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Trust: Missing in action where it counts

Whom do you trust? That's a big, loaded question. And at least one organisation has been putting out a Trust Barometer for 14 years now...

Friday, March 17, 2017

How the ultra-rich spend their stash

Do you have any idea what sort of spender are you? The conscientious kind or the impulsive kind or just the plain foolish kind? Or are you just too broke to do the spending you wish you could do! Either way, I came across a report by Kotak Wealth Management that was done last year, which shows how ultra high networth individuals (HNI) spend their cash. Ironically, while investing was a priority, saving money was not. These graphics tell their own stories..

What I liked best about this report was how it points out that 97% of ultra HNIs spend "not much" but "less than Rs 25 lakhs" in a year on art. But the remaining 3% probably make up for it, by spending between Rs 25-50 lakhs anyway. For many people, with that much money, they would rather buy a home! Also, they bought art because they are passionate about it but wearables were on show for social status. Sort of like flaunting expensive cars. Some things don't change.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

MAID: Stylish Aid To Jazz Up Cooking

If you have waited for someone to come up with a ‘connected microwave oven’, that would flash or show you recipes, just when you wanted inspiration to cook up something scrumptious, rather than having to read it from a book or off a website, then MAID (Make All Incredible Dishes), a smart, multi-functional oven, has been designed for people just like you.
MAID has been made by SectorQube, which is an Internet of Things (IoT) startup set up in October 2011 by six friends, that now employs 14 people. Nibu Alias is the CEO of the company. To raise funding, they ran a Kickstarter campaign for introducing MAID across the globe. SectorQube Inc, a US entity, was setup for the same reason. The campaign raised $123,920 in 35 days and they got 200 pre-orders. The goal had been to raise $50,000, which was done in an amazing six days!
So here are some of MAID’s wow features as shared by SectorQube:
1. It has touch interface rather than the usual buttons
2. A recipe database, connected via Wi-Fi that provides an unlimited number of recipes to the MAID interface
3. MAID can be controlled via touch, gesture and voice, and it is the only oven to have these features
4. MAID has a personalisation engine that can learn a user’s cooking habits and calorie needs, and can suggest recipes based on them

What really inspired the team to come up with such a ‘with it’ appliance, was their own lives. SectorQube, Co-Founder & CBDO, Sabarish Prakash told Networked India, “We were bachelors living in an apartment and we did not know how to cook. We depended on restaurants for food and in Kerala, where anyone can declare a hartal (strike) at any moment, it was not sustainable. We wanted something that could cook on its own – that was the idea. From there, we moulded an idea into something practical. That was how MAID was born.”
He added, “We had a soft launch in 2012. We were surprised by the coverage that it got. We got more than 1,000 pre-orders, but we were in no place to complete them. We did not have enough capital for manufacturing. So we had to drop all those pre-orders.”
We went ahead with licensing the technology to home appliance companies, but no one was ready to bring such a big change to the market. We wanted to market the product more in the western markets and also establish its market validity. That is when we decided to go for the Kickstarter campaign.”
Their moment of glory has come because MAID has got international acceptance now, as the same global home appliances companies who did not want to license the technology from them initially, are now contacting them.

Prakash says, “Even though we struggled initially, and at times thought that the product was maybe not good enough, we continued improving and going forward. And it got us on the path of success.”
The company has also implemented better and easier human-to-machine communication. What’s more, SectorQube has major industry leaders like Godrej and IFB on their client list, with more of them lining up.

Written for Ericsson.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Nano Origami Drone: The Economical Spy Paper Plane

