhere, like this smart crutches are really, really slip resistant. So, we have other products. We have multiple products.

ANTONIO:

How did you end up in this space, and what motivated you to solve and address and support people with disability?

HUNNY:

Lovely question, Antonio. So, I did internship in a blind school and I was assigned to a task to make admin work more accessible so we can hire more blind person. So, I was working with a blind person under a blind person. So, I was at the time. I was in. I had no connections to disability. I just got into the NGO and they assigned me a task for two months, eight weeks. So, I was working with them and I felt like I wanted to do something for this community because it is first time I was working with blind person, under blind person. And it is I was keeping to keep together, going to the office, leaving office together and hang outing to. So, but suddenly one day, one of my colleagues, the name is Gurnish, he didn't came to the work, I got to know on the second day, he met with an accident. So, while he was home to office, he met with an accident and he got seven stiches on his head. So, it made me think realise, like, why there is no product available which could avoid this kind of accidents. So, at the same day like on the other day, I mentored with one of the blind professor, like he was a mentor to us and I talk about this problem and this scenario, which happened with Gurnish. He met with an accident. It is very common with us blind person and he was showing his other marks. And I was young, I was going to college and I got this injury, I was doing work I was in the bank and one day bank shut, bank door was half open and half empty and I hid and I got another two stiches. So, I was shocked. There was not normal. So, this was, not a good thing promote everywhere. And you met with an accident and this so not good. Sometime you might lose your life or memory or whatever can happen. This is not a think, you should be proud right. These are the accident. So, we have living 21st century, we are talking about Smart watches, smart phones, smart cities and everywhere. Why not is the same. Why we cannot add censors into this end because, Smart it will tell you what is happening in front of you, so you might go independently without fear of bumping into anything like, whether it is a ball, whether it is any hanging object. Whether it is any object. So, you will became 100% independent. So, this is what led to me to this domain. I can do something. I was the President. Rotary club President University. So, in three, days, only just three days, I made a prototype, it was actually torch. So, I removed the light and put a sensory and within three days I made the prototype and I went back to the blind school where I was doing internship and I show this is what I prepare in three days. Like, it might be a solution for this kind of problem. And they were very happy. And didn't, I don't know why, but all of three hundred blind students like in the school, there are 300 blind students. No one has sensed that kind of a product and they were very happy. They were blessing me like anything, like I am a fan of product for them, and for me it's not innovation, it's just like play. For me, that's how innovation can happen right. So, that made me think, realise, in this sector, a lot of technology can be imparted and no one is thinking this sector as seriously. So, this is what my and I'm coming from a business background, my father is a businessman. My grandfather is a businessmen. So, we are one of the richest business community of India. So, I'm coming from this business background. So, I made a clear point. There is a demand. There is supply I can provide and there is a huge market where no one is looking after. Huge, huge marketplace. So, being I thought, what don't I can make this product commercialised. So, I went back to my university and I showed this idea and then they appreciate it and they said we can fund you. So, they give me around roughly around piece of grant which is around $80 dollars or US$65,000, they gave me. And I started a startup, officially a start up in my career. So, this a torch, it's a company and the product name became a Sarti, which is Indian name, a Sanskrit name which means a true companion. So, this is how a Sarti, after 16 prototypes we have launched 17th prototype as a final product and today, this Sarti, which means true companion help more than 120,000 blind person. Not only in India. But in 30 plus countries. 35 or 37 or something. So, 37 countries, we have impacted more than 120,000 blind person. So, what is the huge market place, which I discovered by just doing an intention. And, then I got to realise, like there are a lot of requirement in this sector. And this is how, multiple products, in multiple discipline.

