Flying High - Sahevaan TAneja talks with You & I

He has the relentless enthusiasm, passion, and energy that comes with youth. Sahevaan, who is in Hyderabad on his break from college in America, is making the most of his time in the city by engaging in a host of activities. The most prominent and exciting of these is working on the Manned Octocopter Project. We caught up with the ambitious young lad to find out more.

Tell us about yourself and what you’re currently doing.
Ever since I was a kid, I used to break toys just to try to open them up and fix them. I guess I was lucky that I got it right the first time around. That feeling of being able to rectify a problem made me think in a different direction: If I can fix something that is already made, I can also make it from scratch. This made me add a little bit more of ‘yes’ to my life than I did before. I also soon learned that not everything will go my way; even if it’s a ‘yes’ from me, it can be a ‘no’ from parents, school or anyone for that matter. But I understood that if I am persistent enough, and for the right reasons, I will find a way to achieve what I set out to achieve. A big shout out to my parents and my high school – CHIREC – for supporting me through thick and thin. They’ve helped me, financially, emotionally and every other way, to follow my passion of building anything that moves.

I always wanted to ride motorcycles as a kid, but my dad would stop me saying it isn’t safe or legal. So he challenged me to build my own motorcycle at the age of 13. I figured the only way I could ride a motor cycle was by taking up the challenge; that way I couldn’t be stopped to test my own invention.

I am currently an Aerospace Engineering student at Syracuse University. Unfortunately, I broke my leg towards the end of last year and had to return to India to recover. As soon as I was able to walk, I was following my passions all over again, riding motorcycles, building DIY projects, etc. Since I realised I had a year’s worth of free time, with no studies and enough time to dedicate to my interests, I decided to become more independent, get a job, and work on a project of my interest. I consider myself lucky that CHIREC was once again willing to support my passion, and allowed me to mentor some students in the Physics Club to design, build and fly a Manned Octocopter (a drone that can carry a person). But I guess it didn’t come that easy; the opportunity only came my way because I was capable of saying ‘yes’ and proving myself again. While I was working on this project, I was also invited by Krishna Teja, the CEO of the start-up The Makers of Things, to work for his company as a ‘Maker’ or what others call a product developer. Here I developed educational kits that will make science and engineering fun. Both these projects seemed to fit my ideals very well, and I feel like I have made the most of the past couple of months here.

What has the experience of studying abroad been like? What do you like the most about college life there?
My experience in America hasn’t been the smoothest. Apart from all the studies, I was also trying to be out there and take up projects that I would not have the time to finish. That is when I learned that I could not say ‘yes’ to everything, and that I had to gauge my abilities and seek advice before taking such big steps in life. I did not face any problems being an Indian, despite what many people might think. I had friends of all races there and I seemed to fit in quite well. I really liked the open-mindedness of the people. Despite my age and background, I was given a lot of opportunities because I had proven myself. There are a lot of opportunities for people like me who enjoy hands-on experience more than textbook learning.

Tell us more about your project on drones.
I had approached CHIREC a few months ago seeking to work with them on a big project, and they seemed quite fascinated by the idea of a flying drone that is capable of carrying a human. Throughout the process we learnt a lot of other things, like movie making and directing, designing a website and dealing with Indian customs. During the course, my cousin Surya Taneja (automobile engineering graduate from Manipal) and friend Sahil Mohammed (mechanical engineer from MJCET) helped immensely in designing, manufacturing, and testing. The team, consisting of myself, Amog Iska, Vineet Alaparthi, Vinay Kanumuri, and Aditya Maddukuri, have been working on the Manned Octocopter Project for about nine months now, and we have collected sponsorship from various sources.
The idea behind this project was to promote a ‘you can do it’ attitude in the STEM fields, and to encourage students like us to think of crazy inventions, seek the right guidance, and ‘do it’ because we’re in a world where technology isn’t limited anymore. We finally test flew the project on June 11, and were very happy with the results as they seemed to be consistent with what we had expected. Through the process, we sought guidance from Capt. Vicky Singh Randhawa – the father of aeromodelling in India. He was very helpful in validating the results during the static testing of the frame and testing on the propulsion system. He also guided us throughout the design and manufacturing process. It has been an immensely pleasurable experience, as it was streamlined with my interests inaircrafts and engineering.

What are your other interests and hobbies?
From the age of 13 I was picking up spanners and drill machines and trying to create something of my own. I built my first RC aircraft from scratch under the guidance of Captain Randhawa, and if it weren’t for the encouragement I received from my father, I wouldn’t have had the zeal to get it flying. After that I built several motorcycles, go-karts and even a boat. Along with a team of seven others, at 16 I designed and built a hovercraft and a rocket that flew a kilometre high at CHIREC. I also worked with Delta Tech for two years to design a surveillance UAV for the forest rangers in India. I guess you can now gauge that my interests lie in anything that moves, either building or using.

I am also a big foodie and I guess the thing I missed the most about Hyderabad was the food. I make sure to have my morning dosa every day and shawarma as an evening snack at different places. Tasting food from different areas helps me appreciate our culture even more.

Where do you see yourself in a few years? What are your ambitions and aspirations?
I have always been interested in researching, designing and educating others. I want to eventually get into education, possibly as a professor at some university, as it would enable me to research and work on various things. Until I get there, I would like to work as a product designer/engineer, preferably in an aerospace-related company. I have always dreamt of owning a house by the beach with a runway in the backyard where I could fly off. So at some point in my life I want to design my own aircrafts and just fly them off my backyard.       --- as told to Suneela