Guest Blog by Rishabh Vashistha
This is a blog about my dream and the journey undertaken to make that dream a reality. A journey that took me on a roller coaster ride, took me places, and, finally, transformed me into the person I am today. The purpose of this blog is to take you through a series of events that may help you in deciding whether to give up on your dreams or to realize them to reality with sheer determination and willpower.
The Journey Begins — ‘Dawn Jaeger Tenacity Award’ at Maryland, USA
I had always had this in my mind that whenever I joined the Armed Forces, I would prove to be an asset to the forces. I had an inclination towards knowing the technical know-how of how do aircraft fly and operates. I was fascinated by the fighter jets. So, I started exploring opportunities in my 2nd year of B Tech for the same. I became a member of the robotics society of my college and did some work on image processing for a few months. After which we formed a team to participate in an International Aviation Competition named Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Student Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS). Our team comprised of 10 members. I worked extensively on the Image Processing Unit of an RC plane which we developed on our own to complete certain objectives been laid by the rules of the competition. Some of them were to fly the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle autonomously and send the telemetry logs to the ground station, the interoperability task, automatic localization, segmentation and classification of the ground objects, search and rescue operation task, payload drop task and much more. The competition was held at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS), Webster Field in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, USA. This was the site of the UAS Test & Evaluation Directorate. We were among the only chosen teams which were selected for the International round from India. We were awarded prize money worth 1500 USD in the interoperability and computer vision tasks which were monitored by me closely for attaining 5th global rank out of 56 odd international teams from a number of countries. We were also awarded a special award named “Dawn Jaeger Tenacity Award” which was given to only a few chosen teams for extraordinary performance in the tasks assigned. We stood 25th in the overall ranking worldwide. You may refer to the link below to know the ranking of our team “Zeppelin FC-26” of the competition held in 2016.
Resignation & Revelation
After completing B Tech, I came to Chennai to join an MNC in 2018. I had been given a differential offer under which the position and salary offered by the company were lucrative as it was well beyond something a fresher could expect. So, I joined the company. Soon after joining, I realized that this is not something I want to do. Ergo, 20 days after joining, I handed in my resignation. I took a strange decision to stay in Chennai and not to go back home. I had not even told anyone about the resignation. I had already failed at joining defence forces for more than 8 times by then for the reason which was still not known to me. I wanted to take a break from the rat race and wanted to know more about me. For this very reason took a break of 3 months in which I started exploring myself.
I started reading a lot of books. I started doing introspection on a daily basis. I started interacting with society more. I used to feed the stray dogs (about 20 in number) every day in the evenings. I was managing the expenses with the money I had saved while I worked as a research intern in the last year of my B Tech. During my research tenure in IIITD, I had worked under Dr. Gaurav Gupta on “Designing Techniques to Enhance the Data Capacity and Security of Graphical Codes” that find application in Digital Forensics. I had developed algorithms to increase the capacity of QR (Quick Response) codes by 4 times with state of art decoding accuracy to develop a new form of Robust Colour QR Code. These algorithms significantly enhanced document fraud detection and authentication rates.
I had also started cooking at a Dhaba owned by the same owner of the PG in which I am living today. I used to cook more than 200 chapatis daily. In addition to I joined the Chennai Cycling Group as part of which I used to go to tree plantations events on weekends. We use to make saplings of the various seeds to be grown. Apart from the activities I used to go to bird watching events as part of Anithai Group comprised of a group of volunteers active in social work. I used to go to the beach and do yoga daily also.
Bringing India to Her Villages
There were a number of activities in which I used to take part like beach clean up drives and outreach programs. One such outreach program was organized by the team to a remote village where we went to do wall painting and teach elementary mathematics to students of a primary government school. I would like to share an event that happened there. While I was interacting with the school children there. I started asking them about the kind of prayer and poems they use to recite in the morning drills. I happened to ask one of the students if he knew how does our National Emblem looks like. Surprisingly they didn’t even have a clue as to what a national emblem is and what does it symbolizes. I had to draw something in relation to their mathematical formula on the walls of the classroom as per the program. An idea came to mind to sketch National Emblem also in the main hall. I took permission from the school authority and drew a beautiful Emblem using black paint. Everyone liked it so much. I played with the children. I gave some of them a quick ride of the ground taking them on my shoulders. It was a day well spent. I still remember their innocent faces while they were playing with me and at the same time the mere ignorance of not knowing about our National Emblem. I hope whenever they will see that emblem they will remember the time I spent with them and of course what I taught them about its importance.
