Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Innovation Nation: iCopy

In India, as in other developing countries, lack electricity access deters people but does not stop them. Essential services need to be provided, whatever it takes. Essential services like health, education, governance, photocopying

Photocopying, really? I hear you. You are thinking, since when did photocopying become an essential service. Well, it is very essential, if you are around a government office in India and you need a form, a format or other government documents. The office will not provide you with these forms. You need to step out of the office and find the little shop in the corner that sells forms. 
Why do you need forms? Well, for all sorts of purposes. You need a proof of your cast, income, you need to apply for government support schemes (social services), you need a proof of citizenship (of country, state, district, village), you need to prove that you were born (birth certificates) and you need to prove death (death certificates) (hopefully not yours). So, you see, photocopying is an essential ladder to reach other essential government services. Hence, a photocopying machine near a government office becomes highly important. Something to be revered.

photocopying solution outside a government office (top left)
Imagine an area, which reels under severe power crisis. Electricity supply is highly erratic. The average supply per day is 3-4 hours, but with no fixed timings. It may be supplied in 4 bouts of 1 hour each or of 8 bouts of 30 min each and so on. What will be the timings of supply is anyone's guess (at least in the local area). A government office (amidst villages) in this far flung area needs to carry out the essential jobs. People need all sorts of essential documents from the office. However, the documents need photocopying and the photocopy machine needs electricity.

The solution: iCopy (i-copy)

No, it is not the an apple machine. However, it may be deemed much more innovative than that.

The configuration:

Forget your big automatic photocopier. This one consists of a small photocopier, with minimum energy needs (a HP Allinone in this case being used as a photocopier). To this, a small battery is added and to make things easy, efficient and convenient a small inverter mediates the connection.

small photocopier + small battery + inverter

That is all, the solution is good to go. The battery, through the inverter is connected to the power plug, to be charged whenever electricity is available.

Detail configuration of the photocopy solution
The local photocopier is ready to work and bring some good money to a family and an essential service to others. The solution is such that it can be easily developed and used anywhere.

Such are the local innovations being developed by people to manage and survive. These solutions are fondly known as jugaads in India. Jugaad simply refers to make shift solutions that modify or bend rules. 

During my discovery of this innovation station, I also found a stationary shop (in the first photograph) besides it. A young man owned both the photocopy establishment and the stationary shop. The Young man offered me a business opportunity. If I brought in a laptop, the two of us in partnership could earn about INR 15,000 (about 200 pounds) per month with all the printing that is needed there. Laptop although more expensive than the desktop was of course very crucial and preferred because of the power situation. 

Very tempting offer as it was, I couldn’t accept it, for I needed to move on and discover more of such innovations.

In the young man's view, a stable supply of electricity would completely change the face of this now more or less deserted place. It would provide more opportunities not only to him but also to others who may be interested in various ventures. 

Such places can easily and effectively be electrified by using micro generation solutions like solar PV. However, small businessmen (like the young man) do not have capital to invest in such ventures. Government can take an initiative in this direction by setting up micro generation systems in government offices and providing connections to essential service providers around the office, thus creating an electricity-service ecosystem.

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