Sougat Hota, 28, and Anoop Balakrishnan, 25, spent six months during their two-and-a-half year Postgraduate Diploma in Transportation and Automobile Design at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, touring Gandhinagar, Gondal village and Rajkot district of Gujarat. They spent time researching, documenting and ideating a multi-utility vehicle along the lines of frugal innovations like the locally named jugaad (a quadracycle made of jeep-parts and wooden planks) and chhakada (a Royal Enfield Bullet fused with a cart, remodelled to transport people and crops).
To get a first-hand experience of rural transportation systems, the duo travelled in over-crowded buses and autos apart from jugaads and chhakadas, and interviewed their manufacturers. These cheap, personalised vehicles are a lifeline of rural India which help in everything from trade to migration, and criss-crossing villages. After elaborate musings with farm equipment manufacturers and farm-produce traders, they realised that a multi-utility vehicle that could help in carrying people, produce, seeds and fertilisers, soil preparation, seed planting, irrigation and harvesting, which is cheap and sustainable would be desirable.
They designed a battery-powered vehicle as part of the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) Emerging Markets Mobility Design Competition held in August this year, and came first among 26 institutions from across the world. Others in the top three were University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and College of Creative Studies (CCS), Detroit, US. Their vehicle comprises stackable battery units for scalable power, display panel, removable steering unit, a power and connection unit and compatible farming equipment like a plough, a rake or a fertiliser sprayer. The vehicle, which looks like a tractor, can be used on small farms too. “Because it is compact and scalable, it can be used on large firms and small-sized firm and for less energy-intensive work too,” says Sougat.
Just like a tractor, the vehicle has a power take-off shaft and mechanical shaft. When farmers want to spray fertilisers, they attach the sprayer to the shaft and pump power (which is derived from the battery), whereas in a jugaad the power is drawn from the engine, he explains. To charge the batteries in rural areas facing power shortage, the students proposed setting up model solar units where unused farm lands could be used to harness solar power. “These solar panels are movable. Parts of the vehicle too can be detached and taken home. During crop rotation when fields are idle for three to four months, the panels can aid in charging the vehicles,” he says.
Though the duo hasn’t thought about real-time testing of their project on a large scale, asked if it was feasible they say the vehicles can be used with a cooperative model like Amul’s where there is co-ownership. “They can have a renting system and whoever wants it can use it for the required time period,” he says.