Cardinal advise by Col MM Nehru Sir
I starting paying more attention to workout for which I purchased a bicycle and used to do cycling daily for at least 20 km. I took membership in the swimming complex also. It was going all well by the time I gave an interview in Google and Amazon meanwhile. I was subjected to a question in the HR interview round that is most frequently asked “Where do you see yourselves after 5 years down the lane” to which my reply was “An officer serving in the Indian Army wearing the uniform of the elite group of the Army Aviation Corps”. This quite obviously led to my rejection even after clearing the most gruesome technical and programming rounds in the interview. It was now even more clear that I am not made for this corporate race. I attended 2 more SSB interview in this period in which I got conferenced out again. Now was the peak time for me to take the SSB business seriously as I didn’t have a single clue as to why I was not been selected even after doing so many projects and rejecting offers which might be considered as success parameters for many. A question always used to prick me “I was so truthful to my dreams and work then why am I not getting selected”. I introspected a-lot at that time but couldn’t think of any shortcoming which might be coming in way of me getting recommended by the board. At this point of time I was feeling helpless and heartbroken I needed a advisor who could assess me and tell what is wrong with my personality and where was I lacking. To my rescue came Col MM Nehru whose contact I got from my roommate. He took an hour-long interview and told me “you are better fit for something else than Defence Forces”. He confirmed that it was not to do anything with my achievements. The matter of concern he showed was what use will it be if I join defence forces and will be put to do the mundane tasks. He told me to sharpen my technical skill set in which I am good at and look for opportunities in which I am most interested in which could be used to serve the nation and add up to its development.
A new life at RAFT LAB, IIT Madras
I had participated in a number of programming contest at National and International Level like Google Code Jam, ACM ICPC Regionals, TCS CodeVita, IEEE Xtreme, Facebook Hacker Cup, Yandex Algorithms and Codechef Snack Down and secured ranks in top 5-10 % in these contests as well. To the best of my knowledge; programming skill was the best what I could do which could be of help in assisting in some project related to national security. I took Col Nehru’s advice seriously and started looking for the opportunities nearby my area of stay ie Metukkupam Chennai. Luck favored me this time and I came to know that IIT Madras and Hindustan University were almost at an equal distance to where I was staying. I started searching for opportunities therein the domain which I was most interested in ie Aerospace. I compiled a list of professors who were working in the same domain. I drafted a convincing mail explaining about my previous projects and the current situation. I used to mail them on a daily basis twice. After much effort I received a welcoming mail from the HOD of Hindustan University. I went to meet him, he seemed to be excited to meet me and to know about my future goals and past decisions. He interviewed me for the position of Research Intern in his department. I got selected there but didn’t have much clue of what kind of project I will be subjected to there. So I started looking for some specific work of my interest. I got an affirmative reply from one of the professors of IIT Madras with whom I am working till date. It proved to be a game-changer for me. I met people whom I could have never met in my life if I would have not taken that decision of resigning the job. I started connecting the dots and begun to feel thankful to the almighty for subjecting me in the kind of situation which eventually led me to meet such a gentle person. His name is Dr. Ranjith Mohan who is working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering of IIT Madras. It was mere coincidence that he was working on a similar project in which I was interested. He was working on the stabilization of a quad gun mount system. I eventually joined the “RAFT LAB” ROTORCRAFT LAB of the department.