DEBRA:

Wow. Hunny, welcome to the show. I know I've been watching you and your beautiful wife in this field for a few years and I'm very impressed with what you're doing and what I find interesting about it, we have some solutions, in the developed countries and the UK. But getting it into the hands of the people that really need it continues to be a really big problem and we often see that assistive technology is not really available, for example, for the Indian market or the Portuguese market or the, you know, we see it available for a few, but not across the board. And so, I'm curious if you have seen that as well, a need to make sure there are solutions that work in your own country for the people that you know, your people. But at the same time, what can the United States and other countries that have some of these products, what can they learn from the innovation that you're doing in India because you don't have access to a lot of the same things that say the United States has access to. So, that part of, I've always been fascinated with and I've been watching over the last couple of years what you have been doing. But, it feels like, you're solving a problem that needs to be solved on the ground and I like that it's being picked up on 30 countries too but go ahead, Hunny.

HUNNY:

Yes, so, basically the products are available in the United States for example another part of the world are super expensive.

DEBRA:

Yes.

HUNNY:

If we talk about the assistive technology, first thing is the affordability. They are more affordable.

DEBRA:

Right.

HUNNY:

So, whether you say a standing wheelchair or motorised wheelchair or any assistive aid for anything braille, or anything you say, they are not affordable. So, this fellows, like, are standing in the school and they didn't heard about this kind of product. Which I made in about three days. So, these products are available in the western world. I did realise and it was very shocking to me, these products are available at $500, $700, $1,200 and I was not believing the prices because I was thinking we can sell this products less than $20 or $30. But at the same time, this similar kind of product, available in the UK, which is selling at £700, available in the Europe, like Germany, German product is selling, $1,200. These products are not affordable in the world because even the blind population says about any developed countries say like Singapore. We are selling a product in Singapore or say example, Hong Kong, a blind person in Hong Kong cannot spend $1,200 on this mobility cane. Majority, I'm talking about the majority a blind person in Hong Kong cannot afford the product. How can anyone think about in India.

DEBRA:

Right.

HUNNY:

And if the annual salary of the blind person is $1,000, how he can spend thousand dollars on a walking stick, walking device? So, we have to tell the products which is affordable to each and everyone. Not only the very premium class, blind population. Right, so this is what.

NEIL:

Understood. So, I'm curious, sorry there is a slight delay here. So, what is the price point that you're charging for the cane?

HUNNY:

So, we are charging only $35.

NEIL:

Okay. That makes it broadly affordable yes.

HUNNY:

Exactly.

NEIL:

So, yes, there is a few things that why assistive tech is expensive in the developed global north. Some of that is because there is funding from the State and as a result of that, it inflates the prices because there is no incentive to go to a competitive market but, also in things where there is a requirement for components like text to speech voices, where I've worked in developing assistive technology is a long time ago now. When you said, I want to use this text to speech voice for assistive tech rather than gaming, the companies put the prices up because they considered it to be niche. Now we know that assistive tech isn't niche that there is a big market. But there was a two-tier pricing system. And basically because they thought the market was subsidised by government and because they thought there was low numbers they would rack the prices up. So, some of that is driving the prices in the global north. But, I also think that there is, you know, a sort of a real need for pragmatic affordable assistive tech around the globe. So, love what you're doing. So, how are you keeping a price point. You said the cane has lots of sensors in. What kind of sensors are you using because when we interviewed, I think about 18 months ago, a guy called Tony Lloyd, he was a toy maker, he was using very affordable components in the assistive tech that he was making and the prices were commensurately small, what sort of senses are you using, are you uses mainstream, electronic components?

HUNNY:

So, it's very, very normally, a very, very good market. The sensor I use in cars to finding the distance. The same censors we are using in different form.

DEBRA:

Okay.

HUNNY:

And this is how, these products are used in Taiwan or Germany or Japan or any. So, we are not producing the different kinds of sensors. We are using the same sensors to make this cane smart. So, I'm not here to say we innovated. We innovate some new technology, but I can say we innovated a new model like the same sensory for the different market and, the main part of our businesses, this is run by the blind person or persons are run by the blind person. Also, the training is done by the blind person. This is for the blind by the blind and to the blinds. So, the authenticity, they tried to control and the torch which is the one of the key factors which is only be getting on the name of the visually impaired person because, this is completely from innovation or RNB to manufacturing to distribution to cleaning. Each and every step of a blind or limited person is involved. Today, also, in our staff, 70% are visually impaired.

