Innovations—described as the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies or ideas—are available in plenty. But as many readily admit, hardly any come to fruition in India. The culprit: lack of funding support and mentoring to bring ideas to commercial utilisation. The situation in universities/colleges in the country is not very different, barring a few. Every year, despite thousands of engineering, science and design students undertaking projects as part of their curriculum, hardly any make it beyond the concept stage. Thankfully, the increasing mentorship and guidance of faculty members in some colleges/universities are making a difference. The examples illustrated here offer a ray of hope of indigenous technologies improving lives as well as offering low-cost options for industry. Funds being a problem, many of these innovators are yet to file for patents. Surely the government can help here. Not only will it see several-fold increase in the patents filed annually (from the 8,000 now), it would also make innovation a way of life and livelihood. At present, hardly a few among the innovators we spoke to look to research as a career, primarily because it doesn’t pay well. This is a loss India can ill afford. For innovation creates not just new products, it also creates entrepreneurs.
(Photograph by Vishwas)
Wheelchair that can climb stairs
Mentored by IIT Kanpur.
“Innovation gives me a lot of satisfaction. It is my dream to see some child go to school, college or even office in our wheelchair as no place is without barriers.”
Shanu Sharma, 26, a graduate of the Government College of Architecture, Lucknow, got involved in innovations while doing her masters in design from IIT Kanpur. The wheelchair, named ‘Vardaan’, was a result of her determination to see the innovation not just earn her marks but also find some utility. Thus began her collaboration with Alimco, a major manufacturer of wheelchairs. Selected for a PhD in design at IIT Kanpur, Shanu is currently involved in upgrading her innovation, done under the guidance of Prof J. Ram Kumar, Prof Satyaki Roy and Prof Shatrupa Roy, into a convertible wheelchair that can be used both for manoeuvring stairs and also flat surfaces. The department of science and technology has approved the project for further research so that it can be mass produced. Even as Shanu awaits the patenting of her wheelchair (based on how toddlers climb the stairs backwards), another of her innovations—the zero-energy filtered water handpump—also awaits a patent.
(Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
3D interactive table
Mentored by Foundation of Innovation and Technology Transfer, IIT Delhi.
“Innovations are not possible without the help of teammates. Where you lag, they will take it forward.”
Sachidanand Swami says he’s never been too studious. But he still did an integrated MTech in mathematics and computers at IIT Delhi, and worked in Germany and Denmark for two years, but he found little opportunity to put his innovative ideas to use. Back at IIT Delhi, Sachidanand teamed up with two engineering students —Isha Sharma of Banasthali University and Chirag Gupta of Jamia Millia Islamia—and under the guidance of Prof S.M. Ishtiaque, Prof G.S. Visweswaran, Prof Hanmandlu and Prof Joby Joseph, built the first prototype of an interactive 3D table. Its uses are endless—many people can read the same book from different sides; it can be used to study anatomy, make real estate projections, display retail luxury goods, even entertain kids at play school. Being commercialised under Invoxel brand, the Rs 1.5-2.5 lakh 3D table has already found acceptance, including at science museums. Next up, interactive 3D displays with objects visible in the air.
Fabric feel tester
Mentored by Foundation of Innovation and Technology Transfer, IIT Delhi
“Today if you’ve a good idea, funding is not a problem.”
—Prof Apurba Das
—Prof Apurba Das
Fabric feel is a generic term for the tactile sensations associated with fabrics, and it markedly influences consumer preferences. At present, there’s only a few instruments for evaluating fabric objectively, like the Kawabata evaluation system. Its main disadvantages are high costs, complexity and a time-consuming procedure. In contrast, the new Fabric Feel Tester developed by Dr Apurba Das of IIT Delhi and two of his ex-students, Sagar Khandri and Tarun Agarwal, is not only low cost but “takes hardly a minute to give the results”. The technology is with Texlab Industries in Ahmedabad now and is getting good market response.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Mentored by Delhi Technological University.
“It was a memorable journey. A very steep learning curve from designing to prototyping in 24 months, something the college curriculum never teaches.”
Awaiting clearances from the DGCA, the UAV developed by a student team from DTU can be used for persistent surveillance and reconnaissance survey over urban areas. The prototype UAV’s test flight earlier this year was a success. Mentored by Dr N.S. Raghava and V-C Prof P.B. Sharma, a 11-member student team led by Gaurav Gupta got funding support from Lockheed Martin in November ’09 after winning a US competition to design a small, next-generation UAV tailored for large, urban environments. Normally used by the defence sector for maritime patrolling and forest surveillance, no urban-specific UAV has been developed earlier. “This is designed for heavily populated cities like Delhi and Mumbai. It can be used to monitor the environment, and electromagnetic and building obstructions,” explains Gaurav, who along with three teammates, Subhasish Sasmal, Shaurya Shankar and Nihar Khurana, has now moved on after graduating. Gaurav will continue to mentor the project in the next phase.
