Even as you’re reading this, winds of change are blowing across India. From places as busy as Mumbai, as faraway as Erode and as troubled as Kashmir, great new ideas are sprouting, promising a better tomorrow, making us proud. Our nation of jugaad is taking a giant leap forward – inventing, adapting and creating bold new ways to make your everyday life easier.
We scouted the length and breadth of the country to find the brightest innovations, and roped in author and entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal to pick the ones with the most promise. This is a list that is as diverse as it’s ingenious. They’ve already inspired us to dream big – in full-HD, actually! Now it’s your turn…
Tools that compost your trash at home
Idea: Daily Dump
Brainchild of: Poonam Bir Kasturi
The NID graduate gave up a career in marketing and designing industrial products to start Daily Dump in 2006. The enterprise makes simple products that can turn your garbage into compost, reducing landfills, easing the load on municipal agencies and helping your backyard or balcony get a lot greener in the process.
It’s not rocket science. Use their three-tier Kambha in a corner of your verandah. Dump kitchen waste (potato peels, leftovers, apple cores) plus their compost mixer in the top vessel until full. Swap the first and second vessel and dump anew as the matter in the first vessel decomposes.
After a while (14 days for a household-sized unit) the stuff in your first vessel will have shrunk by half and be ready for the bottom pot, where it can start turning into manure for your garden. No stink, no flies, no additional costs, no sweat. "It’s very easy to use, convenient and everyone in the family, including your kids can use it," says Kasturi proudly.
Daily Dump does in your home what communities and governments across the world are struggling to do with the large volumes of waste they are, well, "dumped" with. Kasturi and her team have created their entire range of products from scratch and also have models for groups and neighbourhoods.
Daily Dump products are already available on dailydump.org, which has comprehensive instructions and tips for composting. Products are priced starting Rs 700. The latest invention is called the Aaga, a huge pot, meant for hotels, schools and offices. Available online from January 2015.
A ride-sharing app that’s actually safe
Idea: Let’s Ride
Brainchild of: Rajkumar Mundel, Praveen Mane and Averi Pal Choudhuri
Imagine you woke up one hour before an important meeting and missed your bus. Here’s an option that will be like hitching a ride with a friend, perhaps a new one. Let’s Ride, a free web app, is a platform for people to connect so they can carpool their way to work or college.
Log on to the Website (letsride.in), fill in your daily commute details and mention if you are a car owner and how many passengers you are ready to take on and the price you wish to charge. If you are a passenger, it will connect you with people going to your destination.
Launched in 2013 by three Pune engineers, Let’s Ride is different mainly because it taps into your existing social circles. It lets you share rides with people who have similar interests, are from your locality or work in the same office area.
There is a chat option for you to connect with the person offering you the ride. "Our site also links you to the social profiles of the users so that you can look them up and be sure of your safety," says founder Rajkumar Mundel.
The site has more than 11,000 participants in Pune and 6,000 users in other cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. The fare for the ride is directly given to the car owner by passengers.
In other cities
Ten minutes before you need a ride, give a missed call to the number the site provides. The site connects you to other users on the same route so you can carpool. It will soon be available as an app.
In Bangalore, sign up on this application with your corporate email ID or use your Linkedin.com profile and share rides with people who live and work in the same locality as you.
Brainchild of: Piyush Agarwalla Washing machines are bulky and expensive. That’s why this one, which clamps on to your bucket, plugs in, and gets to work for just Rs 2,499, is a good idea. It works much like an oversized blender, recreating in your bucket the same effect as a larger, more conventional washer. You save water, electricity, money and space – and God knows those resources are precious.
Mumbai resident Piyush Agarwalla studied engineering in the US, and has always had an entrepreneurial streak. The idea for a bucket-fitted laundry device came to him when he saw a 40-year-old photo showing something similar, but bigger, from Bulgaria, on the Web. He made it more compact and easy to use.
He says bachelors and campers are the ones most interested in the Econowash, but he hopes to manufacture it primarily for the poor.
Available on eBay India. The Econowash is crowdfunded but Agarwalla is being approached by investors interested in mass production. "If we produce it in lakhs, it will cost Rs 1,500," he says. "It’s one thing to make money. But as my mother said, ‘It’s better to make money and help people along the way’." Software that prevents stampedes
Idea: Controlling stampede using image analysis technology
Brainchild of: Pavin Kumar, S Vidyasagar, A Ramesh and KT Venkateshan If you are scared of crowds, you will love what these four students of Kongu Engineering College in Erode, Tamil Nadu, have devised. Their programme can sense crowd density by analysing images from a security camera.
"It then tells us which parts of a place (like temples or big festivals like the Kumbh) are likely to get more crowded and prone to stampedes," says S Vidyasagar. "This makes it easier for the police to control the crowd and prevent them."