Working on ISRO’s ambitious projects for MARS and VENUS missions
It was the best thing that could happen to me at the moment. I gave the interviews and got selected. I started as a research intern there and after working for a month I was promoted to Project/Research Associate. I continued to attend the SSB interview but I could not get through. By then I got the hint from the interviewing officer that I would be a better fit for some other organization where my technical potential could be realized to the fullest of its potential. He hinted me to join ISRO or DRDO, the same thing which Col M M Nehru suggested me to do. I couldn’t think of any career option other than Armed Forces. But after attending 15 odd SSB interviews; it became quite obvious to me that I should now think of a second career option as well. Luck favored me once again. This time an opportunity to work on an ISRO Project came to me without many efforts. Dr. Ranjith with whom I was working on the gun recoil system, offered me to work on a project he was assigned from ISRO. The title of the research work was “Development of Rotor Craft UAV for operation in Martian Atmosphere”. I used to dream about this while I was in the 10th standard on this kind of project. I begin to think as if all the dreams do come true sooner or later. It is all a game in which I was merely a participant who was dancing on the acts of almighty. I couldn’t believe for a moment it was actually happening. I started working on the project. My role of responsibility was to code an optimizer in order to solve a non-linear optimization problem to design a wing that could provide a must thrust to lift the probe in the martian atmosphere. I learned a lot during this project. Dr. Ranjith was happy with my quick grasping power and the tool I designed in C++ for the projects. We are using the program till date for the project on which I am currently working and that too is one of the ambitious projects of ISRO titled “Feasibility Studies and Preliminary Aerodynamic Design of Autorotation based Venus Descent System”. Instead of designing the rotor to produce lift; in which I am currently working on designing the shape of the rotor which will help in descending procedure to descend from an orbital radius of 150 km above the Venus Crust to 50 km distance through a varied highly dense Venusian Atmosphere.
Co-Founder at Rodella Technologies Pvt. Limited
I would like to mention one more incident through which I met a person who is my best friend today. He is Vasu, an Aerospace Engineer from IITD Madras who was working closely on the same project of gun and quadcopter system. He was working on the control mechanism of the quadcopter and gun mounted under it. I was the one who was working on nullifying the impulse being generated when a shot is fired from the gun. We eventually developed a novel algorithm using LQR(Linear Quadratic Regulator) to adjust the PID gains automatically prior to firing which could stabilize the impulse to extent that gun ranging from handheld pistol to AK47 could be mounted under the quadcopter with a maximum drift of only 8 cms. We successfully tested the platform with a pseudo 9mm pistol palette gun. Both of us started working on a project which was one of the Vasu’s dream project and which was also a part of his BTP(B Tech Project). Both of us had the vision to make a quadcopter that would be able to hack into the GPS system of the mobiles in a target area of military importance. We started off from where he had finished his BTP and started building on top of what we had done collectively in the Quad Gun duo system. After working for a few months we were able to integrate the AI capabilities in the custom made unmanned quadcopter. This system was equipped with the algorithms to hack into the GPS system of the rogue drones and bring them down or change their course of flight path towards the waypoints to which we want it to follow. We did it by hacking into the GPS system of the target drone and spoofing the signals. This ambitious project got the attention of the internal media cell of IIT Madras and eventually spread in the mass media. Upon seeing the potential of the project and the technology we had developed we decided to run a startup out of it and now we are a registered startup company under Startup India by the name Rodella Technologies Private Limited. Within few weeks this news went viral all over the Internet and news channel in Chennai and later pan India. We were being interviewed by various correspondents of newspapers like Deccan Herald, The Hindu many more. We also got a chance to showcase the capabilities of this product in the Defence Expo. We are currently working on fostering the idea of “Indigenisation of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles”.
Message to the Reader
This blog explains to the reader who I am and what I want to do. How I felt while I was going through the struggles of my life and much more. The reason I want you to read this blog from the bottom of my heart is that I know.. I know many of you are facing exactly the same helplessness deep within you which I have been through. I know the kind of grief you all have when you are not able to achieve what you truly want and I know what it takes to get out of that cozy little comfort zone of yours and get into action. I hope this journey of mine will help you decide whether to let go of your dreams or rather be the creator of your own destiny. I would like to just convey the long story in short that “Whatever you do.. whatever be the situation… how tough it may seem… Just don’t let go of your dreams” and the only mantra which will surely help you sail through all the rough storms while you will be exploring the unexplored ocean of opportunities which is ready to unleash the wrath upon you at times when you will be least expecting is “To believe… To believe in your capabilities… To believe in your dreams and to be truthful to yourselves”. Be truthful to the core of your soul and to the purest form of who you really are. You may be an altogether different personality in front of your teachers, parents, friends, girlfriend/boyfriend. You may choose to fool them but you don’t ever dare to fool yourselves. All the very best to all of you. I will meet you in my next blog till then keep dreaming and working hard to realize them to reality.
Department of Aerospace Engineering,
Rodella Technologies Pvt. Limited,
Feel free to contact me in case if you want to know more about me or my work.