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Akshay the Inventor

What happens when a multitalented tinkerer graduates.

Photography by Toni Bird and video by Erin Attkisson

MaY 2020

Does Akshay Dinakar, ’19, have some ideas? You could say that. He left Stanford last year with an engineering degree in product design—and more than a dozen designs and prototypes for inventions in fields ranging from music to bioengineering to entertainment. Some of his designs are open-source, making those technologies replicable around the world. His philosophy: “In today’s tech world, there’s so much ambiguity about what’s good or bad. Whatever it is that I create or contribute, I want people to agree that it’s a good thing.” In addition to expanding his own design portfolio, Dinakar has been taking advantage of Cardinal Ventures, an on-campus accelerator program for student start-ups, to help launch his consumer product company, Tangible. As for how he manages to do it all? Well, that’s a proprietary combination of ambition, positivity and a whole lot of sticky notes.

Close-up photo of Dinakar’s invention “Terrain,” a wooden board with a grid of copper sheeting and wires connected to three other boards—a circuit board, a wired connectivity board, and a 4x4 grid of metal buttons.

Terrain

Remember the bed-of-nails sensory toy? You depress one side to see a pattern raised on the other. This is its tricked-out electrical equivalent—a touch pad connected to a physical 3D matrix. It’s an early direction for Tangible, but shh—that’s under wraps.

Close-up photo of Dinakar’s invention “Moonwalk,” a small foil-like sheet that acts as a sensor and connects via a blue wire to small purple-and-white square electronic pack roughly the size of a coaster.

Moonwalk

“I have direct family experience with someone who experiences neuropathy, which is nerve damage that leads to numbness in the hands and feet,” says Dinakar. So, using household materials, he created a prosthetic sensor that uses haptic feedback to improve mobility and balance.

Close-up photo of Dinakar’s invention “Stikato,” a golden-colored music stand about the size of a sheet of paper with a small shelf extending out the bottom. A pair of hands demonstrate its size next to a white sheet of paper.

Stikato

“The world’s most portable music stand” sticks to any surface and improves posture for traveling musicians. Dinakar was a violinist in the National Youth Orchestra and has performed around the world.

Photograph of two Diya lamps designed by Dinakar. They appear to be about a foot tall and resemble the look of lanterns, shaped somewhat like a tulip before it has opened, somewhat like rockets. They are made of 3D printed wood cutouts that are then constructed.

Diya

Designed to reduce waste during manufacturing, these sustainable bamboo lamps inspired by Indian mythology require no hardware to assemble.

Photo of Akshay Dinakar, class of 2019, wearing his handmade robot suit. It resembles the look of a knight’s armor, with scattered red spray paint on an otherwise silver metallic material. The red plastic gloves and armguards are wired and connected to the suit. He holds the helmet under his  left arm, which has blinking colored lights around the visor and red fins coming out of the top.

Robot Suit

A USB-rechargeable suit featuring LEDs, lasers and a built-in speaker system that connects to your phone. After wearing the suit to the roving campus party Nomad a few times, “I was kind of this anonymous celebrity,” Dinakar says. Rumor has it “that people used to call me ‘Halo Man.’ ”

Melina Walling, ’20, is an editorial intern at Stanford.