Invention is not everyone’s cup of tea. It requires observation, passion, patience, and perseverance. More than anything else, it needs gumption and hard work. It is for people who question the status quo, who defy the logic, and those who love to take the road less travelled.
Had Charles Babbage not thought out of the box and invented the first programmable computer, we would still probably be scribbling on paper now — or at least, development of computers as we know it may have taken a different route.
These days, invention is often considered synonymous to technology. It is wrong. There are umpteen non-tech inventions that have transformed the way people think and live. While technological inventions get a lot of space in the media, non-tech inventions often go unnoticed.
Here we bring you some non-digital inventions that have the potential to change the world for the better:
Life-time electricity for the cost of an iPhone
Have you ever thought of building an off-grid power system? Two Indian entrepreneur brothers have built a low-cost wind turbine that can generate enough electricity to power an entire house for a lifetime. The size of a ceiling fan, this wind turbine can generate 5 kWh per day — with just a one-time cost of US$750, without even slightly impacting the ecological balance.
Avant Garde Innovations, started by Arun and Anoop George, launched its pilot project at a church in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram (south India) in January this year. The small wind turbine prototype that it has developed is highly scalable for power capacities of 300 kW or even higher.
A self-repairing road
An Indian scientist settled in Canada is the latest sensation in India. Professor Nemkumar Banthia of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada has built a self-repairing road blending structural engineering skills and material science. The road built in Karnataka is not only cost-effective, but has greater longevity. The road used ultra high-strength concrete and special fibres developed at UBC to make the magical road.
Unlike the typical concrete road, in which cement is a key component, Banthia’s road uses 60 percent fly-ash and only 40 percent cement. The fibres used have a hydrophilic nano-coating, which attract water in the event of rains. The water then becomes a key component in healing cracks. When a crack appears, this water gives hydration capability to the unhydrated cement, and produces more silicates, which actually close the crack before they grow larger.
The self-repairing road is just 100 mm in thickness, which is about 60 per cent less than that of a typical road. Less cement means lower cost and carbon footprint.
Banthia and his team claim that the road can last three times longer than the typical concrete pavement.
A tree that grows solar panels
For a country where millions of people still live in the dark, Sibnath Maity is a godsend. This Indian scientist has come up with a unique system that will address the chief concern associated with solar energy: the need for land. He has designed a ‘solar power tree’ that takes up only four square feet of land space, and that it can produce about 3 kW of power — enough to power five households. It resembles a tree with branches at different tiers and could be squeezed into rooftops and highways.
Unlike other solar panels, Maity promises 100 per cent efficiency. Plus, it does not need regular maintenance and has a long life.
To date, Maity has erected six solar trees in different villages in India. He is receiving queries from places like Lakshadeep and Andaman Nicobar (two Indian archipelagos), where land availability is a huge issue.
A road from plastic waste
Age is no bar for innovation. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a retired Chemistry professor who is popularly known as the ‘Plastic Man of India’, has devised a method to transform common plastic litter — wrappers, bottles, thicker acrylics and grocery bags — into a substitute for bitumen asphalt.
So far, more than 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles) of plastic roads have been laid in at least 11 States in India. He is now on his way to make more roads using this technology.
The key advantages of Vasudevan’s method is that it can accommodate the multilayered wrappings often used to pack snacks such as chips and cookies. These wrappings, which are impossible to recycle, make up an a major contribution to India’s waste problem. In this method, these plastic garbages can be shredded and reused in roads.
Moreover the technology needs no interference from strong machineries. They can be created in warehouses and then installed onto pathways directly. It requires no significant technical knowledge or large investments to transform plastic into bitumen asphalt. Nor does it need any changes to existing road-laying procedures.
An edible shopping bag
Ashwath Hegde has become a youth sensation of sort for his out of the box thinking. He has come up with a biodegradable alternative to plastic bags. An affordable and eco-friendly material, this bag causes no harm even if one gulps it by mistake.
