Riding a bicycle is a fun thing for most people. But having to ride on uneven roads while holding an umbrella in one hand even as the other clutches a torch along with the handlebar takes the joy out of riding. But that’s how people in most rural parts of the country ride post sunset, with the upcoming rains being a further dampner.
You’d think considering how bicycles are a cheap, important mode of commuting in Bharat (hinterland India), someone would come up with a way of making riding easier for people.
Well, a young man from an Assam village has done exactly that — he’s devised an accessory that seeks to reduce the misery of bicycle riders.
At an expense of a mere Rs 80-Rs 100, any umbrella can be equipped with a solar panel-torch assembly to allow riders to power their way through dark, unruly country roads
His technology is simple, and cheap: At an expense of a mere Rs 80-Rs 100, any umbrella can be equipped with a solar panel-torch assembly to allow riders to power their way through dark, unruly country roads. A four-inch solar plate of six-volt capacity is fixed to the umbrella. It fuels a six-volt battery attached to the umbrella’s handlebar. This battery in turn powers a torch with an LED bulb, attached to the umbrella. The device fits into a small carton and weighs about 300 gm. It can be controlled with an on/off button that’s provided near the umbrella handle.
As a bonus, the carton also has a compartment where one can place a mobile phone and charge it simultaneously!
For villagers, this simple yet ingenuous device alleviates the risk of riding a bicycle on slippery, muddy roads bereft of street lights. It is especially useful during the monsoon, when road conditions and visibility are at an all-year low.
Twenty-year-old Dhrubajyoti Kakati came up with this solar kit in August 2014. A resident of Pathali Pahar village in eastern Assam’s Lakhimpur district, 45km from Lakhimpur town, the science student used to ride a bicycle for 12km to get to his school, Pichala National Academy, in nearby Narayanpur town. He would also see others cycling down slippery roads back to the village from the town, holding an umbrella in one hand and a torch in the other, and realised he was not the only one facing the problem.
For villagers, this simple yet ingenuous device alleviates the risk of riding a bicycle on slippery, muddy roads bereft of street lights. It is especially useful during the monsoon, when road conditions and visibility are at an all-year low
“It was a real pain riding like this, given the condition of the road, especially when it’s dark and raining. That’s why I started thinking about fixing this problem,” said Kakati, who is now studying agriculture in Lakhimpur’s Biswanath College. The main occupation in his village is agriculture.
The condition of roads and electricity supply in rural Assam, like much of Bharat, leaves much to be desired. Kakati said the village hardly gets power supply after sunset. “It is almost impossible to go out in the evening,” he said, trying to illustrate the gravity of the problem. “When we go to Lakhimpur town, our primary concern is to come back before it is dark,” he said, adding this is why he wanted to find a way to light up people’s commutes back home.
He calls his innovation the Umbrella Helper Box. The box, which is equipped with an LED light, can be detached from the umbrella’s handle and used as a flashlight. The young innovator claims the solar panel can charge the battery even in low sunlight. The battery can be charged through a conventional power point too.
While such a product is not available in the Indian market, there are similar innovations that are available in the US and China market with a starting price of $20.
Kakati is now looking for companies to commercialise his innovation to be able to take it to the masses. He’s confident the product will find many takers in rural areas. He hasn’t sold this umbrella for anybody in his village, though. He’s yet to decide its price.
Kakati is now looking for companies to commercialise his innovation to be able to take it to the masses. He’s confident the product will find many takers in rural areas
While his search for a marketing partner continues, his innovation has been earning appreciation in the scientific community. So far, he has demonstrated it in Science City (The largest science centre in India) Kolkata, the Regional Science Museum of Guwahati and some other science exhibitions.
Arijit Dutta Choudhury, director of Science City, Kolkata, said, “His innovation is very special. It can help people in rural India commute safely. Talents such as his should be encouraged and given a platform to develop.”
The umbrella kit is not Kakati’s first innovation aimed at making life more convenient for the rural poor. In fact, it’s his seventh. With a view to helping the physically challenged, he designed a crutch that has a small seat and a water bottle carrier. His modification lets people use the crutch as a chair when they get tired.
The young man, who cites greats such as Thomas Alva Edison and APJ Abdul Kalam as his inspiration, feels the potential of science should be used to lessen the miseries of rural India. He’s already doing that, with his slew of innovations.
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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Updated on May 3, 10.55am to correct a typo.