Low-cost life-support system
Mentored by PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore
“Once you see the technology transfer and its use in hospitals, you feel happy, particularly because it’s a life-saving machine.”
Developed in 2006, a low-cost, indigenous ventilator for adults has sold almost 200 units in the market so far since the technology transfer by PSG College of Tech to Pricol Medical Systems. Now, another ventilator has been developed specifically for infants. “The infant ventilator has also shown positive results during field trials,” says Udhaya Kumar who has been working with faculty members Dr P.V. Mohanram and Dr C. Manoharan. There is also the low-cost multi-parameter or physical fitness monitor on the anvil.
Photograph by Apoorva Salkade
Automobile air-conditioning using engine exhaust
Mentored by Government College of Engineering (GCOE), Pune
“The problem we are facing is in funding, as R&D is very expensive.”
—Harish Umashankar Tiwari
The concept of using heat from engine exhausts isn’t new but it had become obsolete with the advent of vapour technology. Concerns about the environment and fuel efficiency has rekindled interest in adsorption technology, says Harish Tiwari, assistant professor at Pimpri Chinchwad College of Engineering, who has developed a system to use exhaust heat to cool truck cabins. The system can also be used in other automobiles as well as in other applications where waste heat is available. Pursuing a PhD from gcoe, Pune, Harish focussed first on road transport for, during summer, truck cabins can be like a furnace. Providing air-conditioning with a Rs 40,000 one-time expense can be a boon, says Harish, who is working under the guidance of Prof Dr G.V. Parishwad of gcoe Pune. “A model of the system has been developed and tested successfully in our college laboratory. Work is in progress to develop a full-scale system which can be installed in an actual truck,” says Harish. Efforts are also on to reduce the overall weight of the system—it is now 30 kg—to make it more compact.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Active Current Conditioner
Mentored by IIT Kharagpur
“Till innovation does not come into the market, it does not have value.”
As a student at IIT Kharagpur, Shwetank Jain won the businessman competition in 2006 and with it seed funding for further developing his innovation for power ‘load balancing’, done as part of his BTech under the mentorship of Dr Gautam Poddar. The same year Shwetank floated a company, P2 Power Solutions. The company developed a user-friendly digital device which offers solutions to voltage and current flow issues, refining power quality and reducing losses by 5-15 per cent. Shwetank, who has a 30-member team now, says company focus is on innovation.
Photograph by Amit Haralkar
Automatic Dental X-Ray Processor
Mentored by Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai
“Students doing innovation find that commercialisation and IP protection are major missing links.”
—Dr Shital Somani-Kasat
As a BDS student in 2009, Dr Shital understood the tedium of manually developing dental X-rays. The fact that it also gives inconsistent results and that the cost of chemicals works out to be high made her approach the Mumbai-based Science for Society, a diverse group of young people from different streams but with a common vision. Mentored by Prof B.N. Thorat at Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, and supported by Prof Freny Karjodkar of Nair Dental College, the young team comprising Dr Shital, Vaibhav Tidke (chemical engineer), Swapnil Kokate (polymer engineer), Aditya Kulkarni (computer engineer) and Shantanu Pathak (electronics engineer) came up with the chemical engineering innovation in just three years. The new machine requires zero maintenance, has no moving component, and can process X-ray film in two minutes and saves 75 per cent on chemicals. What’s more, it delivers consistently high quality X-ray images, an asset in diagnosis. The team is in the process of filing for a patent with the help of IP expert Usha Athreya. So far, agreements have been signed with three companies for commercialisation of the low-cost solution.
E-Nose Or Ultra Sensitive Low-Cost Explosive Detector
Mentored by IIT Bombay
“Things are changing as many students are moving towards research unlike a decade back.”
—Neena A. Gilda
A BTech in electronics, Neena A. Gilda is currently further developing the Multi Channel Electronic Nose System, which works as a substitute for a sniffer dog and can be used by a layman for explosive molecule detection—under the guidance of Prof V. Ramgopal Rao, Prof Maryam S. Baghini and Prof D.K. Sharma at IIT Bombay. The E-Nose, a handheld explosive detector designed and developed at IIT-B, uses a micro cantilever-based piezo resistive sensor along with ultra-sensitive instrumentation. At the same time, Neena says work is on “to make the whole system on a single 1mm x 1mm chip integrated with sensor on it. Also we are planning to implement energy-harvesting techniques to make the device self-powered”.
Very impressive and uplifting! One senses that there is more innovation taking place in India, than we would think. This is almost certainly a sampling.
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