Prosthetics and AI

Prosthetics and AI

The human body is a fascinating machine. Quite complex and intricate. Next to the human heart and mind, the four limbs (i.e. arms and legs) are an intrinsic part of how we define ourselves in life. But not everyone is fortunate to have a healthy pair of limbs. Due to war, disease, accidents or genetic anomalies, not all human beings are blessed with a working pair of limbs. Most lead on to have sad and unproductive lives. Some even resort to begging and stealing to make ends meet. It’s at this juncture that artificially powered limbs become critical. While they’re yet to be the perfect replacement to natural limbs, AI enabled limbs are catching up and exhibit interesting technologies that can perform nearly if not all the functions that a natural limb can. But what and how do these artificial appendages work? Let’s find out

Human hands and legs, while stationary when not being used, require a complex system of signals emanating from the brain to perform any function. Everything from walking to writing to swimming to painting, almost anything that requires use of the limbs, requires a variety of signals from the brain to perform the intended function. Artificial limbs are built on a similar principle. When a person, who’s lost the usage of his/her natural arms/legs or both, is fitted with artificial appendages, the latter takes cue from the nerves of the human user to perform any function. The appendage is fitted with a variety of sensors to replicate what its human user has in mind for it. 

Using a vast amount of data such as the pressure, angle, shape, contour and fluidity of natural human limb movement, the AI enabled appendage can mimic its siginificant better’s movement precisely. The degree to which it can perform such a function depends on the level of sensitivity the sensor encompasses. To ensure optimal usage under a variety of conditions, an AI enabled appendage is loaded with a variety of microprocessors that essentially perform the role of a human hand or limb. One such company that has made giant strides in this field is Ottobock. Named after the 20th century German prosthetist Otto Bock who made some of the world’s earliest prosthetics for soldiers injured in the 1st World War, this german based company has made a commendable prosthetic hand; BeBionic

BeBionic is a hand that has 14 selectable grip patterns along with an additional auto grip feature. Featuring powerful microprocessors and individual motors for each finger, this contraption can handle loads of upto 45 kgs. It also has soft finger pads along with proportional speed control that enables it to allow the user to grip a variety of surfaces with ease and confidence. 

Another prosthetic aid that has gained international recognition is the one that was used by former Paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius. The ‘Cheetah Xtreme’ features elements such as ‘Active tibial progression’, a feature that mimics the sprint and stop power of Olympic level able bodied athletes; ‘Proportional Response’ that takes into consideration the user’s weight and the impact of the heel with the surface as well as a ‘Waterproof internal structure’ that doesn’t allow water to seep in

Though prosthetics and AI still have a long way to go before they’re able to bridge the gap between paralympic and olympic level events, the giant strides they’ve made, courtesy the above two wonders, is commendable. 

Political campaigning and data science

Political campaigning and data science

Politics and sentiment have a deep relation. Only the leaders who can feel and understand the pulse of the people can effectively become better guides for their country. While public debates and speeches were and are still the most effective way for politicians of a country to have a tête-à-tête with audiences, thanks to advancements in information technology, establishing meaningful relationships with the audience has taken new forms and mediums. Today, politicians can understand the mood of their voter base via social media platforms, online campaigns and ‘Sentiment Analysis’ via neatly and comprehensively prepared surveys. 

If we are to focus our attention to the world’s biggest democracy aka India, the above scenario has special relevance. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections in the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) utilised data science in various ways to gauge public perception of their respective party’s ideologies and performance. 

The BJP roped in techie and entrepreneur Arvind Gupta as its digital campaign manager. Using a host of data science from national and international surveys, Gupta put forth an electoral campaign that factored in normal and critical time periods during which campaigning would yield the maximum results. ‘Key words’ spoken by leaders and public were paired against each other to see the level of coherence and connectivity. The higher the coherence, the better it was for the party to establish a firm footing. The trick, Gupta says, was to identify the issues that people mostly wanted to talk about and then gather data relevant to those issues. The top leadership could then communicate their party’s agenda based on the issues at rallies and via advertisements and woo the voter base to vote for them. 

Key details such as the Internet Penetration rate, mobile subscriber base, electricity penetration rate amongst others were researched, catalogued and entered into a neat system wherein BJP leaders could connect with their voter base. Use of hashtags and viral videos disseminated at the right place at the right time to the right audience were key to the BJP’s success. For the voters who were not or could not be connected to via these means, face to face communication was adopted. 

Given such a premise, it was a big moment when the BJP won 282 out of 543 seats in the elections, an absolute majority. The party has employed data science this time to gain a special place in people’s hearts. But can it set another absolute win in its second innings? That’s a question that we’ll have to patiently wait for. 

IRCTC and Data Science

IRCTC and Data Science

One of the most popular and convenient ways to travel in India is via trains. Truly, few modes of transport can beat the nostalgia and environment that train journeys evoke. There was a time when people used to queue up to buy tickets for their journeys but with the advent of Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), booking tickets became easier and faster. IRCTC was the beginning of the transformation of Indian Railways (IR).


Founded on 27 September, 1999, the organisation will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. But the journey to become one of the best ticket booking platforms hasn’t been easy. As time progressed and data costs, and smartphones became readily available, IRCTC had to deal with a huge influx of passengers. And it has done this task quite well. In fact, in the process of serving India’s 2 billion plus population, it has set quite a few interesting records. 


From only 27 tickets booked when the server first came online to booking more than 13 lakh tickets on April 1, 2015, the organisation has come a long way in terms of handling the demands of its customers. IRCTC along with Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) have changed the face of not just how tickets are booked but also how goods and services are booked, confirmed and transported across the country. But along with its string of noteworthy achievements, IRCTC has had to grapple with a lot of data pertaining to its customers. 


On an average, the site handles close to 5 lakh tickets per day. Translating that to numbers means the system sees about 5 lakh addresses, names, age, sex, quota, berth preferences, meal preferences and travel insurance preferences either as new data entries or as part of individual passenger history(s). This process is happening 24X7 and 366 days of the year with few to no server crashes. The system only rests for 45 minutes between 2345 hrs to 0030 hrs. And if we are to go a step further and estimate the transaction volume of one day, it is simply astounding. Taking a hypothetical figure of 100 Rs/ticket and 5 lakh transactions gives us a figurative daily revenue of 5 Crores. 


But the big question is how safe is all this data? Though IRCTC assures its partners and customers that the data they’re entering is protected using industry leading encryption standards, there have been instances when IRCTC faced major breaches in its system. Thanks to alert and responsible hackers, the situation was diffused before it could have escalated to a nationwide crisis. 


More than that, the Govt. of India is also considering monetising the tremendous amount of  data it has received. From a data scientist’s point of view, IRCTC has a treasure trove of data. Not only would the data help in understanding the travel demographics of India, it would also help in ideating and implementing schemes, upgrading routes and providing a more sustainable and environmentally responsible way of doing business at all levels. But the major question is; To whom will the data be sold? Other questions also abound; 


  1. Will the data be stored within India indefinitely or be kept on third party servers?
  2. How will customer privacy be maintained in the face of changing data usage policies ?
  3. How will data be used to empower allied transport and tourism services? 


While IR is coming up with strategies to deal with the above concerns and more, these are interesting times for the national railway carrier. 


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