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Fabricating Solutions for the Persistent Problems of the Poor: Summer School on Inclusive Innovation

Fourteen years back, SRISTI organised the first Sattvik with the aim of conserving and promoting nutritious traditional food and associated tacit knowledge systems. Sattvik strives to achieve this by providing market based incentives for conserving agro-biodiversity and well as helps in creation of demand for rarely or less cultivated nutritionally rich crops and varieties. Sattvik has now become an eagerly awaited festival by people of Ahmedabad. The festival has grown so big that for the first time in fourteen years, the venue of the festival was shifted out of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) to a larger ground to accommodate an ever-increasing number of visitors. SRISTI is grateful to the management of IIMA for extending their wholehearted cooperation to Sattvik and permitting us to organise 13 Food Festivals at IIMA Ground.

It is a paradox that despite having outstanding scientific and technological prowess, millions of disadvantaged communities continues to use thousand year old practices in agriculture or other natural resource based livelihood activities. The result is that their productivity remains low and thus the income, and/or wages too. The Honey Bee Network has been conscious of the fact that not all local problems are solved by grassroots innovators. When a problem has remained unaddressed by the formal sector as well informal sector, a paradoxical situation arises: institutional system as it exists has failed to take cognizance of that problem and yet solutions don’t seem so difficult. In many cases, the users themselves have not been able to find an optimal solution either. Having been tolerant of drudgery, and with limited or no access to external resources or fabrication skills, one learns to live with the problems. It is not just the poor, who do so. Many of us have not been any different.

SRISTI-UNICEF Summer Innovation School 2016 was organised from May 23 to June 12, 2016 Ahmedabad, Gujarat to overcome such barriers to cross the boundaries. A children creativity workshop was organised for two days just preceding summer school. The college students were supposed to observe how young children from disadvantaged and middle class backgrounds together carried out research, identified unmet social needs and proposed solutions. The idea also was that if such young children can sense the unmet needs, why could not grown up college tech students do the same, or even better?

The entries were received from engineering and design college students all over the country. The shortlisting was done based on assignments submitted by them. They had to design and explain a solution for either one of the four problems given to them viz. extremely low cost, flexible seed dibbler, manual paddy transplanter, cactus fruit plucker and mahua flower collector. The students with backgrounds ranging from design, biotechnology, mechanical, chemical, electrical, and mining engineering and information & communication technology (ICT) participated in the summer school.

The summer school was a mix of both classroom and field visits. The students attended lectures to understand the basic of empathetic design followed by the field visit to understand the actual problems at the community level. Using this information they developed several versions of the prototypes tested in the field iteratively. In the earlier summer school, it was observed that many students could never get away from the first design that came into their mind. This habit became a bottleneck in listening, destroying the first prototype and then rethink, redesign, re-test and listen every time more carefully to the users who could not share all the feedback in one visit or on one design. Destroying first prototype was stressed as an important step and an essential ritual. Tangential creativity will not get triggered otherwise. The students interacted with not only the end-users and fabricators but also subject experts.

Guest lectures on various topics included understanding the entire innovation and value chain. Experts from eminent institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru, University of California, Berkley, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia and National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Ahmedabad University, IIMA, NIF, GIAN etc., mentored the participants besides from SRISTI.

The key collaborators viz., Kodarbhai Patel, Bharat Agrawat, Jasdan Organic farmers group, Upendrabhai Rathod, Bachubhai Thesia, Jaymin Patel, Sachin Panchal, Natubhai Vader and numerous other volunteers helped in the school.

CASE 1: Cactus fruit-plucking and processing devices for small-scale/household applications

Ganesh Bapat, Mohammed Shiyas P C, Parul Agarwal, Sarat Balivada, Shubham Agrawal, Shubhangi Kedia

Traditional method of cactus fruit plucking involves the use of a wooden stick or a stick with hook and container. Ripe fruits are hit lightly with a stick and are collected in the container below. The alternatives available do not help in continuous collection and a lot of time is lost in transferring the fruits to the bin. The Koli and Devipujak communities, socially quite disadvantaged, are normally involved in collection of the cactus fruit. The team analyzed the root -cause of the problem. After a few brainstorming and mind mapping sessions, they came up with a preliminary set of ideas for further exploration.

