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The Ericsson Innovation Awards

June 18, 2017

“Swedish vodka and the best meat you could ever have - hmm, well, if only I wasn’t a non-drinking vegetarian.”

“Four students from IIT Roorkee made the institute proud by grabbing the top spot at the prestigious Ericsson Innovation Awards, hosted at the Nobel Museum. We had a chance to talk to one of the members of the contingent, and ask him all about their exploits in Sweden.

WONA: First off all, how’d it all begin?

TEAM SNAP: Getting the first prototype ready, filing a patent, and publishing a paper on the results of the pilot implementation - an idea that I had while sinking in my bed, has certainly come a long way. I had the idea for this project in December, 2015, and have been working on the same, since then.

To begin with, the device is basically a multispectral imaging tool, which images a leaf at different wavelengths, in a very controlled environment, calculates Geo-imaging Satellites (GIS) based spectral parameters, and correlates the same with the nitrogen content in the leaves. Hence, you get to know the nitrogen content in the leaves, which can then be correlated with the nitrogen content in the soil, and, thus, you can get to know the optimal nitrogenous-fertilizer content, required for the best yield of your crops.

W: Tell us something about the Ericsson Innovation Awards.

EIA 1

TS: The Ericsson Innovation Awards, which were started in 2009, tend to promote innovation amongst university-students, motivating them to come up with original ideas. Thinking that we were original enough, we submitted our project. I had looped in others, the current team as you know, to participate in the competition. However, it was Ankit Bagaria, who led the ante further in terms of everything not-tech. I had one job: getting the product ready, i.e. a working and presentable prototype.

Though we did apply for the competition, I wouldn’t be lying if I said that we were the quintessential should-not-be-selected team, back then. However, “it’s a new day, it’s a new sun.”

With a great presentation, and some great pilot runs coming our way, we realized that we could actually make it. And we actually got into the top 13 out of 907 teams, across the globe. WE were shocked with the selection, frankly. Hell, there was a team from Stanford! Last year’s top 3 had included a team from MIT, so, I wouldn’t be over-extrapolating if I said that we had actually beat teams from all the biggies.

EIA 2

W: Must have been pretty overwhelming!

TS: Well, things just got wilder, for we actually made it into the top 3, and were selected to present our prototype at the World Finals, which was supposed to be held at the Nobel Museum, Stockholm, Sweden.

We got an actually presentable prototype (believe me, the one used for pilot implementation looked like a screwed up shoebox) ready, which was giving quite awesome results. We tested this one for a decently healthy leaf, and a totally dead leaf, and the results were amazing.

W: Talk us through your first day in Sweden.

TS: We reached our Hotel, “Hotel Connect, Kista,” near the Ericsson’s Global office, Kista, Sweden. If you are into electronics, you are in for some anxiety a ttacks when you get to this place. Linear Technology, Xilinx - the ones you use for making all the basic structures - to biggies like Panasonic, Bosch - who build upon those basic structures - everyone had their offices here. KTH’s research facilities were a 5 minute walk. I, for one, was certainly witnessing transcendence.

We were supposed to record a 45 second pitch, the very next day, in the morning. Not much of a big deal, since it had been months that we had been practicing our pitching skills. I must say, though, the Ericsson Studio was beautiful!

EIA 3

These guys, they have projects from 5G to virtual reality to predictive transport network systems to whatever-you-want-to-get-anxious-about. We also got to click ourselves with an emmy award - certainly won’t win one, ever, in my life, but, at least, I shall always have a click to back my bluff with.

Meanwhile, our crew had witnessed some additions. We had the global talent acquisitions head, some interns, and some other employees join us.

W: Coming to D-Day. What was going through your head?

TS: Back in Studio, we started pitching our MVP and demonstrated the same to the Ericsson employees, who were kind enough to stop and listen to our rants of how Agriculture is dying.

At the Museum, I don’t think I could control my anxiety anymore. We were at the Nobel Museum! While everyone was busy mugging their pitches, I was going around the Museum, doing experiments with some pretty hefty equipments - which, unlike our labs, was working. The gift shop - it was a heaven of its own. From Bob Dylan to Einstein, there was everything. 400 well spent Kronas later, I realized we had 10 minutes left before our pitch. High time I mugged up my part of the pitch? Certainly.

The jury was chaired by Sara Mazur, Head of Ericsson Research with Caleb Harper, MIT Media Lab, Dr. Catherine Mulligan, Imperial College London, Mattias Fyrenius, CEO Nobel Media, and Johan Jörgensen, Founder Stockholm FoodTech, as the jury members.

Snap the scene to the pitching room, we pitched our hearts out. Unluckily, we had too much content, and too less time - our Business model, we could just half-explain it - luckily, though, the judges did not care for it. Clicking images and get chlorophyll content? “You think I’m crazy, convince me with that, we’ll get to the business model later” - certainly what the judges felt, for all they asked us were technical questions. Now, here is where the 1.5 years of efforts helped us. We were spot on with the technical questions; frankly, I could speak a lot more than I did for the technical aspects.

W: What was the best part of the trip, you know, apart from being the global winners!

TS: THE RADIOHEAD CONCERT. It was something that had us overwhelmingly excited from the moment we landed in Sweden!

If you want to witness transcendence, go watch these guys live. I have been a fanatic of Radiohead, for an year now. Going there, I got to know why. The stripped down versions, the little flings they’d play with their instruments and vocals, it was too much for me to bare. I swear, if someone hugged me, I’d have sobbed hard.

EIA 4

I’ll give you this - when I retire, Sweden it’ll be. The people, the place, the atmosphere - it was all so satisfying.

W: Looking back, did you back yourself from the start? How confident were you?

TS: Well, since we never got down to the business model, I was pretty sure we’ve missed this one. There seemed no reason to me that a technical venture could win a technical competition, after all. Silly me? Spot on, because we did win. When you feel like you are screwed and there’s no chance that you could win a dime, but you bag 25000 euros (pretty huge, eh?), believe me, you burst out with some huge rushes of adrenaline.

And, that was it. Team SNAP got some snaps clicked, snapped out of the Museum, out of Sweden, and back to 40 degrees Celsius of grueling summer heat in India, from a pleasant temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. The experience got us through some amazing rushes of excitement, for sure!