Gizmo man of MIT
An innovator at the MIT Media Lab, Dhairya Dand has created a stir with his inventions
Sonali Seth

IT was an evening of indiscretion that changed Dhairya Dand’s life. The-morning-after-the-night-before resulted in an innovation that has the power to change the lives of all those who like a tipple in the evening and also believe that one good drink deserves another…and another!

The Indian-born inventor at the renowned MIT Media Labs in Massachusetts has devised LED ice cubes made of edible gelatine that track the number of drinks a person has had and start flashing once the limit is crossed and the user is in danger of getting intoxicated.

The invention is the result of a night of partying when Dand got so drunk that he blacked out and woke up in a hospital the next morning. “I wanted to invent something that would help people know how much they are drinking and when they’ve had enough. These ice cubes change colours from green to yellow to red depending on how much you've been drinking,” says Dand.

Dhairya Dand: (left)The MIT-based inventor has used research to make a difference to lives (Top) Ice cubes that change colour and tell people when they have had enough at a party (Bottom) Keyano, a keyboard from e-waste that sounds like a piano

Stages of inebriation

The ice cubes contain a battery, a microcontroller and a receiver. They will monitor not just every drink but also every sip you take. The cubes come in three colours — green, orange and red — to depict the varying stages of inebriation. “If you exceed your limit, the red cube will start flashing. You may ignore it but your wife won’t,” laughs Dand.

Born in a small village, the 24-year-old Dand grew up, as he says, “amongst plumbers, carpenters and masons.” He was himself trained to be a plumber, but changed the course of his life by deciding to attend college. He did his engineering from Mumbai’s Victoria Jubilee Technological Institute and went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA.

He is now an inventor at the MIT Media Lab, a place where designers, artist, engineers, biologists, physicists and other creative minds meet and develop innovative gizmos to address complex social problems.

E-waste to toys

However, Dand’s contribution to the group goes beyond the flashing ice cubes. On a trip to Cambodia he saw landfills of e-waste comprising computer keyboards, monitors and hundreds of discarded mouses. He also saw hundreds of children working at salvaging parts that could be sold. That set him thinking on what could be done to effectively utilise the computer waste and educate these children who were not going to school.“That’s when the idea struck me to convert e-waste into educational toys and ThinkerToys was born,” says Dand.

The result was the Keyano a keyboard that plays like a piano, the Storynory, a talking mouse that tells stories, Randomath, a keyboard-monitor combo that asks random puzzles, and TV++ which is a gaming console like the xBox but works with old computer screens. ThinkerToys has now become an open source of toy initiative across the world.

Dand is currently making what he calls a ‘second skin’ that can be worn like a pair of gloves. Once that is done it is ready to perform musical magic. You can pick up any musical instrument — guitar, drums, flute —and start playing it without even having any knowledge of music. The ‘second skin’ skin guides the fingers to play the instrument to perfection.


Like the ‘Second Skin,’ he is also developing ‘Supershoes’, which will know your likes and dislikes. And when you're out in a new city, instead of looking at your screen for maps, the shoes will take you places which are of interest to you.

With such inventions does Dand have the time to think what he wants to do in the future? “My life has always been a bag of surprises. I don't have a plan for tomorrow or next week or next month. I want to setup an innovation factory of sorts in rural India which invents devices with locally available skills and resources to solve problems faced by people. Eventually, I want this not to be an entity but a culture, a culture of making and solving problems using creative means. In India we have a beautiful word for it. It’s called Jugaad.” 














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