Atal Innovation Mission

Wall of Fame

Wall of Fame

From Mentoring to Patenting

My Name is Gayathri Manikutty and I am a AIM Mentor of Change. I will share my mentorship journey with my mentee and daughter Madhumati Anand to her US patents.

Madhu (as she is called by everyone) always loved tinkering and doing hands-on activities. She was an avid fan of Lego Mindstorms and built several Lego robots and participated in World Robotics Olympiad with her robots. In 2018, an Atal Tinkering Lab was established in Madhu’s school, Amrita Vidyalayam Puthiyakavu, Kollam, Kerala. In that year, Madhu built her first tensegrity structures with drinking straws and rubber bands.

We got started on this project when Madhu and I saw a video of NASA Super Ball Bot and were both inspired by it. I bought her a book by Kathy Ceceri titled Making Simple Robots. Madhu learnt how she could build a robot with drinking straws and rubber bands from that book and started building tensegrity structures by herself. Together, we watched several YouTube videos on more complex tensegrity structures. I would work with Madhu to try and figure out how to build them. Though tensegrity robots was very complicated for her to understand how to build, just building the tensegrity structures itself fascinated her. She started building different polyhedral shapes of tensegrities with straws and rubber bands – they were beautiful and challenging to reverse engineer to figure out how to build them.

After the first Kerala floods happened in August 2018, one day, while have a discussion with me, we both came up with the idea of building tensegrities for air dropping medical supplies to people affected by the floods using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles). We came up with the idea of building tensegrities with cane sticks and jute strings which are locally available and using coir padding to wrap the medicines to eliminate all use of plastic. We called it biodegradable tensegrity structures. I discussed this idea with other mentors and researchers from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham - AIM Mentor of Change, Akshay Nagarajan and AMMACHI labs, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham faculty Ashish Mohan. Akshay and Ashish were planning on setting up a student aero club and a disaster preparedness club in Amrita Vidyalayam Puthiyakavu school. We discussed including this as a project as a part of the Student Aero Club and mentoring the children together.

On 18th August 2019, the Student Aero Club for all Atal lab students was initiated in Amrita Vidayalam Puthiyakavu school. Akshay and Ashish conducted several workshops on aero modelling, flight dynamics, drone flying etc for students who enrolled for the aero club. Madhu was in Class IX at that time. In the aero club, she discussed her tensegrity idea with two of her classmates, Sanjula Sreekumar and Vyzag Ajith. The three children were excited about the project and they decided to work on this project. I helped the children divide the work such that Sanjula researched the problem from the disaster response aspect. Akshay and I connected Sanjula to several first responders who had provided help for flood victims. She got guidance from them to help the team understand the most pressing challenges faced by people during the floods. Vyzag was interested in the drone itself. He worked with Ashish and Akshay on slowing down the payload’s descent speed when dropped from the drone. And Madhu worked with me on innovating her tensegrity structure to make modular so that it can be assembled quickly. Together we learnt many lessons on tensegrity designs, what works and what doesn’t and how to engineer tensegrities for quick assembly.

With help from three mentors Akshay Nagarajan, Ashish Mohan and me, the three children conducted several tests with drones to ensure that they payload of insulin vials did not crack when dropped from heights of over 70 meters (230 feet). Thrilled by the results, I helped the three children write a research paper about their journey of building the tensegrity structures for emergency medicine supply during disasters. The children submitted their paper to a Maker conference Fablearn Asia 2020 International Symposium. Their paper got accepted for presentation and the three children presented their paper ( at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand in January 2020.

Because of Atal Tinkering Lab, the children had a chance to be part of a student aero-club and disaster preparedness club in their school. They learnt how to make their own drones and came up with innovative ideas for using drones for humanitarian applications such as providing emergency medical relief during disasters such as the floods in 2018. They got feedback on their project from experts such as Dr. Sekhar Lukose Kuriakose, Head Scientist at Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) who came to visit their Atal Tinkering Lab.

Based on the positive feedback we received, in 2020, I helped Madhu file a US patent and an India patent for this work. In 2022, the US patents were granted as two patents - US Patent 11,332,297 and a divisional patent US Patent App. 17/722,161. India patent is pending.

The journey from an idea from concept to Patent took nearly 4 years. A lot of time and effort has gone into the biodegradable tensegrity project. But it has also been great fun and a wonderful learning experience. Mentoring has given me an opportunity to become a child again, to become part of the children’s dreams and aspirations. I believe I have learnt as much from the children as I have been able to teach them. I thank AIM and NITI Aayog for designing the wonderful Mentor India mentorship initiative to support and nuture the future innovators of India.

Gayathri Manikutty,
Mentor of Change