If you remember the gorgeous, chocolate cake-like Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai being stormed, first, by terrorists and then by commandos flushing out those cowardly creeps; then someone else was also affected by that sight.
B. Madhan Kumar watched the news on that day and felt for the commandos going in blindly because “no one knew what was happening inside. So, after that, I wanted to make a simple spying device which makes defence operations easier and at the same time, it must be economically efficient to adopt”, he told Networked India.
He seems to have figured out how to do that. An M.E degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology has also certainly been put to good use, because he has mixed some really nifty high-level science and kindergarten level craft, to come up with a paper plane, that’s more than a toy that we played with as kids.
His paper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is actually a drone that can be used to defend a country! He said, “My innovation is Nano Origami Drones that can be used for surveillance by the defence department. It is a simple paper plane with in-built nano avionics system. It also includes a camera with wireless transmission.”
“This is the only origami (paper built) flying surveillance system that can be used for indoor and outdoor surveillance.It is a soldiers’ gadget and can be used only once, as it only made out of paper. It reduces the stress of getting back a drone in the middle of a war.”
He has managed to make this drone for an unbelievably cheap Rs 1,000 and has applied for a patent. He explained, “I have chosen ordinary paper as material and on analysis, it has proven that a simple 80 Grams per Square Metre (GSM) paper resembles having the properties of aluminium.”
From my childhood, I am good at making paper planes. I know the
efficiency of paper planes in the open air. I also got some prizes at national level contests for the ‘Best Paper Plane designed for the Highest Range and Endurance (flight time)’. It took almost two years to get the right weight which can be accomodated by a paper. Finally, I made it fly inside and outside along with a camera.”
In a research paper that Madhan has written on his UAV, he has stated that it requires a certain altitude to perform well. “The control surfaces are fully active at an altitude of 20 to 70 feet. This altitude gives enough time for the paper plane to stabilize itself.” So it is required that the UAV is “dropped at least from 20 feet.” For example: If a user wants to survey a building from indoors or outdoors, this plane has to be dropped from the top floor. Then “it is very efficient and controllable.”
He has done this project on his own because people have laughed off his endeavour and told him “don’t do any dream as your project.” But he has persevered because he says, “I know the power of my motors and the efficiency of paper. Whenever someone says. “It is not at all possible to fly this thing”, I take those words as fuel, and do more, to make it fly. And ofcourse I got moral support from my department head, Dr V.K. Shanmuganathan and a DRDO scientist, Rajesh. They were able to visualise my thoughts and always inspired me to keep going with my project.”
He has amply justified these people’s faith in him. He was awarded the ‘Dr Walter Kohn Award for Innovation’ in 2014 by Satyabama University and is the first person to receive it for an aerial project. This has spurred him on to doing even more with his paper plane UAV. He has now even developed a vertical takeoff and landing system too.
Now all that is required is, for these paper plane drones to take off, with the right people in the right places.

Taparch: ‘Sensing’ Shoes Will Help The Blind Move Around Easily

Krishna Sai Inkoolu is the Founder & Director at Taparch Footwear Pvt Ltd. So, what is so great about this footwear-maker anyway? Well, his shoes help blind people and those having less than 15 degrees of visual field, identify and isolate obstacles within a range of 400 cms. It is currently in the pre-incubation stage, and is already in the market and is priced feasibly. Taparch has been tested at the National Association of the Blind and Krishna wants to scale the trial to a national level.
Krishna was a student at the Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management (GITAM), when he was motivated to help visually impaired people live more dignified lives. While they navigate around the world with their white/red canes, they are visible to us, as being seriously at a disadvantage, which they indeed are. These shoes quietly guide them without announcing their blindness to the world.
To design these shoes, Krishna observed how they moved around. As he told Techpedia, “We keenly observed the conventional walking methods of the visually impaired. While 80% of them used Hoover canes, the rest were dependent on echolocation. Therefore, we realized that there was no significant and economical technology available to cater to the needs of the visually impaired. With that thought in mind, we invented Taparch, that works on the principle of “Sense of Touch”, and lets the user identify the distance and dimension of the obstacle ahead.”

While he states that the technology behind the shoe has been easy to crack – converting mechanical energy into power – it is also much less expensive and more user-friendly. Well, all that electrical energy generated can also be used to recharge the user’s phone, while he/she is walking!
The shoes work with a sensor that “is placed at the weld point of the shoe, which identifies the obstacle and gives a tap on the arch of the shoe. With the help of micro-electronics, the entire circuit is placed in the shoe socket, which has a connection with the weld point where the sensor is placed”, reported Moneycontrol. The shoe works on a rechargeable battery and doesn’t need a smartphone.
Krishna realised it was important to know when the sensor was not working since there is no system that is fail-proof. So he has embedded a “mistake-proofing” device in the shoe to pick up on any errors. If the sensor fails, it raises an alarm to alert the wearer.
Shoes don’t come anymore hip than these! Now, if only Krishna can offer colour options…
Written for Ericsson's blog: Networked India