DEBRA:

Hunny, I've a question for you and Neil because, and then I know Antonio has a question too but, Neil actually comes from the assistive technology background before he earlier on in his career and I put words in his mouth but I believe while he was working there he started figuring out that he himself would benefit from using this assistive technology, which I thought was very interesting learning ourselves but one thing, we know that these are ongoing problems, assistive technology not being available to everybody. Assistive technology being too expensive. Assistive technology only being available in certain languages like English. I was here the other day, I'm sure this is, there is in India, yes, English is very commonly spoke. Hindu is spoken. But there is like 465 other languages just in India, just in India. So, it's like wow my head hurts, right. So, the question I have for both of you is Neil, how have we changed since you started moving into the market. You see what Hunny is doing, Torch It in that, he's trying to solve a problem that he feels everybody is ignoring for his country, but are we making progress with the assistive technology industry? Are we doing a good job at making sure that people like Hunny are invited into the conversations instead of maybe discounting him because it's like you're creating stuff, we already did that. But it's like, I get you already did that but it doesn't get into the hands of the people that actually need it. So, I'm just curious from sort of both of your perspectives, Neil you have been in the industry longer than Hunny but are we making progress on these things?

NEIL:

Are we making progress? I think we are. I think that you know, there are a lot of things that are assistive in our day to day devices, you know, even the cheapest of smart phones are capable computers these days so, there's a lot of assistive tech that is broadly available. I think there is still a lack of awareness of the importance of cultural context, when we are dealing with assistive tech, because a lot of assistive tech is designed in the global north and has a particular view of how people consume tech. You know, the idea of everything being in the cloud and driven from the cloud and being free, breaks down when you're in countries where Internet is metered and you know, it costs a lot of money to be able to sort of connect and again, then it's not robust. So, I think you understand the cultural context and the geographical context then it's entirely appropriate for people to produce assistive tech that may have bone invented somewhere else that has a slightly different approach that is appropriate for the region that they are in which is what Hunny is doing, so I'll hand over to Hunny.

HUNNY:

You know, so, if we talk about this assistive technology in general. So, we are certainly moving very, very fast because, not only persons for assistive technology, older people require assistive technology. Like, if you can see like any, in India or airport in the world are having the wheelchairs, not only hospitals are having the wheelchairs. This is not only the person with disability, this is also the person with old age, right? So, we are very fast moving towards the assistive technology in terms of adaption. At the same time, there is a huge, huge demand as well. Like say, example, if I'm going to a country like China or say going to a country like Italy, I was in Italy last month only. Very, very few people are talking English. So, at the time I was feeling disability or something, you can say like, I was using technology and it was super, super expensive because I was doing international roaming. So, this is again another problem where it can be cheaper than it is not disability for me to roam around in China or Italy. There people are very talking about. They don't understand anything and at the same time, if we can say about the hearing impaired person. Those two type of hearing-impaired population. One is who can't hear and one is who has one side of ear problem. It's a huge population in India specifically and that is many of like because of this low cost, Bluetooth headphone, many of the years are getting because in India. So, this is a huge demand in the market is shaping for people are getting one sided hearing impaired because of this extensive use of Bluetooth cheap quality low coast blue tooth earphones or something. So, we have to figure out something because they are partially hearing impaired. And because I also check my hearing last week only. I got to the left I can hear only 80%. So, partially I am hearing on the left side very minor and I am. So, I had a take care of this, it won't increase my. So, but I was roaming seven or eight countries, I was in Europe. I was in Hungary, I was in Slovenia, I was in Italy, I was in Turkey, I was in Austria. So, locals can help me but I am usually I cannot, I had a business, so I cannot shut that thing off because I'm getting the calls from India that might be important. So, I cannot?

NEIL:

I understand. You need a burner phone where you put your Indian SIM. Set a divert to your European SIM and the thing is, once you have got a SIM that you bought in Europe. The roaming goes all across Europe. So, it's pretty good. But I had to do the same where I am now because otherwise it would have been prohibitively expensive to use data. But you're right, I mean that cost of data stops you from using the assistive features.

