In February 2015, during a firsthand blindfold experience to his eyes, Roopam Sharma, who lives in Washington, spent 30 minutes of his life in the darkness. It was the scariest experience of his life. When he took off his blindfold, he realised how very lucky he is to be able to see the world around him. After several minutes of darkness, all the light, all the colours were a treat to his eyes. That is when he decided he had to do something for people who could not see. If those 30 minutes had the potential to make him feel so frightened, what kind of a life must a blind man live?
Roopam Sharma, born on May 24, 1995, is an Indian scientist and innovator, and studied Bachelors of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering at Manav Rachna University in Faridabad, Haryana.
“Manovue” to the rescue
Post this experience, Roopam visited a blind school in Delhi. There he met a blind student called Akashdeep, who also wished to become an inventor like him, but could not because the literature required is not available in braille. Even after 4,000 years after the advent of reading and writing, less than one percent of the text is available in braille.
“All the 200 other individuals whom we interviewed shared stories of their lives, their hopes and their challenges with us and emphasised on Braille and its considerable shortcomings in the 21st century, like difficulty in language learning, unavailability and the high cost of braille books. There exists more than 85% unemployability rate as more than 95% of the community doesn’t have braille literacy. In my native country India, which hosts around 75 million visually impaired people, less than 1% of the community has braille literacy,” Roopam said in a conversation with The Logical Indian.
Their team wanted a change. In 2019, they decided that it was time to replace braille and make vision transcendent through “Manovue”.
“Manovue is the world’s first intelligent wearable visual assistant. In simple words, imagine another set of eyes, another set of brains, always with you augmenting your experiences. With the Manovue multi-utility wearable glove, the user simply points their finger towards any printed text and the device reads out aloud what’s written over there. Manovue is an inexpensive technology that replaces the 200-year-old braille language and brings employability, employment and empowerment to the visually impaired community,” Roopam said.
The biggest challenge for Roopam was to develop a completely new technology and to build something that has never been built. At that time he was only a 19-year-old boy who had been given his first computer a year back. But he was never really raised to be a scientist.
“Coming from a socio-economic background like mine, youth like me aren’t supposed to pursue research and development. If lucky enough, we go to college, get a degree and then be among 15 lakh graduates who are on a lookout for a job. That was his plan, but due to the real-life experiences that made me pursue the path of serving the community through my skills of technology, I became an inventor. I had to put twice the effort of a regular inventor and had to make sure things were falling into place. I had to make sure we were delivering on time and did not lose focus from the project,” he said.
In order to be more productive, he slept on the floor of the computer lab for 10 months to complete the project.
Manovue happens to be an inclusive device, and was developed while they interacted with users at all stages. The moment a voice request is made, the device accordingly performs. The voice interaction enhances user experience exponentially and makes it easier for the user to interact with the device, leading to a greater usability.
“During my freshman year, I got introduced to two new things for the first time: fashion modelling and my first personal computer. At this time, my human aspirations aligned with materialistic happiness, leading to my interest in modelling and I aspired to be a full-time professional fashion model,” he said.
Along with this, using his computer, Roopam began building mobile phone applications with an impression that the students who did that, got a better salary package, hence leading to better stability in life. Due to his socio-economic condition, he had to make sure he was getting a stable life and hence had to give up modelling.
“Over the next five years, for my work with Manovue, our mission by the year 2023 is to enable the poorest 100M of those 300M visually impaired people to read and help improve their lifestyle, employability, and overall well-being,” Roopam said.
People with dyslexia, dyscalculia, Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit, second language learners, tourists in need of translation, young children learning their first language or even people recovering from brain trauma can benefit from Manovue. It also provides distraction free reading and learning experience to the patients of Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“In the long run, over the coming time, I want to empower every person in the bottom billion of the social economic pyramid to achieve more and lead a better life,” he said.
Recently, Roopam was awarded the Gifted Citizen Prize 2016, which is given each year to the best social entrepreneurship project, which, over the next six years, has the potential to benefit 10 million people. Technology Review, which presents new generations of innovators, listed him as an innovator under 35 in 2016.
“Dreams do come true, if only we wish and work hard enough. You can have anything in life if you sacrifice everything else for it. I’ve sacrificed so much on this journey, from love to health. Without pain, without sacrifice, I would have not been where I am today. Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve and if you’re good enough your time will come. I’m excited for generation Z and how they shape the future. There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made,” Roopam said.
The Logical Indian appreciates Roopam for achieving such greatness at the age of only 23, and for his determination and hard work.
Also Read: This Young Man Brought Together Tribals, Students & Activists In TN Villages To Solve Water Crisis
With #MySocialResponsibility, we aim to bring you more inspiring stories of individuals and organisations across the globe. If you also know about any changemakers, share their story at
[email protected] and we’ll spread the word.