Sunday, October 02, 2016

‘Universal’ ATM Card: Likely To Be A Game-Changer

Avinash Kumar Dwivedi is inspired by innovations. So much so, that he is driven to spend hours experimenting and hoping to create something new that would benefit everyone. Let’s just say that he may succeed in achieving such a lofty goal. He and his team have been working on an automated teller machine (ATM) card, on which a person can add more than one bank account.
This will considerably ease the problem of people carrying around too many cards and then forgetting ATM pins. He told Networked India, “We embed more than one bank account in one ATM card, so that the user can transact as he wishes with a single swipe. For security, we use the PIN password with a cipher key that is generated when the card is authenticated.”
He explained the advantages of such a card:
  1. Faster than the previous system
  2. More secure
  3. IT department can directly monitor the accounts, so it will be profitable for the  government
  4. People do not have to pay taxes for all ATM cards every year
  5. Reduces the stress of carrying a number of ATM cards
  6. Saves time if a card is lost, as it is a universal card; it can be  blocked easily
While all of us are aware of what an ATM card is and what it does, most people do not keep track of clauses like the limitation in the number of transactions when using the ATM of some other bank, or that after crossing the limit used, they will have to pay transaction fees. These fees, collectively, work out to quite a lot of money annually. Avinash explained the math,
If you assume 20 crore people are using ATM cards in India, and they have an average of three ATM cards with different banks, it means having to pay additional maintenance charges for a year of about Rs 100 for one card. So, the average for three cards is Rs 300. Now, multiply the 20 crore people by Rs 300 each and it’s a huge amount we are paying each year, from our pocket. So, one ATM card means one-time maintenance cost and that is what this universal ATM card can do.”
He admits that this new concept didn’t get buy-in from his team-mates – Saurabh Gandhe, Ujwal Shirode,Twinkle Pajiyar, and Pooja Bora – right away. But he convinced them and their hard work has borne fruit. They have even applied for a patent for this technology.
He is happy with the praise and recognition he is getting, and adds, “I think I will feel satisfied when there is technology available in a simple and smart way for all.”
Written for Ericsson's blog: Networked India

