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In IIT, an electric vehicle starts up

The world’s best automakers are designing electric vehicles, and this campus start-up wants to be ready with its own technology too, for the day when India is finally ready for cheaper, non-polluting electric vehicles, reports Reshma Patil.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2008 04:25 IST
Reshma Patil

Would you like to commute in an electric rickshaw revved by a joystick to steer, accelerate and brake, with no foul emissions and engine noise?

At the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, (IIT-B) in a crammed workshop where working hours keep the lights on past 4 am, a start-up of twenty-something engineers led by an IIT professor think so.

The world’s best automakers are designing electric vehicles, and this campus start-up wants to be ready with its own technology too, for the day when India is finally ready for cheaper, non-polluting electric vehicles.

CTech Labs doesn’t have the funds to build the rickshaw unless an industrial partner backs the idea. So in six months, it will first roll out a prototype of an IIT-funded low-weight electric vehicle cheaper than golf carts, to run on campuses.

“The rickshaw was our inspiration. So, after the smaller prototype is ready, we’ll look for external funding to show that it can be modified to run on city roads,’’ said Kishor Munshi, director, CTech, and professor of industrial and automobile design. They call it ‘e-on’ after its electric ignition and are studying its intellectual property value to file a patent.

“Given the chance, I would have liked to make three-wheelers,’’ Sudarshan Maini, chairman, REVA Electric Car Company — the world’s largest manufacturer solely of electric vehicles — told HT from Bangalore.

REVA runs (at a cost of 40 paise per km) in the UK, Spain, Norway, Belgium and even Japan, but it’s hardly seen in Indian cities besides Bangalore since its 2001 launch.

“Our market is primarily abroad,’’ Maini pointed out. “India (unlike Europe) does not offer financial incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles like free parking, dedicated lanes, adequate charging stations etc.’’

Munshi’s team says they realise it’s a futuristic technology. “Ours will be the only electric vehicle to steer and drive by wire,’’ said Munshi. “The lack of mechanical controls makes it almost maintenance-free.’’

They have designed a joystick to replace the steering wheel. Move it forward to accelerate, back to reverse, neutral to brake and left or right to turn. Built at the lab stage in IIT’s industrial design centre, the e-on can hold two passengers and run for 50 km on one charge, but at a humble top speed of 30 km per hour for campus roads. Electronic digital controls can turn the vehicle 360 degrees by maintaining a different speed for each of the two front wheels.

As the e-on takes shape at the workshop, the Lab has printed brochures promising a one-year warranty and two colours. Red or blue?