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When Gandhian logic meets high tech

india Updated: Oct 02, 2011 23:17 IST
N Madhavan
N Madhavan
Hindustan Times
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On Gandhi's birth anniversary on Sunday, I opened a newspaper to find news about Shantanu Gangwar, a 17-year-old Delhi schoolboy, who has won a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research award for his invention - an electronic walking stick for the blind that uses infra-red rays to help the blind identify obstacles through vibrating alerts.

Now, that is great technology for the underprivileged. Gandhi had spoken of serving the "poorest of the poor" but often, technology is developed first for the more affluent. Guess what? The same technology can be dramatically turned around to help the poor. Infra-red rays and vibrators have been around for a while, but it takes a concerned schoolboy to come up with invention.

I also think of how small Indian entrepreneurs turned the washing machine meant for middle class homes to make lassi.

More such instances come to my mind after a recent meeting with winners of Samsung's "innovation quotient" awards for those who have done work at the grassroots.

One, called Kisan Raja, is a simple but effective innovation by Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, who has linked the mobile phone's interactive voice response (something we use for mundane stuff like knowing our bank balances) to remotely control agricultural motors.

This dramatically cuts down stress levels for farmers who can switch on and off their irrigation systems at any time without getting out of their rural homes miles away from their farms. It also helps farmers identify faulty power supply or motor thefts.

Another innovation is a machine that mechanises the tedious process of pattern-weaving in tie-and-dye Pochampalli sarees. The inventor, a humble electrician named K Mallesham, made it after seeing his own mother go through pains as a weaver.

Another gizmo, developed by K Chandrasekhar, who chucked up a high-profile job in Philips to run a start-up, is "3nethra", a portable low-cost device that helps in pre-screening of major eye diseases such as cataract, diabetic retina, glaucoma and cornea disorder. In a nation short of eye surgeons, this device that has built-in software to generate a diagnostic report can be of dramatic help.

Last week, handset maker Nokia in association with Arogya World, a non-profit organisation, launched a mobile service that spreads awareness on diabetes and offers prevention methods through text messages that we have been putting to inane use for a decade now.

All these innovations carry two messages that I associate with Mahatma Gandhi's outlook: technology can be demystified through simple applications and technology meant for the affluent can be adapted with incredible results by simply focusing on the less fortunate.