Monday, September 26, 2016

Global Innovation Index is a wake-up call for India

With all the economies of the world realising the potential of entrepreneurship, creating an enabling environment should be on top of their priority list. But is it? To help policymakers to assess progress and track innovation trends, the Global Innovation Index (GII) was set up in 2007, as a “tool-for-action” for decision-makers. Their annual report/rankings are worth looking at, to know where we (India) stand in relation to other countries, and the numbers are not looking great.
Taking into account 81 indicators such as political environment, regulatory environment, business environment, human capital and research, infrastructure, ecological sustainability, market sophistication, business sophistication, knowledge and technological output etc; the report has been co-published by INSEAD, WIPO, and Cornell University in association with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), du and Huawei.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) site states, “It provides a rich series of metrics that benchmark the innovation capabilities and performance of 143 countries. As firms and governments show growing interest in identifying and energizing creative individuals and teams to harness future growth, this year’s GII explores the critical role of the human factor in innovation.”
“Countries that have made visible efforts to maintain or enhance the quality of their human resources through education and life-long learning include the Republic of Korea, Finland and the UK (among high income countries) and China, Argentina and Hungary (among middle-income countries).”
At the GII launch, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane stated: “Reports like the GII provide direction on how we can boost our innovative outcomes giving us a deeper understanding of the many factors that drive innovation.”
WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry added, It is a “comprehensive map of the capacity of countries to innovate and thus compete on the world stage.”
WIPO has a succinct synopsis of the GII rankings. “For the fourth consecutive year, Switzerland topped the GII’s rankings, followed by the United Kingdom and Sweden. For the first time, Luxembourg entered the top 10, ranking ninth. Among the top 20 rankings there is a very high degree of stability” noted Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director of INSEAD and co-author of the report.
“The top 25 countries consistently score high across most of the Index’s 81 indicators, have well-linked innovation ecosystems and demonstrate strong capabilities in areas such as innovation infrastructure (including information and communications technologies), business sophistication (including innovation linkages, knowledge workers, and knowledge absorption); and innovation outputs (such as creative goods and services and online creativity).”
While a persistent divide exists between and within income groups over the speed of innovation, some middle-income countries like China and Malaysia are likely to break through to the Top 25 list in the near future.  In the same vein - of the 33 sub-Saharan countries in the rankings, 17 have shown major improvement.
Cornell University’s Soumitra Dutta, who has co-authored this report stated that the results “indicate important trends for the future. They show which economies are learning faster and where probably a lot of future growth in the economy and other interesting innovative ideas will emerge in the future.”
BRICS countries are not all performing on par. Or rather, India is doing dismally. It skipped 10 places to be in the 76th position. The other four did better. Brazil moved up by 3 places to reach 61st rank, the Russian Federation by 13 places to reach 49th, China by 6 places to reach 29th and South Africa by 5 places to reach 53rd position. More reason for Indian policymakers, innovators, and businesses to take the GII ranking seriously. Other countries are leading the march when it comes to making their country a magnet for innovative talent. In fact, Morocco is one of few countries that has succeeded in bringing back their talented brain-power.
WIPO’s site states, “Recent studies show that around 75 percent of migrant inventors from low- and middle-income countries reside in the US, with China and India standing out as the two largest middle-income countries of origin, followed by Russia, Turkey, Iran, Romania and Mexico.”
So what is India doing to bring back its innovative people, and make it attractive for the ones who have stuck it out here and are making a go of things? Answers would be truly welcome because the numbers are not exactly rosy.
Here are a few takeaways for some of the criteria I’ve mentioned earlier:
  • On political stability and absence of violence/terrorism: India ranks at 126. Below countries like Niger, Botswana, Tajikistan, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Bosnia and a lot of others, who surprisingly are way ahead of us. The five toppers were: Finland, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and Sweden.
  • On regulatory environment: We rank 83. Again behind Niger, Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda! These are not even ‘usual suspect’ kind of countries like Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Netherlands and Hong Kong, who have topped this benchmark.
  • On business environment: India ranks 128. We lag behind Ukraine, Tajikistan, Ecuador, Algeria, Malawi, Mali, Burundi, Serbia, Uganda, China and Pakistan among many others. The top five are: Singapore, Canada, Ireland, Hong Kong and Norway.
  • Human capital and research: India is at 96. Ghana, Albania, Vietnam, Brunei, Mongolia, Lesotho, Algeria, Uruguay, Serbia, Montenegro and a bunch of other interesting countries are higher up on the list than us. The five toppers are: Finland, Singapore, Korea, UAE and Israel.
  • Infrastructure: India is at 87, behind Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dominican Republic, Botswana, Tunisia, Slovenia, Peru etc. The top five were: Hong Kong, Singapore, Norway, Sweden and Korea.
  • Ecological sustainability: India is at 106. Behind Malawi, Swaziland, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Gambia, Namibia etc. The top five were: Hong Kong, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and Czech Republic!
  • Market sophistication: India ranks 50. With Lithuania, Bosnia, Moldova, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Estonia, Albania etc above us on this list. The top five countries were: USA, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.

    - Business sophistication: India is at 93. We are way behind Niger, Bhutan, Ghana, Nepal, Vietnam, Bulgaria among others. The top five were: Singapore, Luxembourg, Israel, Ireland and Barbados!

    - Knowledge and technological output: India is ranked at 50. Behind Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus, Estonia. In this regard, Hong Kong is also placed at a low 45 (below all of the above-mentioned countries). The top five were: Switzerland, China, Sweden, USA and the UK.
China/Hong Kong and Singapore have kept the flag flying high for the Asian continent. Some of India’s smaller neighbours have done better than us. We only top in the Central and Southern Asia regions, where we have beaten Kazakhstan and Bhutan. Otherwise, the only other country we seemed to have done better than is - Sri Lanka! With this country having endured civil war for so long, and only just finding their economic and political feet, even they might do better in future GII rankings. Do Indian decision-makers need anything more to prod them to wake up, than these insulting facts?

Monday, September 05, 2016

Why Asthamatics Will Love Ecomappers – A Pollution Mapping Kit?

