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The solar-powered backpack functions as a torch.
The solar-powered backpack functions as a torch.

The kids are all bright

Lounge throws the spotlight on eight under-30 Indian innovators who are impacting the global innovation ecosystem

This little guiding light of mine

Charu Monga, 30

Inventor, Jugnu, @charumonga01

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Charu Monga designed Jugnu, a backpack with a solar-powered lamp, for rural schoolchildren. Currently in the prototype stage, the backpack is being distributed free among small communities in villages like Roing in Arunachal Pradesh. Due to erratic power supply in the region, many children find it difficult to do their homework in candlelight. In addition, a number of them “make the most dangerous journeys in the hills every day, travelling close to 5km to their school and back," says Monga. The solar-powered backpack functions as a torch. Made using waste material, the bag with the detachable solar-charging LED lamp is foldable and waterproof. “When the kids walk to school, the solar panel charges," says Monga. “We have also incorporated a safety design feature, which is a buzzer that children can use in any kind of emergency. This idea came from the students." Monga is currently looking for funding to scale up production.

Small space spectacle

Rifath Sharook, 19 , Lead scientist, Space Kidz India, Spacekidzindia.com

In 2017, a group of teenagers created history by designing one of the world’s lightest satellites. Made from 3D-printed reinforced carbon fibre polymer, the KalamSat weighed just 64g and carried all-important components inside a 3.8cm cube frame. This was part of the Cubes in Space competition organized by the US space agency Nasa and global learning company idoodlelearning. “We had to meet the weight guidelines. The satellite...had to survive up to 8Gs (gravitation force). It also had to accommodate many sensors. To fit all those sensors in that small size and making it strong with the exact mass was the biggest challenge," says Chennai-based Rifath Sharook.

“Nasa was the launch provider and retrieval partner for the launch. The structure faced almost 21Gs but remained intact. That gave us confidence to use this polymer to design our satellite for the next orbital launch," says Srimathy Kesan, founder and CEO, Space Kidz India.

The mind-reader

Arnav Kapur, 23

Inventor, AlterEgo, @medialab

MIT Media Lab student Arnav Kapur has designed and developed the AtlerEgo—a wearable device that allows an individual to communicate with an Artificial Intelligence assistant through non-verbal interaction with the device. The wearer can silently voice what they want, and the machine, still in prototype stage, will do the job. The silent speech interface runs from behind the ear to the jawline, ending right below the lip. “The novelty of this system is that it reads signals from your facial and vocal cord muscles when you intentionally and silently voice words," explains the MIT Media Lab website. “The system is a private, personal, and seamless alternative to computing platforms used today." From having the system calculate the amount of your purchase at a grocery store as you handpick each item, to selecting a movie to watch on television through subtle facial movements, AtlerEgo empowers you to not lift a finger.

Visual wonder

Madhav Lavakare, 17

Inventor, low-cost assistive glasses for the hearing-impaired, Ketto.org/transcreyebe

At 17, Lavakare is already executing big plans. The teenager made headlines earlier this year for inventing “assistive glasses" that can help the hearing-impaired to read speech. Inspired by the Google Glass, Lavakare’s Transcribe device uses basic electronic components. His second and most recent prototype costs just 3,000.

The computing is powered by an Arduino microchip. Lavakare developed an app that converts speech to text. Once converted, the text can be sent to the microchip via Bluetooth. It is displayed on a small OLED screen on the side of the device. An image of the screen is then reflected on a heads-up display in front of the user’s eyes. “I wanted to bridge the communication gap between the hearing-impaired community and the hearing-enabled. I am now working on a third prototype, which I plan to ship out to early adopters who will use them and give me more feedback about the device’s useability," says Lavakare, who studies at the Sanskriti School in Delhi.

The heart whisperer

Akash Manoj, 16

Inventor, a non-invasive device that detects silent heart attacks, @AkashManoj4

When Akash Manoj was 13, he saw his grandfather collapse and die in front of him from asymptomatic heart failure. This led Manoj to invent a device that could detect silent heart attacks. After three years of focused research, he developed a skin patch that can predict 6 hours in advance whether an individual will suffer a silent heart attack. This technology can be planted on one’s wrist or behind the ear. Inexpensive and portable, “it needs no blood test", says Manoj. Later this year, he will launch a start-up in association with the Union government to make the device accessible in a couple of years, at a price of 900.

From farm to fork

Aditya Agarwalla, 25

Co-founder, Kisan Network, Kisannetwork.com

Thiel fellow Aditya Agarwalla established the Kisan Network with his father in 2015. It functions as a digital mandi, eliminating the need for middlemen between farmers and buyers. The service is available on multiple channels, “from Android apps to WhatsApp and SMS/missed call services," says Agarwalla. “We enable small-scale farmers to sell their produce directly to businesses, where the entire supply chain and logistics are taken care of by us.The farmer doesn’t need to leave his farm and the buyer doesn’t needs to leave his factory."

Clean and colourful

Yogita Agarwal, 25

Co-founder, SoaPen, Soapen.com

As Global Handwashing Day completes a decade this year, it’s important to look back at how washing hands with soap can save many lives. It was this idea that led Yogita Agarwal and her co-founders (Amanat Anand and Shubham Issar, from the Parsons School of Design, New York) to invent SoaPen. It is a crayon that lets children draw on their hands, which they can then wash off. In doing so, they wash their hands for an ideal time-span of 20-40 seconds.

The unique soap composition in SoaPen helps guard against infections and also teaches the children about hand hygiene. “We thought what if we make hand-wash a playful activity. When children wet their hands and rub, it lathers. So it brings in excitement with a surprise element. SoaPen is a product which is fun with a novelty value, but it’s also very impactful for the function it performs. That’s why we were able to retail it. It’s a meaningful gift," says Agarwal, who now handles SoaPen’s Indian entity, Khello Khillo Design LLP.

SoaPen is available on Amazon, FirstCry and BabyChakra, for 40 for a 10ml bottle that gives you 60 washes.

Drone theory

Agnishwar Jayaprakash, 27

Founder and MD, Garuda Aerospace, @AgnishwarJ

Garuda Aerospace was the first successful start-up from IGNITE-India, a nationwide innovation competition started in 2014. Since 2015, Garuda has been working on drone innovations (unmanned aerial vehicles for forests and villages) to reduce/tackle man-animal conflicts and poaching, apart from offering surveillance and mapping solutions.

The start-up is now working on an ambulance drone prototype that can fit two people, as well as a revolutionary navigation system. “In the last two years, we have supplied five drones worth 25 lakh to the government of Tamil Nadu (to avoid man-animal conflicts). We are now working on mapping solutions and precision agriculture to provide farmers with real-time data to improve their food produce," says Jayaprakash.

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