Discussion with manufacturing experts

Affordability, local repairability and flexibility: Cost-effectiveness was a major concern for each design. The fabricators advice on selection of material based on design requirements was considered by each team. Material of the pipe of the fruit-plucker could be made from: a) Aluminium sheet as it is light in weight and cost-effective; b) UPVC as it is thicker and heavier than the regular PVC; c) PVC or d) Plastic pipe as it is corrosion-resistant, lighter in weight and more cost-effective than aluminium sheet. It may not be strong enough though. Ideally bio-composites should have been used to blend circularity that is environmental sustainability as well. In the future, attempt will be made to involve material scientists to achieve this goal.

They visited Chittal and saw a device developed by a farm machinery fabricator, UpendrabhaiRathod consisting of a brake cable-operated fruit holder to pluck fruits from the tree. It is a cost-effective device and light weight but again did not allow continuous collection.

Modularity: A particular stress was placed on modularity of the design so that users can combine different components in various combinations depending upon local conditions. Uniform standardized design prevent users in specially rural conditions to adapt the design according to local and personal conditions.

Improvements desired in the new designs

The participants identified the following improvements, a new design should have:

Fruit plucker: Continuous fruit collection, allow for reaching height of 10-12 feet and should be lighter in weight and easy to handle. Earlier design by Bharat bhai in which a scissor was attached on the top of a PVC pipe was also shared with the team.

Fruit processor: A method for reducing drudgery. And preservation of cactus fruit were explored.


Two devices for cactus fruit-plucking and two devices for processing of its fruits were designed and developed:

Prototype 1:

Handle: 2.5-inch, 6-feet PVC pipe with a bottom cap. The pipe also acts as collector.

Plucker side: A rectangular cut with three teeth, each at the bottom and the top at the handle.

Plucker top: Star shaped opening made on PVC cap.

Prototype 2:

Handle: 2.5-inch, 6-feet PVC pipe with a bottom cap. The pipe also acts as collector.

Plucker side: A rectangular opening on the handle, with concentric pieces of pipe with blades on edges. Designed to cut the fruit and hold it inside the handle. Spring attached to move the top pipe back to its original position.

Lever and wire: A cycle brake wire connects the moving pipe to a 3-inch PVC pipe on the handle.

Prototype 3:

Diameter increased from 2.5 to 3 inches.

Plucker: the diameter of the pipe was increased from 2.5 to 3 inches. Curved and larger cutting blades were added.

Prototype 4:

Handle: A two inch PVC pipe of six- feet length.

Plucker: A diamond-shaped opening on the handle.

Final Prototype

Seven different parts were designed and developed which could be combined in different combination to generate 12 different devices.

Handle: Two types of handles a two-inch PVC pipes and wooden stick could be connected to all types of pluckers

Plucker side: Three types of pluckers were made -two long, one short. 3-inch diamond shaped. 2 inch.

Plucker top: Two different shapes (six-sided star and a square) were cut on the PVC cap of three inches, which could be fitted on all of the above-mentioned pluckers.

Prototype 1: Thorn Removal

A container with a steel mesh, few centimetres from the bottom and two brushes attached to the top lid. The fruits are placed between the mesh and lid, and the container could be moved vigorously for a few seconds to remove the thorns.

Prototype 2: Pulping

A metal- cubical box with several circular openings, ranging from two to five centimetres on the top. A small part of the fruit is cut from its base and pressed against the matching circular opening to separate pulp from peel.

Case 2: Beyond convention: An ergonomically-efficient nutcracker device

Manthan Jain, Mehul Prajapati, Rahul Padgaonkar, ShashwatVerma

EdibleMahua flower is a kind of lifeline in many tribal forested areas. A lot of food dishes are made besides using it syrup for medicinal purposes. It is also used for brewing though use of such drinks except for health purpose has to be discouraged. Its nutritive value is immense (Patel, Prajapati and Dubey, 2015, Similarly, the inside part of the ripened mahua fruit is edible and its seeds are used for oil production, a substitute for costlier cooking oil in many tribal families.

For production of mahua oil, the general protocol followed by the tribals is: First, the seed is removed by simply pressing the ripened fruit. Then, the brown, hard and shiny seed is cracked by manual hammering, which is an inefficient and unsafe process. The kernel is cracked by peeling off the brownish shell. Finally, the kernel is dried under sunlight and ground in a machine or contraption available locally. Nut cracking was the most important and immediate problem to be addressed first.

With the help of experts like Kodarbhai Patel and fabricators from SemarikaPharma, they developed a mechanism which had three plates- a punch plate, a nail bed and an iron net plate. Nails of the nail plate go through the holes of the iron-net plate and lastly, the punch plate is hammered on top of it. The punch plate and the nail plate is removed first, keeping the iron-net plate stationary, and later, the iron-net plate is removed, releasing the cracked seeds.