The word ‘pollution’ is on everyone’s lips and minds. But Dhiraj Gehlot admits that ­”we really wanted to do something about it, instead of complaining. We thought if we tell people about the pollution levels in their locality, they will start taking steps to reduce it, to save themselves”. He is Chief Project Innovator at RiiDL and a student at the KJ Somaiya College of Engineering, and he has come up with Ecomappers – a product that is related to pollution mapping and effective solutions for the same.
Dhiraj explained to Networked India, “We have designed a pollution mapping kit. We display data of parameters like CO, NO2, dust, noise, temperature and humidity, real-­time on our website, which has a Google maps interface. The kit is so well designed that it can be mounted above the street light, traffic light, in a housing society and/or in a home for personal use.”
The kit collects the data from the sensors and uploads the values on Google, rated on a scale of 1 to 10 on the basis of data and standards defined by the Pollution Control Board. We can compare two different areas on the basis of data collected – say pollution levels of Mumbai and New York.”
Along with mapping, Dhiraj’s team is also providing solutions like meshed window nets to purify air, fresh air mask, vertical vegetation and other such solutions to reduce pollution levels. He says they are gathering details of plants, which are more helpful in clearing dust and pollution from the air. With this information, they will come up with an algorithm that will suggest the right number of trees that need to be planted to keep the pollution level to a minimum.
He has faced challenges when designing this product. One major problem was financing. He said, “We bootstrapped the initial capital by pitching this idea at various competitions and with the prize money, we developed our first prototype. Calibration of sensors was another major issue we faced. But we somehow got meters (like noise, temperature and humidity meters from the environment department of colleges) and used them, to calibrate our sensors.”
The end result is that, the kit he has developed makes people aware about pollution and empowers them with solutions to avoid the pollution. For instance, an asthmatic person can plan his/her travel time and route to any destination, depending on the level of air pollution. He said, “Our mobile app provides details of pollution parameters like carbon monoxide, dust, etc. in a pictorial format, which is easy to understand. There are solutions which people can buy on our app and website.” See how the kit works here.
Even government organisations, like the state government Pollution Control Boards require data from his kits, for analysing the pollution level at ground level. He is obviously meeting a timely need because as Dhiraj says, “Currently there are no kits in India, which can be mounted on street lights. Also, real-time pollution data of (CO, Radiation, NOX, SOX, dust, noise, temperature, and humidity) can be logged using a single kit.”
Real estate developers and city planners can use the kit to understand the amount of pollution and compare their townships, by giving them ratings. This will encourage real estate developers to build green buildings.
He has successfully implemented a second prototype and will be soon launching a new website and mobile app for users. All-in-all, he is pleased with the recognition and awards he has received for his work, which proves that he is on the right track and is “doing good for the improvement of our society.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Throw Trash Into This Bin & Get Free Wi-Fi!

At the NH7 Music Festival last year, the music flowed and the crowds rocked to it. When they took a break from all that grooving and went to get refreshments, little did they know, a freebie would be available to them – free Wi-Fi – and at a dustbin, at that! This was so people were encouraged to use that dustbin and not litter the venue.
This bright spark of an idea belongs to Raj Desai and Pratik Agarwal – the Thinkscream duo. Thinkscream’s “aim is to ensure that people in India and around the world, have access to, and take advantage of all the available new age technology.” To ensure this happens, they built innovative products, like the TS Connect for Multiplexes and TS Connect for High Crowd Density events.

The NH7 Music Festival was exactly the sort of “High Crowd Density event” that both of them love, to showcase their innovative use of technology. They seem to have hit the right spot with this idea because they were sponsored by MTS. Their other satisfied clients are: Cinemax, Red Bull, and Tata Teleservices among others.
Apart from Wi-Fi, they are into radio frequency identification technology (RFID) as well, since they want to “ensure that this near frequency communication technology helps upgrade various business verticals and solves a number of pain points.”

Raj told Networked India, “We have always been intrigued by human behaviour, and how we can effectively use basic incentives, to modify it a bit. When we wanted to set up Wi-Fi at Weekender (the NH7 event) with brandmovers and MTS, we wanted to provide something more than just vanilla Wi-Fi. That’s when we thought that incentivising people to keep their areas clean would be a good idea.”
He admits that getting corporations on board is a big challenge. He says,
People in India are yet to realise how effective little modifications in process, systems, and their designs can be, to bring about large scale change.”
However, he has watched people respond positively to their ideas. He added, “Right from OrderOffWi-Fi for Cinemas to Wi-Fi at music festivals or the Wi-Fi trash bin; it feels amazing when people come and congratulate you for the idea, and more importantly use the product. In fact, we were amused when we saw people queuing up to use the Wi-Fi trash bin.”
He and Pratik are open to ideas and suggestions from others too. In fact, if people show up at their offices with beverages, food, music, and/or movies, they are more than welcome!
Written for Ericsson.

