Thrissur girl Ashwathy Satheesan, born and brought up in Gujarat has won the prestigious James Dyson Award 2019. The award, aimed at solving real-world problems, had invited entries from 27 different countries around the world. Ashwathy, a student of National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, had designed a stabilizing pen helps those suffering from Parkinson's tremors to overcome the difficulty of writing and drawing. She has named her device Fleo and it works on gyroscopic principles. Aswathy's Fleo has bagged the prestigious global award this year.
Onmanorama caught up with Aswathy to know more about her research and achievements.
How did you develop the idea of 'Fleo?'
It is a result of two-months long research. It was developed as part of my third-year course work at NID. At the National Institute of Design, we are encouraged to select a problem area we are interested in and try to solve it. This is my second research project and I really wanted to do something relating to inclusiveness. That is when I learned about people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During my interactions with them at Parkinson’s disease Society Ahmedabad, I observed their daily routines and understood difficulties they face. That is how I realized they need help in writing and drawing. I met a lot of poets and artists who had completely stopped their passion because of Parkinson’s disease. I met retired teachers who were really sad. It inspired me to work in this area.
What is the principle behind Fleo?
My first month was completely spent on research. I understood that they require a gyroscopic device to help them reduce the tremors while they write and draw. Gyroscopes are used in gimbals to stabilize the camera; the same principle is used here. Basically it remains in the same axis even if you try to rotate them. That’s the idea and principle behind Fleo.
What inspired you to work with them?
During my school days, I had a neighbor who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. As I set out to find my problem area I thought this would be a great area to work on. My familiarity with the disease during my school days was definitely a contributing factor to my research. I'm passionate about working with people who have special needs.
What was your reaction when you got the award?
There is a huge potential in classroom projects. It is very important that you take it ahead. Award is indeed a great encouragement for me. I realized I am going in the right direction. I am really glad and humbled when the results were announced. It will surely help the young designer in me.
What are your future plans for Fleo?
Fleo is at a very nascent stage where I have a proof of concept that it works. If I do get funding and if I could get to collaborate with subject matter experts, I feel this could go a long way in empowering those suffering from Parkinson’s tremors.
Could you tell us more about your course?
It’s a four and a half year course at the National Institute of Design where we are taught to design products which help in solving problems. People often mistake designing to be restricted to a fashion or interior designing. However, what we do here is we select a topic of our interest. We are taught about the product design process and we can look at the problem-solving mechanism. We are taught to collaborate with doctors and fellow engineers to solve a problem.
Is there something you want to convey to the student community?
Work on real-world problems which people face everyday. Do not restrict your work to the luxurious side of life. Every student has to believe in their classroom projects and they should take it forward. It will definitely have rich potential.
Ashwathy and her family recently shifted back to Thrissur, Kerala. Her convocation from NID, Ahmedabad was in January early this year and she currently works in the private sector.