‘Run where the air is cleanest’

Targets and drivers

Akshit Gupta enjoys tinkering with computers and is an avid runner. He would like to provide more insight into local air pollution via a data platform.

‘When I was six years old, I saw a computer inside for the first time. I had just got a PC and was playing games such as Need for Speed and Hitman. I wanted more games on it and it required an extra memory card. I was living in New Delhi, India at the time. My cousin had taken a computer course and he wanted to add it soon. Only it didn’t work, so a technician had to come. As a teenager, I learned how to repair my own laptop from YouTube videos. People with technical problems called me, I wanted to be an electronics consultant.’

Targets and drivers
To make the world a little better, that is the ambition of many engineers. Read their personal stories in the file Measure and drive.

Productive

‘I did a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication technology at the University of Delhi. Then I worked on voice activated technology at Airtel, the second largest mobile network in the world. I quickly discovered that new technology in particular fascinated me, so continuing my studies was the logical choice. The master’s program in embedded systems offered an interesting mix of hardware and software. Only two universities offer it: TU Delft and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The choice fell on Delft because the tuition fees are lower and because YES!Delft is known as one of the best start-up incubators in hardware. After my arrival in August 2019, a hard and productive year followed. I took twenty-five credits each block, while it was recommended to keep it at fifteen. After a year I decided to also do a master’s degree in computer science.’

Exhaust gases

‘Two months after arriving, I took part in a pitch competition for startups, organized by TU Delft. That’s where I first pitched the idea to Respire, the startup I’m working on now. It is a data platform for mapping air pollution locally. Air pollution kills eight million every year. In India, everyone is used to taking it into account. Not in Delft. I am an avid runner and while running I pass truck parking lots where I smell exhaust fumes. I was wondering if you could measure the air quality per street with sensors. Then you can adjust your running route accordingly. I won the competition and got investment money to further develop the idea. In the same month I won a hackathon in Tilburg. Such competitions are a pleasant relaxation next to studying. There is a refreshing and creative atmosphere with free food and drink and the opportunity to network with like-minded people. Life was very fast then, it was like a dream.’

Vulnerable trees

‘I have been working on my master’s research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA for a year now. There I am researching how to measure the health of trees on a hyperlocal scale using sensors on taxis or garbage trucks. Trees deteriorate quickly due to heat stress and this way you can keep an eye on them. Vulnerable trees are not only a risk of damage, but also an indication of climate change. Measuring these micro-variations can help fight climate change. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do after my master’s degree. Maybe a PhD research in Delft in combination with scaling up my startup, maybe MIT has something to offer. And a very interesting startup culture is now emerging in India. But Zurich in Switzerland, where the technical university ETH is located, is also interesting. You can run around the lake there. Wherever I go, my running shoes go with me.’

Text: Amanda Verdonk
Portrait: Bianca Sistermans

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