CINI’s GPower App Empowers Vulnerable Adolescent Girls

If you have often seen children being exploited and your heart goes out to them; then ever wondered if NGOs like CRY, World Vision, and Childline are enough to handle all these neglected and unwanted waifs? Both girls and boys are taken out of school and made to work and earn money. Their childhoods are snatched away prematurely and they are forced to become adults before their time.
Child In Need Institute (CINI) understood this because they have seen it happen time and again, especially with girl children, who are forced to get married and have children early, even when they are not physically, emotionally, and mentally ready to start families.
To help and monitor vulnerable children – and they mostly seem to belong to the female gender – CINI has developed an app called GPower (Girl Power). GPower was launched as a joint venture between Accenture and CINI last year, after a survey was done on the condition of educational programmes among girls in South 24 Parganas and Murshidabad districts. It has helped save over 200 girls spread across 20 villages, from either being trafficked or being a child marriage victim, reported NDTV.
CINI’s Assistant Director, Dr Indrani Bhattacharya told Networked India, “The girls in GPower are caught in the vicious cycle of vulnerabilities, like school dropout, early marriage, early pregnancy, child labour and trafficking. It starts from birth and they are trapped in a society with socio-cultural and harmful practices, gender-norms and contrasting stages of development, that leaves them powerless to make essential life-choices.”
Saving these girls’ lives through a digital innovation (like the app) with real-time alarm and alerts, and through strengthening the community-based safety net in the family and village itself, could save a society. This is what inspired CINI’s birth.”
Via GPower, community facilitators (CFs) record and monitor the vulnerability of adolescent girls. It also identifies the girls at higher risk ahead of time, to enable timely intervention and tracks the delivery of appropriate services to avoid potentially untoward incidents.
This enables errors to be minimised and streamlines the collection of valuable information, such as details about a girl’s education, protection, health and nutrition. Information from the mobile device is then uploaded to the cloud, and a server-based software uses this to compute a vulnerability index for each girl, in real-time. This, in turn, allows for real-time data analysis.
These insights create a continuous information flow that not only allows tracking of individual cases of vulnerability, but also reveals trends and allows forecast of results. The app-as-a-solution also has links across the government agencies that “provide support for adolescent girls; giving the facilitator a ready view into the services across the four pillars that should be leveraged for each individual to reduce her vulnerability index”, Bhattacharya explained.
She added. “Aggregated data delivers status reports to the facilitator on the uptake of services. These status reports can also be used to uncover issues with specific services and service providers, and support more effective service delivery.”
“At the implementation level, GPower is helping monitor the effectiveness
 of CFs by measuring their performance and setting benchmarks. Based on this evaluation, necessary training can be provided to CFs to improve their skills, and motivate them to do their jobs better.”
While CINI has had to convince (and often browbeat) parents to let their girls continue to study; most parents have given in and let it happen. They have also not married their girls off too young. And this gives them immense satisfaction, as one of their ‘vulnerable victims’ is now well on her way to becoming an empowered teacher!
This child had been rescued by CINI and re-admitted to school. Bhattacharya recalls, “The panchayat head helped her to get admission without any cost. She is studying in class VII and now she is saying that “Ami abar swapno dekha shuru korechi ar ami bhobissate ekjon teacher hote chai.” (“I have started to see my dream again and I want to be a teacher in future.”)
Written for Ericsson's blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Greeno’s Rainbow Farm Assist Apps Smoothens Farmers’ Lives