HUNNY:

Of a smart phone, yes.

ANTONIO:

So, Hunny, I've a question for you that also is focus on the people who started to use the product. And, so, those who have used traditional cane, I know they start using the one you have made. What changes have happened in their lives. How can, is there, how do they see, what impact did the cane have in their lives?

HUNNY:

I can't say a simple example, people are getting okay, let me describe it this way. People are becoming more explorers. Initially, they go around for just walk, now, they have ability. They have confidence. So, I can also go on a morning walk. So, people are going on adventures with hard cane. And people are going forgetting. So, it is building a confidence. This is building a new normal for them. Initially, like in India, like basically, a blind person is just going outside, whether it is for the work or for the education, not for leisure. But now they are going for the leisure. Like, just for a walk. For the market. I'll be also coming with you, kind of thing. So, this is the impact which our cane has created. So, we have a lot of videos on the YouTube and people are saying, I'm exploring the world with this cane, exploring the world. Like it is a new change, it is coming into that mind because of this, AP. I'm not talking about our product. But a lot of new products are also coming. All the smart phones and all those things. People are becoming more smart actually and they are exploring the world. Like, initially they are sitting in the their room. But now they are exploring the world and when you explore you found new things. So, I was telling the last like my work on zero project. We never thought we will empower them. But, they are looking at our numbers, out of 120,000 more than 12 thousand people got the job because of the exploration. So, this is the simple answer for your question. Like, people are getting more travel.

ANTONIO:

Yes. And that's something extremely positive right?

HUNNY:

Yes, extremely important.

DEBRA:

Right. And how beautiful you're opening the world for them. That's beautiful.

HUNNY:

We have developed a new product. So, I give you another example. So, COVID times. Go a bit of India has provided free smart phone to any blind person. But at the same time, the smart phones are not useful for the end user. At the moment, never realise why this is happening. And out of hundred smart phones distributed. 95% are smart phone being sold. Like, a blind person is getting a free smart phone worth about 200, 300. He's selling it $20 or $30, to another fellow to get some food.

DEBRA:

Oh, wow.

HUNNY:

We realise why this is happening because they have just distributed the smart phones. They have not provided the complete training, complete software, complete ecosystem to learn how to use a smart phone effectively, right? So, say example, if I'm not using a smart phone for any of this. So, all three of you, get one more of you can give me an iPhone. I can't realise what any of this iPhone is. Exactly. So, it's the same for the visually impaired person, selling, providing 300 phone for a blind person. And he doesn't know how to use it. So, what we have done is we have provided the complete kit, complete kit. So, we are providing 30 plus application, free install and ready to use with the external keyboard and with this, the smart phone can work like a laptop, a mini laptop. At the same price of 300 and the part of this the book share which is a US company. So, we have partnered with when Benefact and they are providing a full training of the smart phone. And today, a blind person can express the views as well by writing. And now they are becoming a content writing bloggers and all those things. Social media managers. A blind person has become a social media manager. And he's a doing a course in pipe. And he's doing a course in website accessibility. So, last two or three years we accidentally developed this product and it's going super good. The name of kit is master literacy kit.

DEBRA:

Hunny, you did not really, will you tell us the name of your company and your website and then I know that Neil needs to close but I just want to make sure that everybody knows where to find you.

HUNNY:

We are available on the website, LinkedIn social media, any social media. So, campaign name is Torch It, is T O R C H.IP and website is mytorchit.com and. You can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, Facebook anywhere.

DEBRA:

Yes.

HUNNY:

It's Hunny@torchit.com. So, anyone can reach out to me anywhere.

NEIL:

So, it's been great finding out about the work you're doing and I think it's really good stuff. And I look forward to the chat continuing on Twitter. So, we just need to thank MyClearText and Amazon for keeping us on air and keeping us accessible. And thank you to you Hunny for what you are doing.

HUNNY:

Thank you, so much. This is my duty actually. This is our duty. To make this world more accessible.

DEBRA:

Yes. So, true so true.

NEIL:

I agree.