His startup EnviGreen makes eco-friendly bags using natural starch and vegetable oil derivatives — from potato, tapioca, corn, natural starch, banana, flower oil, etc. The good thing about the bag is that it does not contain any chemicals. Even the paint used for printing on the bags is natural and organic.
According to Hegde, its bag is non-toxic to the environment, animals and plants. Additionally, the bag has an electric dissipative feature, which is good for electronic wrapping. Also, it softens in normal water and dissolves in hot water.
Another salient feature is that when placing a hot iron on a small piece of EnviGreen film, it neither melts nor sticks to the hot iron surface. When a piece of EnviGreen film is burnt, it does not melt, drip, or release any toxic fumes.
Prosthetic leg from sugar cane
This startup give wings to the dream of millions of leg amputees. Bangalore-based Rise Legs is on a mission to revolutionise mobility for amputees with its light cane-based prosthetic legs.
Conventional low-cost prostheses in India are made of rubberwood or plastic. These are often rigid, heavy and cumbersome, which makes walking and high level activities difficult for the user.
Some modern prostheses have flexible feet, made of material like carbon-fibre and Kevlar (a kind of synthetic fibre), but these are far too expensive for most amputees in the world.
Rise Legs, on the other hand, uses naturally-grown Rattan cane (like bamboo) as the primary material for the distal end of the lower extremity prosthesis. The leg has an integrated pylon and foot device that is cost-effective and lightweight.
Cutlery from sugarcane bagasse
Who have ever thought that sugar cane waste can be converted to an eco-friendly cutlery? Mumbai-based Pappco Greenware is doing exactly the same thing. The company uses sugar cane bagasse, bamboo and wheat straw to manufacture disposable plates, glasses and spoons. The firm remoulds bagasse to a kind of paper and uses it to make the cutlery.
While a plastic plate is 90 per cent air and is easily bendable, Pappco’s greenware is firm and can stand a reasonable amount of weight. Pappco products can be used in a microwave and reused, and then disposed of safely.
While the greenware is a bit costly compared to plastic cutlery, the environmental benefits far outweigh the price considerations.
Hotel room for US$2 a night
What can you get for a US$2? A 24-year-old Mumbai girl, Rhea Silva, has set up a hotel chain called Chototel, where you can get a day’s stay for US$2 in a clean room. The startup is rolling out ‘super-budget-hotels’, with uninterrupted utilities and social infrastructure such as crèches, community kitchens etc.
The company has started its dream run with a pilot in Nagathane, a city on the Mumbai-Bangalore highway.
Its business model works on the fact that it has income from daily rents. It also charges customers for utility consumption and consumption of other services such as the creche for children, and the community kitchen, where the tenant can go and eat his/her meal. More importantly, all its utilities are off-grid, so that id doesn’t have to depend on utilities or government for electricity, water and gas connections.
The entire hotel is built in a way that there is zero maintenance; the beds are made of rexine and so it is not easily destroyable. And the furniture is made of steel and is durable.
The rooms are managed by self-help groups or SHGs, a community of non-working spouses who maintain the rooms and operate the community kitchen and creche.
Water from thin air
The invention of Jawwad Patel can save millions of people from dying from thirst. This Engineering student from Hyderabad has developed a 3D-printed intuitive self-filing water apparatus that can produce potable water from air moisture. This apparatus can extract high-quality water even from polluted air
The product comprises a smart condenser, connected to an onboard computer and sensors. The apparatus has a fan that sucks the thin humid air from the atmosphere and transfers it to the smart condenser. It then converts the thin humid air to liquid water under the dome of a computerised sensor, with respect to the atmospheric parameters. The water thus produced gets passed through various semi-permeable membranes to wash out the dust and other unwanted things.
After the process, the water gets UV-treated which kills all the unnecessary microbiological activity and germs. The water then gets mineralised and finally stored in the tank attached to it.
Once mass-produced, the device will not cost more than US$30.
Invention does not need to be high tech to have high impact. With enough interest, resources, and support, the above innovations are likely to make a big impact on communities around the world, whilst helping keep the world green by being eco-friendly.
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