IIT Gandhinagar PhD Scholar wins 1st prize from DRDO for developing high-sensitivity optical contact microphone for all defence forces

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Palaj: Chandan Kumar Jha, a PhD scholar in Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN), recently won the first prize in the “Dare to Dream DRDO Innovation Contest” organized by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He received this award in the challenge area of ‘Wearable Communication Technologies for Special Operations Soldiers’ for his project titled “An optical fibre-based microphone with very high background noise suppression capability for use in combat zones”.

The award ceremony was held at DRDO Bhawan, New Delhi on October 15, 2019, on the occasion of India’s former President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam’s birthday anniversary. Hon’ble Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh conferred the award to Chandan in the presence of National Security Advisor, PMO, Shri Ajit Doval; Chairman DRDO, Dr G Satheesh Reddy; Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat; Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria. The award includes a cash prize of INR 5 lakhs, and mentorship and support from the DRDO to develop the product further.

The DRDO contest was also supported by AGNIi (Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations), Govt. of India, to invite ideas to enhance defence capabilities. Chandan is one of only 8 winners in the individual category who were selected from a pool of over 3000 contestants by a two-stage process comprising initial screening by a DRDO domain expert committee and a subsequent short-listing and ranking process by an independent expert committee.

Expressing his thoughts on this achievement, Chandan Kumar Jha said, “This award has become a source of great encouragement to me. It has given me confidence that our innovation can be useful to the defence and has motivated me to develop it further into a reliable product that can be readily used by our army. The mentoring and support assured by the DRDO in developing this product has further boosted my enthusiasm. I would like to thank my supervisor Dr Arup Lal Chakraborty for his support, guidance and motivation, as well as my parents and all others who motivated and helped me in this project.”

Chandan is working on his PhD research with Dr Arup Lal Chakraborty in the Photonic Sensors Lab, IITGN. He conceived this project along with his supervisor Prof Arup Lal Chakraborty while trying to record the human voice from throat using a fibre-optic sensor. This optical fibre-based contact microphone picks up the human voice with high sensitivity even in the presence of very high background noise, typically encountered in combat situations. Very loud background noise from artillery guns, inside battle tanks or an aircraft can lead to misinterpretation of the commands that are sent. Conventional microphones are unable to selectively pick up the human voice and suppress the ambient noise and therefore require the user to shout out commands with a high chance of misunderstanding.

The fibre-based contact microphone innovated by Chandan picks up the signal from the neck region and greatly suppresses the ambient noise with very little signal processing. This device should be equally useful to all the wings of defence forces that require communication in noisy areas.