Selva Kumar and Thirukumar Mumoorthy come from farming families and have seen the vagaries of nature take a toll on their parents’ livelihood. They were lucky to have got an engineering degree, considering how many people can’t afford to let their children finish school. Knowing this, Selva and Thiru wanted to help make farmers’ lives much easier, by making vital information about markets, weather, water and other such pertinent news available at their fingertips.
Greeno is the result. The name is a combination of the words ‘green’ and ‘innovation’. They started this venture in 2012, after 10 years of working in the IT industry, with Rs 1 lakh of their own money invested in it. The cool ‘app-as-a service’ that they have developed is a series of apps, under the Rainbow Farm Assist family. Ironically, while the app was meant to assist, as the name suggests, farmers didn’t exactly take to it willingly. Selva told Networked India,
Due to poor adoption of the Rainbow Farm Assist, we were forced to go door to door to promote the user experience to the farmers. We were treated as thieves who are coming in the day time to check the (harvest) target! This initiative ended up there and we were forced to find an alternative (i.e) working with farmer associations.”
“Our first customer was Kalingarayan Farmers Club, where 30,000 acres of land is cultivated by 1,000 farms. Their leadership team listened to our idea keenly but trashed us, as they believed that most of the government’s data is obsolete and not of any use to them. They suggested that we develop a messaging platform that would reach all farmers, and then we started developing the apps.” So, they developed the Rainbow Message, Rainbow Sell, Rainbow Market, and Rainbow Groups.
The Rainbow Message app allows the user to organise their contacts and send text messages in English or any local language. It can also send 30 second voice messages that helps farmers to get information on the weather, the market price, fertiliser vendors, dam water level and also the ability to track crop life-cycle.
The initial version was built with multi-lingual voice input. It offers bulk and unlimited messaging and works even with a basic internet connection. It also lets farmers document and digitize profiles and best practices, as well as connects them with various stakeholders in the agriculture sector.
According to a document shared with Networked India, the Rainbow Sell app connects farmers with street vendors, as well as small stores and shops to reach the end consumer. It can be customised to suit the farmer’s needs and is available in the local language. Other features include:
  • Hide/show the details of their choice  
  • Vendor can enter details in their local language  
  • Shows status of a buy order (Pending/Delivered)  
  • Vendor can give a discount for a particular commodity
Rainbow Market app lets users buy agricultural produce and groceries, if they are available nearby. It also helps connect with local vendors, street vendors, shops, mom & pop stores and even farmers, directly. All organic food is also listed for consumers to select and buy.
Other features include:   
  • Find a local vendor or even a farmer who wants to sell directly from his/her field   
  • Track order status
  • Sort commodities by price   
And then the Rainbow Groups app lets a farmer maintain data and documents online. Rainbow Groups can help to manage: 
  • Farmer Federation & Farmer Club news
  • Individual farmer’s profile   
  • Land & crop details   
  • Banking information and documents  
Their apps have brought succor to farmers’ existence and the fact that they have benefited from technology, makes the Greeno team tick. Their services are used by: Farmers via the (Farmer Federation, JLG, SHG, Farmer Producer Companies, as well as individual farmers), Veterinary Doctors, Food Buyers, and Resource Institutions supporting farmers.
One such customer using their app has praised Greeno. Jayaraman is a spokesman for Vashista Farmers Producer Company, which is based in Salem. He said, “Team Rainbow Agri did an excellent and professional job. Their team was very responsive, worked with our team very closely and contributed significantly, to help us to create Farmer Producer Companies, Online Free Stores (Mobile App) and with the marketing. The team is very committed and always delivers on time, as promised. We would not hesitate to engage with Rainbow Agri, for any of our future projects related to their areas of expertise.”
What more needs to be said? A very satisfied customer says it best, after all.
Written for Ericsson's blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

MSSRF Gives Fishermen A Cool App

MS SwaminathanAs someone who loves her seafood, the fact that the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) is doing some amazing work with fisher folk, (along with other communities which are the backbone of our agricultural community), was more than just pleasant news. It warmed the cockles of my stomach as well as my heart! MSSRF was established in 1988, as a not-for-profit trust, with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that the Founder, Professor MS Swaminathan, received in 1987. He has also authored books like: ‘In Search of Biohappiness: Biodiversity and Food, Health and Livelihood Security’, ‘Agricultural Growth and Human Welfare’, and ‘Groves of Beauty and Plenty’ among others.

The Foundation has programmes going around the country, which range across interests as diverse as coastal system research, biodiversity, bio-technology, eco-technology, and food security. The Foundation states on its website that
MSSRF follows a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-sustainable on-farm and non-farm livelihoods through appropriate eco-technology and knowledge empowerment.”
The Founder and the altruistic spirit behind these initiatives (and research), MS. Swaminathan, told Networked India about some of his programmes. One of them is ‘plant clinics’. He explained, “We have what is called a Plant Clinic Programme for diagnosis of diseases and pests in crops, and we give prescriptions to farmers; (it’s like a clinic for human beings). This is conducted by a set of trained, progressive farmers in the presence of agri-experts. This programme is going on currently in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.”
There is much more happening though. They even have a mobile app for fishermen called Fisher Friend Mobile App (FFMA)! What got Swaminathan started was empathy for people who work to put food on our table, without the benefit of technology, even as the self-same technology is helping other – more affluent – people’s lives.
Swaminathan explained, “Fishermen are vulnerable with regard to their livelihoods when they are out at sea, due to uncertainty of weather and other critical situations during the monsoon period. Their livelihood depends on the daily fish catch and its value in the market against the amount spent for diesel and boat maintenance. Also, given the competitive situation, as the number of motor boats and trawler owners has increased after the tsunami, due to the support provided by the Government and international organisations.”
“In the absence of information on fish agglomeration in the sea, they have to spend more fuel and time in getting a good catch, which is uncertain. In addition they are at risk if the boat or motor engine is at fault, wherein they are stranded for many days before anyone rescues them.”
It is for these reasons, the “MSSRF has been supporting fisher-folk in the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Andhra Pradesh by providing dynamic information on the Potential Fishing Zone, Ocean State Forecast, Weather, Emergency contacts, Government Schemes, and Disaster alerts, since the beginning of this ICT programme, at the Foundation, in 1998.”
MSSRF website