A computer fed with the software and linked to the CCTVs lights up the areas that are prone to more footfall per square foot on its screen. So the officials manning the computer know where to direct help.
"We aim to have the programme send a direct signal to the walkie-talkie of the officials manning the ground." Imagine how much safer we would be if they used this programme at a music festival or the Pride parade.
The boys are seeking funding for further testing, and conducting practical experiments. "If we get it up and running, it can really make a difference," says Vidyasagar.
A toilet that needs no plumbing
Idea: The Banka Bioloo
Brainchild of: Namita Banka
"I was organising a women’s fair in Hyderabad and we wanted an organic toilet, but every company who makes it, sells it for Rs 4 lakhs a unit. There was a need for an affordable one." So she adapted the DRDO technology and now makes bioloos from recast concrete cement which cost only Rs 25,000.
This is how it works: the bathrooms are fitted with a bio tank, which collects the waste and treats it with bacteria so it’s converted into biogas (which can be used as fuel) and water (which can be recycled or discarded).
This means no clogging, and no waste on railway tracks, which, reports say, was corroding the rails. Banka also installs loos at construction sites, schools and colleges.
The Banka Bioloo is already installed on some Indian trains. If you travel from Lucknow to Delhi on the Gomti Express, you’ll know that it’s doing its bit for nature. By 2022, the Indian Railways aims to install the bioloo on all trains.
A blanket that fights mosquitoes
Brainchild of: Shreya and Kasturi Poddar
Imagine a mosquito flying towards you as you get ready for a nap. It’s dengue season and none of those coils, creams and vapourisers have worked. You need better weaponry.
How about some killer technology from the US and German army? A blanket treated with a chemical that paralyses and kills any mosquito foolish enough to come close. And no, it doesn’t smell, cause a reaction or harm the user. It just soldiers on as you sleep.
That’s what Mumbai sisters Kasturi and Shreya Poddar developed in 2014. Textile design student Kasturi was working at her father’s home-furnishings firm when she discovered that army uniforms in the West were being treated with mosquito repellents.
"I was shocked nobody was using it anywhere," she says. She teamed up with her sister, Shreya (a marriage counsellor) to develop a blanket that could be treated with the same chemical and Mos-Quit-O was born.
The Poddar girls have run safety tests at WHO-certified labs to ensure their blanket won’t trigger allergies. "A young mother just bought it for her child," says Shreya. "It’s safe for everyone."
Mos-Quit-O is available across India, including Amarsons in Mumbai and Premsons in Delhi, and Amazon and eBay. It lasts 50 washes and costs between Rs 999 and Rs 1,999. The sisters are working on a cheaper version and also a range of mosquito repellent nightwear. A menu for the visually impaired
Idea: A restaurant menu that reads itself out to those who have problems with their sight
Brainchild of: The Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) First off, it’s written in Braille. But if that’s still a challenge for a diner, that’s no problem. The menu is also audio-labelled, which means a stylus-like device reads out the text when it touches the menu.
Don’t want to trouble fellow diners? Just use the headphones that come with it.
"It’s all about promoting accessibility," says Dr Sam Taraporevala the director of XRCVC. All a restaurant needs to do is adapt their own menus to this format so visually challenged diners (even weak-eyed grandparents) have less trouble ordering.
Of course there’s a bonus for you too: you’ll finally know how to pronounce ratatouille (rat-ah-too-ee), gnocchi (noh-kee) and quesadilla (key-suh-dee-uh)!
Right now, only Mumbai restaurant chain Bombay Blue uses the technology. But XRCVC plans to make sure other restaurants follow suit soon. They are also going to use the software to make books, maps and diagrams more accessible.
A fridge that doesn’t need electricity
Idea: Mitticool Fridge
Brainchild of: Mansukh Prajapati
The Mitticool Fridge doesn’t need electricity. Instead it runs on a simple principle – when clay comes in contact with water, it drops 10 degrees in temperature. Potter Mansukh Prajapati’s invention uses 10 litres of water to cool down its terracotta clay body to keep a steady temperature of 10 to 15 degrees.
This makes it ideal to store fruits and vegetables for five to eight days. Milk products can last up to 24 hours in the fridge and it doesn’t need a replacement for 10 years.
Prajapati’s idea for Mitticool came out of a tragedy. In the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the Rajkot resident saw a picture of his pots, now broken, in a local newspaper with a caption that read: "Broken fridge of the poor". Since he used to sell clay tawas and water coolers in his village of Wankaner, he started thinking that if a clay pot could work as a cooler, maybe a fridge based on the same principle could work too.
He took a loan of Rs 3 lakh, and after a lot of research, the Mitticool was born. It has since won him a National Award.
It’s available in Gujarat for Rs 3,400 and in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad for Rs 4,000. You can get in touch with Prajapati through his website Mitticool.in.
Prajapati is now working on the idea of a Mitticool house, which won’t require electricity for cooling.
