India

India's top innovations

Twenty young Indian innovators have made it to the annual list of the world's 35 most outstanding innovators under 35 published by the prestigious American magazine, Technology Review. Vasanthi Hariprakash profiles five of these inventors.

SHOES THAT SEE

Image caption A shoe equipped with Le Chal

Visually impaired people suffer greatly when it comes to mobility - having to depend on someone for directions or to alert them to obstacles. Even a walking stick can only be of limited help.

So how about a shoe that can help them go places?

That was the question that inspired engineer Anirudh Sharma, 24, to develop Le Chal - Hindi for Take Me Along. It is a low-cost shoe that doubles as a navigation aid with four embedded vibrators: in the front, back and on either side.

Le Chal works via a mobile phone which has GPS (Global Positioning System) and Google Maps.

You tell your destination to the smart phone, which then uses Bluetooth to communicate with a circuit board in the heel of the shoe. The user then gets a poke in the direction to turn.

Mr Sharma is now looking for a shoemaker who will help him produce shoes, loaded with the Le Chal kit, that will cost less than 1,600 rupees ($30; £18.60) a pair.

TOXIC CHECK

How many times have you worried about toxins in your food? And what if you had a magic stick that could do a quick check for toxins before you eat or drink.

Priyanka Sharma's "plastic biochip electro-chemical sensor" may well pave the way for such easy-to-use pollutant detectors that will help monitor harmful molecules.

Image caption Priyanka Sharma and her biochip sensor

"Due to the severe toxicity of pesticides even at trace levels, it is essential to monitor their levels in the environment, specially in food items," says this 28-year-old postgraduate student of environmental science.

"The biochips available in the market are usually very costly and give false positive results due to poor sensitivity."

Ms Sharma used an ultra-thin layer of gold - "a very good electro-active compound" - on plastic sheets that were then laser-cut to demarcate the electrodes. Thus was born the portable biochip sensor - 7.6cm x 2.54cm (3in x 1in).

Priced at five rupees ($.09; £.06), the sensor could revolutionise the monitoring of pesticides in food.

It could spell the end of the bulky instruments and complex, time-consuming testing that come with conventional systems.

MOBILITY FOR THE DISABLED

Two rear wheels, a lone front wheel, unstable body, cumbersome lever - this describes the vehicle that poor and physically-challenged people in India have struggled with for decades.

But, all this could change if Somnath Ray's innovative tricycle hits the market.

Image caption Somnath Ray and his tricycle

It all began when Mumbai-based NGO Shuruat and the Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust approached him to design and develop a low-cost vehicle that will help a disabled user to "generate commerce and enable social freedom".

A graduate from Columbia University, New York, and the Design Computation Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr Ray, 35, turned the traditional model of a tricycle on its head.

He used off-the-shelf bicycle parts, used a "larger handle to increase the torque" and allowed for easier powering and steering so there is lesser stress on the arms of the user.

He used scooter clutch cables to give it a tight turning radius, and designed a foldable unit in the front to display items for sale.

And the two wheels - he put them in the front to make the brakes more powerful and prevent tipping over.

Some of Delhi's abandoned flyovers came in handy for Mr Ray's "extensive testing with actual user groups".

Now, he is now working at keeping the cost of the tricycle below 8,000 rupees ($151; £94).

MOBILE MUSICAL GAME

India's favourite musical game, Antakshari, can be played anywhere, anytime, by any number of players.

It is a game where the players or teams sing songs that start with the last consonant letter of the song that the previous team has sung. The game goes on until the rival teams run out of songs, or more likely, the energy to sing.

Chennai-based Venkatesan Oosur Vinayagam, 28, has now given a new twist to this classic game by putting it on mobile phones.

"Mobile Antakshari" pits the player's musical wits against his mobile and it can be played from anywhere in the world.

Initially launched in four Indian languages - Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam - the game has also been launched in Urdu.

Mobile Antakshari is turning out to be a hit in neighbouring Pakistan too and its vast database of songs now extends to the Urdu and Pashto languages.

Mr Vinayagam sees Mobile Antakshari not just as a game, but as an innovation that reaches out to users who otherwise feel overwhelmed by language commands.

In India, where adult literacy rate is 66%, the spin-offs from such an innovation could be enormous.

VIRTUAL CHANGING ROOM

If you are someone who loves shopping for clothes but feels too lazy to try them on for colour and fit, you are bound to love Hemanth Satyanarayana's innovation, Trialar.

Image caption Try it on with the Trialar

A virtual changing room, it is a digital kiosk where shoppers can look at themselves on a large 50-inch display screen and try on, at the click of a mouse, digital clothes and accessories, without physically wearing them.

The Trialar, expected to be priced around 500,000 rupees ($9,200; £5,700), comes with a digital catalogue and an analytics engine that helps the shopper mix and match clothes and accessories and compare multiple items.

When a shopper stands in front of the screen, digitised clothes and accessories are superimposed on the user's image to help him go through entire collections.

"Shopping is an activity that hasn't undergone much change for decades now," says Mr Satyanarayana.

"I often see people having a tough time selecting and trying out apparels, more so while trying out Indian ethnic wear like saris. Which is why I designed the product in such a way that the shopping is fun and no more a tiresome affair."