He added, “There has been a needs assessment and feed meeting with the fisher-folk on a regular basis. In one such meeting in 2006, the fisher-folk expressed a desire to get this information on their mobile phones as short messages than through the public address system. At the same time, Qualcomm attended MSSRF’s annual ICT Convention in Delhi in 2007 and MSSRF shared these demands. Qualcomm came forward to support MSSRF in developing the BREW Application in 2007.”
“FFMA has fulfilled all these risks and gives the Potential Fishing Zone, Ocean State Forecast, weather, and disaster alerts in advance, for them to take informed decisions, to not only make their navigation risk-free and easy but also to get a good catch with minimum time and fuel spent.”
The FFMA is an Android based app that works on any smartphone that has enough memory to install it. It has to have version 4 operating system (OS) or higher, and have GPS capability and 3G/Wi-Fi enabled, to be able to access Google Maps to figure out the Potential Fishing Zone of the day and other information. The app is available in English, Tamil, and Telugu languages and fishermen are given mobile phones along with training on how to use the app. (See a video here.)
Data feeds for parameters like the Potential Fishing Zone, wave height, wind speed and direction, weather information, government schemes available for fishermen’s families has been created on this app. Also, details have been added of the fish species available at each landing centre and their price. The app also provides disaster and International Boundary Line (IBL) alerts. This feature works when a user selects his/her state; then in the background the IBL service kicks in, which continuously monitors the user’s location, as per the current position’s coordinates.
What’s more, emergency contact numbers of all the stakeholders in a fisherman’s life are entered every day, by the MSSRF’s Village Resource Centres (VRCs) from the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Andhra Pradesh. This data is fed on to a website that was developed specifically for this purpose, which is hosted in the MSSRF server, which in turn, is accessible to the VRCs. The data is provided by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, under the aegis of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
FFMA User Details
Total number of states covered: Tamil Nadu, Puducherry (Pondicherry), and Andhra Pradesh
Total number of districts covered: 27
Total number of screen views: 3,48,357
Total Users: 3,250
FFMA has helped fishermen immensely over the years. With many of them getting better prices for their catch because of information that the app gives them. They are no longer dependent on middlemen looking to fleece them. This itself has improved their situation financially. It has also cut down on the time, these men stay out at sea. MSSRF has stated that “they used to spend 10-14 days to get a catch of 4 -5 tonnes of fish, which has now increased to 15 tonnes, that is valued at Rs 25 lakhs, while the number of days has reduced to four for the same amount of catch.”
FFMA app3With data like weather and wave height made available to them in advance, they are able to protect themselves and their boats too. One of the fishermen swears by this feature since he almost got swept away despite being an experienced fisherman. He then checked the app and realised he should have stayed on shore that day.
Balakrishnan, a trawler owner, based in Veerampattinam, Puducherry recalled, “After going far out at sea, we experienced high waves. There I checked the FFMA data and came to know about the high wave alert information. The data clearly mentioned that ‘Up to 50 kms from the shore, the waves’ height would be around 7 to 8 feet height and the wind speed also about 37 to 40 kms.’ At the end, it was advised not to venture into the sea.”
“I realised my mistake and for the very first time, questioned my own experience in the profession. Then, without any delay, I sailed back to the shore and saved our lives and the boat without any loss. From then onwards, I started checking the FFMA data cautiously every day before venturing into the sea. The Ocean State Forecast (OSF) information is 100% accurate.”
FFMA is truly a value add app, from the MSSRF stable, as many of its very satisfied users will assert.
Written for Ericsson's blog.