Like with so many others, Vivek Bhatia’s life chan-ged after a friend and his family were killed in an accident on the way back from Tirupati, a temple town in South India. In a few days, Bhatia’s friend was just another statistic, another casualty of sleeping at the wheel.
His sense of loss made Bhatia decide to do something. The result was a device that’s already saving thousands of li-ves and has the potential to save millions across the world. The product is called No Nap.
As no-fuss as its name, No Nap is a tiny battery operated device that fits behind the ear and wakes up drivers who are in the danger of dozing off at the wheel. The device is now sold across the US and Europe where millions undertake long commutes on high-speed freeways. At $20 a piece, delivered at the doorstep (and an extra piece free with every purchase, reducing the effective cost to $10; in India, the product retails for Rs90), No Nap is inexpensive. And it works.
Hailing from Indore, Bhatia, 47, is the father of two school-going children and an unlikely businessman. He looks more like a salaried man than someone who set out to be a businessman at the age of 30.
Yet, that’s what the electronics engineer, now based in Pune, did after quitting his job at Swastik Rubber in 1985. With a capital of just Rs2 lakh, and a little help from college friends, Bhatia, convinced that a sleep-preventing device could reduce road accidents, set out to develop the product he had in mind. It took him two years. “There is nothing hi-tech about No Nap. The ba-tteries are imported from China wholesale, and the plastic sourced from a local small enterprise,” says Bhatia, downplaying the technology behind his invention.
To drivers, however, there could be nothing more valuable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the US says more than 100,000 crashes are caused by drivers falling asleep, resulting in an estimated 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths a year. These statistics do not take into account the fact that many crashes caused by drivers falling asleep aren’t reported as such.
Night shift workers, long distance commuters and people with sleep disorders are all potential users of the device. As are, closer home in India, truck and taxi drivers.
The science behind No Nap is based on the fact that the head of a person who is ready to doze off slumps forward a few times before the person goes to sleep. The moment this happens, No Nap sets off a piercing whistle. The mercury inside the device makes contact with the battery every time a person slumps forward, completing an electrical circuit and setting off the alarm.
With little money to advertise or market the product, Bhatia used his fascination of the Internet to good effect. Advertising on Yahoo got enough enquiries and orders to start full-fledged production. No Nap buyers now exist across the world. Some 5,000 units sell in the US each month; and 3,000 in India, parts of Europe, Israel and Sri Lanka.
Bhatia rues the fact that the Indian market has not responded more warmly to his product. “People have told me that with cattle, cyclists, jay-walking…there is little chance of falling asleep while driving in India,” he says.
Pune’s former deputy commissioner of police N.M. Kundetkar has been using the device for more than a year and recommends it strongly. Kundetkar makes regular trips from Pune to the Karnataka border and says very often his driver becomes drowsy during night drives. “I think it is better to take preventive action and No Nap does just that,” he says.
In many ways, the Bhatia household is the quintessential Indian small business. Most evenings find Bhatia busy on his computer, responding to orders and pitching it to organizations.
And his wife Madhu spends her mornings packing and couriering the product to customers. Bhatia himself visits the small workshop on the city’s outskirts that assembles the product each morning.
Companies such as Raymond, Hindustan Unilever, Axles India, Wheels India, Eastern Coalfields and a few from the Tata group have bought the device for their fleet operators. As has Wipro BPO, which bought 700 units for drivers on the late shift.
Bhatia has also pitched the product to Indian Railways and the armed forces. The railway ministry bought a dozen No Naps and is believed to be keen to equip its engine drivers with the product, but is yet to place an order.
Bhatia, meanwhile, is thinking up other ways to popularize the product, such as tying up with petroleum firms to stock it at their outlets along highways. “At Rs90 a unit, it is a device which should be a part of every car owner’s kit since it can save lives.” Despite counsel from friends, Bhatia is yet to patent No Nap because he says that if it is “copied, it will save more lives”.
Meanwhile, some customers have discovered innovative uses for the device. Students in the US use it to keep awake while studying. And aspiring ballroom dancer Robert Buckely from the US wrote to Bhatia saying he uses it to keep his posture upright.
(Sixty in Sixty is a special series that we plan to run through 2007, the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. We will introduce you to sixty Indians—both here and abroad—who are not rich or famous. These are people who are making quiet, but important, contributions without seeking headlines, to help make India and, in some cases, the world a better place. We also welcome your suggestions on people whom you think should be profiled in this series. Please send your suggestions by email to email@example.com)