Wired for heat
Peltier chips, similar to those used to cool computer microchips, a few wires and laptop batteries. If that sounds like so much junk, take a deep breath.You can, because the sleeveless vest that these are attached to weighs a mere 1.4kg, and is as comfortable in 20 degrees Celsius as in 40 degrees. It’s not available in the mall next door yet, but that could soon change if its inventor, Kranthi Kiran Vistakula, gets his way.
On a break from his postgraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, the 28-year-old biomedical engineer is out to develop and commercialize his weather-sensitive apparel line. ClimaGear, as Vistakula calls his range, adjusts to the mountain chill or the city smog at the flick of a switch. “My innovation lies in combining existing technologies and integrating them in heat sinks that manage the heat flow without bulk. The weather in Boston inspired the invention. Wearing five layers just to step out and then removing them all once you enter a heated room was a pain.
Cool couture: Vistakula poses with his electronically cooled clothing. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Just one jacket should do,” he says. “Climamets, as these special jackets are called, consist of a sleeveless vest, with 20 plastic tiles, called Peltiers, stitched on different parts of the jacket’s insides. Each Peltier, whose job is to efficiently convert electrical to heat energy, connects to another slightly bigger, squarish, plastic tile, sewn on the outer side of the jacket, called heat sinks. “It’s similar to systems used to cool microchips in computers,” says Vistakula.
Apart from travel gear, Vistakula sees an application for his technology—the design and heat management system has a US patent—in the army. “Current designs in the American army, for instance, weigh 4-5kg and work on a principle similar to that of the refrigerator, with water being cooled and pumped, complete with a motor and fan to manage the resulting heat,” he says.
On 18 September, Vistakula’s wired apparel won the first prize in a business-plan competition organized by Intel India and the government of India’s department of science and technology. “Potentially, it’s one of those ideas that has a massive market once it crosses the initial threshold,” says A.S. Rao, who heads the government’s Technopreneur Promotion Programme (TePP), which helps inventors with early stage funds. “Not only the defence—imagine the kind of benefits it offers our traffic policemen, who have to stand for hours in the heat and cold. I think it’s a great idea.”
Rather than sell the technology, Vistakula has launched Dhama Apparel Innovations, incubated at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Along with designer Prasenjit Kundu, who is wrapping up his postgraduate project, he is working on the right materials, designs and, of course, costs.
“For now, we only have four to five prototypes of jackets, helmets and scarves. We are trying to keep the scarves’ price at about $120 (nearly Rs5,000). The jackets would cost much more,” says Kundu, who handles all the fabric and design aspects of ClimaGear.
TePP gave an initial Rs12 lakh grant to Dhama. Vistakula wants to operate out of India, with Hyderabad as the hub. “We’re currently targeting a premium export market, but India will be the manufacturing hub. Though the manufacturing process can be mechanized, it requires considerable investment. So I plan to team up with NGOs and local craftsmen,” he adds.