A robot that cleans manholes. A machine that climbs coconut trees. A device that helps fishermen communicate even when they are miles away from land with no cellular range. Sounds unbelievable? Believe us, these are actual products developed by a few pioneering Kerala startups.
The Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), which aims to create and sustain a startup ecosystem in the state, has been supporting innovative technology ideas that can help solve social or environmental issues while also having business potential.
"We believe that currently most of the startups work on problems which may not have large business potential. But many of our social problems have both business potential and can also have a social impact," says Saji Gopinath, the CEO of KSUM.
For instance Bandicoot, a robot that has been developed by a Thiruvananthapuram-based company specialising in powered exoskeletons and human controlled robotic systems. The robots can clean manholes and be a solution to ending manual scavenging in the country.
"If you think of removing manual scavenging, there are close to 1.6 million people involved in doing this job in the country. Even if 50% of it is removed by machines, socially it will have a huge impact. And if you train 0.8 million people to operate these machines, it is also a business opportunity," Saji says.
Here are five similarly innovative products with business potential that have been developed by startups that KSUM is supporting.
1. Emergency response system for ambulances: The system ensures that when an ambulance reaches a junction, the traffic signal immediately turns green to make way for the emergency vehicle. A pilot programme has been running successfully for a year now, with the startup working closely with the police and the health department.
"It was first introduced at a junction in Kochi. Following the positive results, it was expanded to five junctions. Now, we are planning to roll it out across Kochi and other cities as well," Saji says.
2. A machine that can climb coconut trees: In the agriculture sector, a startup has developed a machine that can climb coconut trees and collect sap from the flowers of the tree. When non-fermented, the sap is a nutrient rich drink. When it is fermented, it becomes an alcoholic drink.
"A significant number of cooperatives have been working in this sector but most of them havenâ€™t been doing well primarily because a person will have to climb the tree everyday to collect the sap. Climbing a coconut tree is difficult and workers too arenâ€™t easily available," according to Saji.
The project is currently in the pilot stage.
3. A machine that helps in early detection of diseases in cattle: The hardware solution measures several parameters from a milking machine, such as the characteristics of the milk to physiological characteristics of the animal. Following this, it predicts a potential set of diseases that an animal is likely to get. The product is already being implemented.
"Usually farmers respond only when the cow shows symptoms of a disease much later after it has contracted it. This product helps in early identification and also increases the productivity of farmers," Saji explains.
4. Underwater drone: During water-related accidents, this device will help divers figure out the location of people who are in danger of drowning.
"If someone falls into water, under normal circumstances a diver has to search the entire area; at times where there is flowing water, it may be difficult to locate victims and can result in loss of lives. This drone goes underwater and searches for people and can help in saving them," explains Saji.
The device is currently being tested by the Fire and Rescue Department.
5. Communication device for fishermen: This device helps fishermen communicate when they are up to 100 miles at sea where normal cellular network does not work. This could be a saviour in times of weather changes or disaster-like situations.