Earlier the focus was on mahua nut collection, seed cracking and oil extraction. But, the field visit to Rathva and Damor communities in Sabarkantha and ChotaUdepur revealed that nut cracking is a time-consuming process and requires many people. Moreover, there are no existing technologies, which address this problem. The traditional method of nut cracking is hammering the seed with stone and peeling off the kernel from the seed. In the first stage, the participants came up with a few designs, like spike rollers and crushing against the wall. In the later stages, they observed that rubbing/scrubbing could also be used to remove the kernel.


The prototype had three components: a hopper, roller and a base plate. The gap between roller and base plate was adjustable. The hopper now allowed the seed to enter into the device through only three holes hence making the loading of the seeds more controlled and uniform.

A bearing was added to provide the roller a smooth rotation. Bolts used on the roller surface were varying in the size because of the heads of the bolt. The initial version was unstable on the ground and so, four additional clamps were added to the device which could be fixed with the ground.

Way forward

There can be further improvements to the prototypes. It is important to ensure that children do not get hurt by using the device. A lever can be introduced on both the sides and the handle can be brought at the center to reduce the effort to operate the device. Use of food grade steel was suggested by Prof AmareshChakrabarti, IISc to reduce the risk of fungal infections. The seed outflow from the hopper happens at an uneven pace. Introduction of a rotating shaft will lead to a more even seed-loading.

Case 3: Broom-making Device

Akash Kaushal, Neha Sood, Rituja Patil, Saish Kapadi

The traditional broom-making process involves thrashing the broom on cheena (an assembly of nails on a wooden board) to cut through the leaves to make the brush finer. The hit-and-pull action of the leaves against the nails results in tearing of leaves and a bristly appearance. The team tried to replicate this motion of hitting and pulling through a mechanism that would guarantee the tearing of leaves just as it does in the manual process.

The team had two basic concepts in mind: Whether to move the broom over stationary nails or doing it the other way round. They decided to go with a four-bar mechanism that will replicate the motion of the hand of the broom maker. A curve will trace the motion of the held broom. The action would be driven manually using a cycle’s crank. This action can be actuated by hands or through pedaling.

Members of the Devipujak and Rajasthani migrant communities are often involved in broom making. Discussions with broom workers like Rukmani and Harish revealed the following requirements: a) The device should not require a power supply, since getting a power connection is difficult, b) Green leaves cannot be used as they do not give good results. c) Using a claw on leaves does not give good results; d) The new mechanism should facilitate faster production; e) The device should be stable and robust to stand continuous motion, f) If the chain mechanism is used, frequent slippage or slacking of chain is likely; and g) If a leg-operated device is designed, the cost of manufacturing might increase.

Prototype - Model of the claw mechanism

A four-bar linkage and coupler curves were used to trace the motion of the human hand. The next challenge was to make the device portable. In addition, from end-user feedback it was revealed that the density of nail spacing had to be increased for effective combing of the straw fibre. The idea of a leg operated device was shelved as it was too bulky. The final prototype was made after several iterations.

When the women users visited the summer school to evaluate the machine on the last day, they observed that the tearing action was not suitable. The nails cut the leaves but did not rub against it. They moved the handle back and forth to study the mechanism carefully. A lot of improvement still remains to be done. This group had to destroy the first prototype to be able to think afresh.

The remaining cases will be discussed in the next issue. SRISTI welcomes partnership with designers, fabricators, material scientists and mechanical engineers. The Honey Bee Network strongly believes that patience of the economically poor people will run dry if formal sector did not start addressing so many unmet social and technology needs urgently. We need an empathetic, interactive, iterative, modular, flexible and extremely affordable design process.

The Summer School is a step in this direction.

Addressing the unmet social and technological needs through time-bound collaborative efforts of children and college students is a new pedagogy that SRISTI has developed. Summer schools are organisedfocussing on some of the already identified problems which have remained somehow off the radar of technological and social institutions. Through the participants of these schools, SRISTI and Honey Bee Network wish to diffuse the empathetic design consciousness. Iterative, Interactive and Conflictive (that is multiple meanings and ends, lack of consensus around ideal design) process (Gupta, 1983) of working with potential users is stressed. These disadvantaged communities members may have lacked tools and resources for solving some of these problems on their own, or their designs may need for their location specific adaptations. The second part of the report of summer school on inclusive innovation and empathetic design was organised in collaboration with UNICEF. specific adaptations. The second part of the report of summer school on inclusive innovation and empathetic design was organized in collaboration with UNICEF.

