Jacket of all trades
MIT graduate Kranthi Kiran Vistakula has designed lightweight apparel that can keep wearers cool in warm weather and vice versa. Reports Aasheesh Sharma.tech reviews Updated: Apr 10, 2010 21:55 IST
Is the imminent heat making you edgy? Tired of wearing layers of woollens in winters?
An innovation to resolve your climate worries is being devised at the incubation centre of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
Kranthi Kiran Vistakula has created a jacket that promises to keep you cool when the mercury soars and warms you when temperatures hit sub-zero. Weighing just 650 grams, it can maintain body temperatures between 18 and 40 degree Celsius, he claims. A regulator in the jacket can be used to set the desired temperature within limits.
What's the science behind the climacon jacket?
"We've put the Peltier effect into play," says Vistakula. The 29-year-old entrepreneur is referring to a theory pioneered by French physicist Jean Charles Peltier in 1834.
"Peltier discovered that temperatures rise or fall at the junction of two dissimilar metals carrying a small current, depending upon the direction of the current."
To regulate temperatures, Vistakula put Peltier chips that work as heat exchangers at more than 20 points on the jacket.
"These plastic tiles, called Peltiers, are sewn on the inside of the jacket. Each Peltier is connected to a larger tile. Powered by batteries fitted on a belt, it can regulate inner temperatures," he explains.
To dissipate heat, the heat exchanger uses hydrogen bonds rather than conventional methods such as a cooled liquid. A single charge of batteries lasts eight hours, adds Vistakula.
He realised the need for climate-resistant clothing in 2005 as a student of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"In Boston, during the winter, one has to endure multiple air zones. When it is freezing outside, one has to take off the layers inside centrally heated classrooms. It got me thinking about the need for a jacket that would weather extreme temperatures."
By the time that he completed his Masters in 2007, Vistakula realised the challenge was in keeping the weight of the weight down.
"The first prototype weighed 3 kilos. Over three years, I launched a start-up called Dhama Innovations India that worked on the technology to keep it below a kilo."
Calling it his trade secret, Vistakula refuses to reveal how his team managed to keep the weight of the jacket in check.
"The heat exchangers that we've developed work on the principle of breakage of hydrogen bonds. It makes the exchanger lightweight. So, the jacket itself becomes light. Made of cotton and polyster, it is lined with microfilament mesh with anti-bacterial properties," is all that he would let on.
Backed by venture capitalists Mumbai Angels and Reliance Venture Asset Management, Vistakula has tied up with Tata Advanced Materials to supply weather-resistant lightweight jackets to the military.
"To begin with, we've given five variants to the Indian army on a trial basis. Plus, we are conducting trials for the Korean and US military, too," he says.
Growing up in Mahboobnagar near Hyderabad, Vistakula remembers reading about the Peltier effect in physics class. After his post-graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and Technology Policy, he used it to launch a novel business idea.
Fashion designer David Abraham of the label Abraham and Thakore, known for its wearability, is impressed.
"This is an example of the role design plays in problem-solving. Vistakula's design solution harnesses scientific development to create products that will have a far ranging impact on specialised performance clothing."
Vistakula now wants to use the technology in sports apparel. Who knows, by Season 4, your favourite IPL team could be donning climate-controlled jackets. "They can wear it while warming up or during a game to reduce sweat."
Technology Review India recently gave Kranthi Vistakula the Innovator of the Year award for creating a technology that can exchange heat as needed
NID's National Design Business Incubator CEO Mahesh Krovvidi calls the Climacon jacket an impressive innovation with defence and medical applications
It can be cleaned with a wet cloth after removing the batteries