A directory for Kashmir in one app
Idea: Dial Kashmir
Brainchild of: Mehvish Mushtaq Hakak
The 24-year-old inventor has described the application as "a virtual Yellow Pages", and hers is perhaps the only state that has an application like this. In 2013, Hakak took a course on Android application development and created Dial Kashmir as a part of the course.
To make it user friendly, the directory is divided into two categories – essential and commercial, with sections such as education, fire services, gas agencies, government offices, hospitals, electronics, NGOs and so on. It also lets you find pincodes, railway timings, public holidays and prayer timings.
The daughter of a forest officer and a homemaker, Hakak always dreamed of using technology for the greater good. She recounts recent feedback from a customer, who spotted an animal carcass floating down the Jhelum, got on the app, and found the number of the Srinagar Municipal Council.
The result: the carcass was cleaned up by the officials speedily. "In Kashmir, finding contacts is not an easy task as the official sites may not be working," she says.
Dial Kashmir sounds like a model for the rest of India.
Hakak says that Dial Kashmir is her only priority and she will keep improving the application and adding information to it. It’s available for free download on Google Play, and has more than 25,000 downloads.
A wheelchair that can climb stairs
Brainchild of: Shanu Sharma
When she designed a school that would give physically challenged kids the same access as others for her final-year Architecture project, Shanu Sharma realised there was a need for a product that helped a disabled person feel included in all environments.
Sharma, now studying industrial design at IIT Kanpur, designed the Vardaan, a wheelchair that can climb stairs. Its three-pronged wheels work on the same principle as the human foot: heel first, then toe.
"I watched how a child climbed stairs by hauling himself up and down. A lever drags the wheel in the same way," she says. Sharma received funding from the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology and has now designed another wheelchair that can run on the ground as well as climb stairs.
The chair has been tested by the disabled on the IIT campus. She hopes she will soon get funding to mass produce it.
"Right now, I need a collaboration with an R&D firm that can help me improve this design, which has its flaws (it needs a disabled person with good upper-body strength to operate it). Once it’s foolproof, I want to make sure it doesn’t cost more than Rs 20,000."
A site that rewards you for your trash
brainchild of: Shahbaz Shamsi
Architecture student Shahbaz Shamsi knew that if he had to get people to care about their trash, he had to offer them a reward. “It’s all about motivation,” he says, laughing. And so he started Wasteplus.in.
The premise is simple: for every two kgs of trash you give the Wasteplus employees who come to your doorstep to collect it, you earn 1 point. Collect points, exchange them for gifts. 100 points can get you a mixer-grinder, and other incentives include hot plates and groceries.
Shamsi then recycles the trash – 500 plastic bottles are turned into yarn, mixed with polyester and sold to cloth companies. The profit made from the recycling process is then used to fund the rewards for Wasteplus. Shamsi has also employed ragpickers from the streets to segregate the waste collected, and says, "This is a way to empower the ragpickers, as they now have a legitimate job."
Since their pilot project launched in Mumbai in October this year, Shamsi has 1,000 families onboard and has collected 4,000 kilos of waste. That’s a whole lot of garbage not being tossed out the window into the street.
"We are funding this through the profits we get after recycling the waste and we plan to cover all of Mumbai," says Shamsi. You can check out the rewards and enroll for the programme on their website, Wasteplus.in.
Rashmi Bansal loved these ideas too
The solar powered backpack:
Lumos is a backpack that will charge your phone, your iPod and all your gadgets on the go. Gandharv and Lavina Bakshi’s company, Lumos, creates backpacks that are fitted with an in-built battery that can store solar energy and in turn charge any USB-based device. It’s also water-resistant, and impact and shock-proof.
Affordable sanitary napkins:
Arunachalam Muruganantham’s company provides affordable sanitary napkins to Indian women who can’t afford the big brands. He built his own machine, which now produces 1,000 pads sold at Rs 2 a piece.
The machines have been bought by NGOs who distribute the product to rural women through a “resident dealer” who is a woman who educates them about feminine hygiene products.
From the author's diary
It’s a very different India we live in today – one that sorely needs creative minds to give it that extra push towards tomorrow. We have always had engineers and doctors but it’s time we had a bunch of out-of-the-box thinkers who can create and innovate to build a world that’s different.
We were struck by how all the inventors and innovators we spoke to, young and old, were not doing this to make a quick buck, but to just make our cities more liveable. They wanted to do something “that will change the world”, as the inventor of the mosquito repellent blanket Kasturi Poddar said.
But we knew we would need expert help to pick the ones doing truly good work. And that’s why we got author and motivational speaker Rashmi Bansal on board to curate our list. Along with giving her stamp of approval, she offered advice on how to make the ideas sustainable. Because that’s what will make them truly successful. Get ready to get inspired.
With inputs by Junisha Dama
Follow @aastha82 on Twitter
From HT Brunch, November 30
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch