by Dr. Rohit Shipstone
When there is any discussion regarding technology, one tends to think Nuclear, IT, E-Business, E-Commerce among the more common areas of technology usage. On further thought we find Technology defined as the ‘application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.’ With the advancements in technology, be it medical, business, health or arms and energy, I sometimes feel we are at the far end of technical discoveries and of the ones we have already in hand, how much we have used for critical human needs?
Technology and Innovation
Another buzz word today is “Innovation”. What is innovation? I like to think Innovation is simply new and unique uses and application of technology to solve a social or business problem. So, I think the two terms actually go rather well together.
We mostly don’t think of hailing innovative applications of old technologies, but that’s where we probably fail to appreciate their power. Let me illustrate.
Quite some time back, I was travelling in the interiors of Uttarakhand on some remote village roads. Single lane, no merges, no markings. Just a simple flat road connecting remote villages. Driving was tough and I wondered what kind of vehicles could really survive these roads on a daily basis? After a while I saw a monstrous apparition appear on these roads. It consisted of a flat wooden platform of about 6-8 feet by 15 feet, mounted on wheels, driven by a man sitting on a stool holding a wheel and some kind of an engine powering this contraption. There were people seated on the wooden platform, no seats. Just blankets or baskets or tier trunks for seats. This “thing” made a loud noise as it passed me (presumably the engine). On further enquiry I got to know something that astonished me and has never failed to make me wonder at the innovativeness of those rural folk. The trolley is built locally in the villages, uses the smaller tractor wheels ( front ones) as it’s four wheels, has a steering mechanism of the vilest quality and has it’s front wheels powered by… guess what??? A water pump! Apparently the farmers use or let out these pumps for such use when they don’t need them for irrigation. The contraption is called “jugaad” (meaning innovation in hindi) and serves as a inter village transport system.
Similarly, can we not use our existing technology for new and innovative modern purposes? Especially for critical needs? I had some ideas –
Women’s safety, a top priority today (though I don’t see much action around it) can be well addressed by small GPS buttons or better still remote alarm triggers, which with one click can trigger an alarm from anywhere in the World using an application which can run on most smart phones.
Theft tracking – small GPS buttons which can be sewn into purses, clothes, or other stuff of value, enabling tracking after a theft.
Uneven distribution of health care – Another area where we do a lot of research but I don’t see much innovative use of technology, as we have it today, to increase the reach and access, as well as affordability to the under privileged. There have been attempts and projects on small to medium levels but unable to scale. Maybe it’ was the business model or the operational model which hampered their scalability. But by no means were these applications of no use. I am talking of Telemedicine, E-Diagnostic kits, stand alone diagnostic kits etc.
Education – The technology exists, the content exists, but scalability to make an impact does not. I have personally seen examples of best case use of E-Learning technologies by a company called Literacy India; it was a hard to believe experience. But true. I saw the usage. Saw the impact. And saw the social implications for what they were doing.
Power – has anyone ever told you that you can use a type of semiconductors to actually generate electricity, enough to power a rural home, just by harnessing it to a “Chullah” or stove? The cost? Less than Rs. 3000 to manufacture these stoves.
The above are examples of what is happening around us and how it can be done in a better way, using innovative ways to harness the power of technology, no matter how old. Yet, we still go on researching, looking for new ways to reinvent the wheel. Again and Again. I wonder when we will stop and look at using what we have than trying to become pioneer technologists by recreating wheels within wheels, some round, sometimes hexagonal, sometimes square.
Rohit Shipstone is a Business Growth specialist, Innovator, Strategic Marketer and member of the Ennovent Pool. To access Rohit Shipstone’s expertise in product development for low-income markets, new business model evaluation, strategy, marketing and sales, write to email@example.com