Case 4: Seed dibbler

Sandesh Agrawal, Janhavi Thaly, Paras Dhiman, Mahima Modi

Precision seeding involves placing seeds at a precise spacing and depth. This is in contrast to broadcast seeding where seeds are scattered over an area. Although, precise hand placement might achieve the same result with a stick used to make a hole that method involves enormous drudgery, labour and cost. A manual mechanical process is often warranted to achieve efficiency at an extremely affordable cost. A wide range of hand-pushed and powered precision seeders are available for small to large-scale jobs. Using a variety of actions, they all open the soil, create rows, place the seed, and cover it. The depth and spacing varies, depending on the type of crop and the desired plant density. A low-cost dibbler with a simple mechanism has been developed by MansukhbhaiJagani but it needs some improvements especially in terms of precision.

A manual seed dibbler costing less than Rs 3000 and with adjustable height has to be designed which saves seeds and avoids multiple seeds falling in a hill.

After talking to stakeholders and innovators like BharatbhaiAgrawat, the team got a better insight and they worked on a model that satisfied the following user requirements: adjustable spacing, seedplacement at the right depth; choice of continuous and discontinuous mechanism in the same device and easy portability.

The design development flow chart

A semi-automatic seed-dibbler model was made with detachable wheels for continuous and discontinuous functioning. The bottom part has a gate controlled through a clutch. An accelerator type mechanism rotates the seed roller. The height of dibbler as well as depth and spacing of the seed to seed spacing can be adjusted.

Another mechanism developed includes only one-clutch release system which drops one seed at a time with adjustable sizes of seeds. Thus, pressing the brake once will release one seed at a time and the height of the dibbler can be adjusted as per user’s comfort. Depth of the seed can be maintained as required.

Way forward

1. Grooves on the seed wheel/gear should be made according to the size of the seed. 2. The motion of the seed wheel should not vary after some time. Proper and precise movement should be there. 3. Dibbler, when attached to wheels, should not have free movement and instead, be properly controlled by the user. 4. Both continuous and discontinuous methods of seeding should be present.

Case 5: Load-carrying device

Aniket Singh, Arpit Kabra, Chintan Mehta, Rashi Jain

At construction sites, workers generally carry loads like bricks, sand and cement on their heads using a plank placed over a rolled piece of cloth so as to provide support and cushion. The load typically varies from 25-30 kg for cement and sand to around 40 kg in case of bricks. The average distance traversed with the load is generally less than 500 metres. The workers manually lift the load on their heads and carry it to further distances. While loading of bricks is done by a single person and that of cement/sand requires two persons, unloading is mostly done by a single worker. The quality factor for the load being carried at the construction sites is generally not a major issue and material such as bricks and sand are mostly handled roughly by the workers, literally thrown on the ground while unloading.

While the workers are highly accustomed to current construction practices and have been able to do their jobs efficiently, they have largely been ignoring the harmful health or ergonomic consequences of the existing load-carrying processes, especially like head and neck strains, joint pains, impairment of body posture and in some cases spinal cord injuries.

To address these concerns a prototype developed initially was able to distribute the load on both the head and shoulders, and was light enough. However, it suffered from certain drawbacks.

Balancing of the structure while loading and unloading was a major problem. The structure used to wobble backwards whenever the user would stop holding it. The height of the structure was another issue due to which the workers were not able to place the required number of bricks on the plate, which in turn reduced their productivity. it was unstable and unwieldy at times. The team came up with a considerably modified design of the prototype.

The balancing issue of the structure was resolved by designing a metal frame that closely attaches to the body, making the structure feel like a part of it. The position of the load-carrying tray was also adjusted to balance the centre of gravity.

The height of the structure was reduced by removing all the excess material like the base on the top of the helmet and reducing the thickness of the load plate. Workers would now be able to carry a conventional load of 12 bricks by using this device. The structure was made more solid and a general device was made to fit a wide class of workers. The entire structure was cushioned with foam to ensure maximum comfort.

The Way Forward

The device in its current state works well and achieves the intended purpose. However, there were several useful suggestions from the users and experts such as: Introducing a telescopic rod system for the load-carrier plate instead of a rigid one to allow the same device to be adjusted for a much wider set of workers physique; The use of an alternate material which is both light weight and has high strength; wider distribution of the load-carrying device developed for construction site workers and contractors; ensuring its incorporation in the current load-carrying practices and encouraging users to improve it continuously.

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