Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shilatane

Working in Mumbai is great and all, but rural is where all the fun is! We traveled to Shilatane some weeks ago to understand what it was like to live in a rural village. This is a village that is 100 km east of Mumbai off the highway on the way to Pune. A random turn off the highway turned into quite the excursion.


Shibin spearheads the excursion into the unknown. Shibin would make a great translator in the U.N.

We ran into farmers who were planting rice in the patties. They greeted us with strange faces, but quickly warmed up to us.


We wanted to understand how mobiles were used in the villages. They were quick to whip out their mobiles and gave us their take on cell phones. A few points they made:
  • They make the distinction between Nokia and Reliance(CDMA). They perceive Nokia as a brand for GSM, not the carriers (Hutch, Airtel...).
  • They like to exchange ring-tones and wallpapers with friends.

One question that we would have loved to ask was "how do you charge your mobile?". Hopefully, we will have a better sense of power in relation to mobiles when we go back to Shilatane and other villages this weekend.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cowdung Slurry


Thank god I've never seen it on a menu. Nevertheless, it may the solution to India's energy needs:

"If every village (of which we have 600,270) has 50 farmer families who maintain just two bullocks and four cows each, the cowdung of these animals can produce enough methane gas to take care of country's entire energy needs"

Times of India, 8 December, 2004


Google Phone in India?

Information Week quotes a Rediff Article saying that Google is planning on releasing a GooglePhone in India in the next week or so. I'm not holding my breath, but I'll start taking orders from the states. So don't delay! For a limited time, just send me your used iPhone and I'll send you a brand new GPhone as soon as it comes out. Your friends will think you are the COOLEST!

Simply send your iPhone to:

Derek Lomas
Everest Apartments, Apt 1
Bandra Reclamation, Across from Mount Carmel Hospital
Mumbai, India 40050

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The hunting and gathering of parts

The idea of the sewing machine as a platform to charge mobiles was conceived maybe around the third week of our internship. With Derek's ingenuity, Shibin's electrical knowledge, and my ... ability to concede to crazy ideas... , the sewing machine was planned out with a good deal of research. The premise of the sewing machine mobile phone charger revolves around the following points:
  • Produce current sufficient for the charging of mobile batteries.
  • Use materials that can be found off the street at the lowest price possible
So! Finding the parts...

Last Saturday we went down to the electronics bazaar down on Lamington Rd where they have everything related to electronics. While many of the shops tried to rip us off royally (shopping with a white guy with long blonde hair is not recommended for getting good prices in Bombay), the shopkeeper at "Vishal Electronics" was very patient, and helped us find whatever we needed. We got tons of little parts, including a few packets of JUMBO LEDs. Including the motor, gears, and circuits, we spent a total of about 10$.

Great! We found all the parts we needed... Now all we had to do was get the foot-powered sewing machine.

So we managed to find a street where almost every shop sold new sewing machines--strategically located right next to the street where all the shops just sell doorknobs (??). So, after some serious bargaining, we managed to pick up a new foot powered sewing machine for around 25$. Done!
I should mention that it was kind of hilarious when we carried this thing into our fancy office building in the Bandra-Kurla Complex. We got all these looks of disbelief--people wondering why we would start a tailor shop in the IL&FS Financial Building.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

The hack is a success!

Finally, today, we were able to charge a mobile phone with the sewing machine hack that we threw together this week.

We'll post more pictures, but using about $5-$10 worth of electronics and parts we bought off the street, we were able to convert a footpowered sewing machine into a dynamo that generates a 6Volt 250 Milliamp charge--appropriate for charging mobile phones.

We don't know if this will ever get out of the lab, but we do know that there is a footpowered sewing machine in nearly every village in India, that there is a lot of unmet demand for electricity, people can charge Rs5 per charge, and that the poverty line in India is Rs10.

And not that I'm advocating child labor, but it is a reality, and with this, a kid could make Rs5 per hour while reading a book or doing homework. Just an idea.

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The Scrappy State of India's Electricity

"90 percent of Bihar, India's poorest state, has no electricity. Yet this has not stopped people [from] using mobile phones to connect to the world.

Arvind Tandon, 28, charges phones in his cramped shop where he sells and repairs clocks and radios. The use of a car battery, which also powers an electric fan on the counter, is available for Rs5 a time (about 13 cents). He proudly holds up a mobile phone connected to his contraption, which serves at least 150 customers each day. Mr Tandon started this supplementary business a year ago and now it makes up nearly half his revenues."
Financial Times, 6 August, 2007

Bihar is not alone. Most of Maharastra, India's second most prosperous state, went without electricity for up to 15 hours per day in 2006. Because India does not produce enough electricity to meet demand, the government cuts power for hours every day in nearly all villages, rich or poor, in a process called 'load sharing'. Only areas like Bombay get 24-7 electricity, because they receive power from a private company (Reliance). As soon as you get outside the city, you start seeing billboard advertisements for Batteries and Inverters (pictured), so people can still power fans and fridges when the power is cut. It is safe to say that while some parts of India are without electrical access, almost all of India is without regular electrical access.

Things didn't used to be this bad a decade ago, when villages only got power cut for a couple hours each day, if at all. However, India's economy is growing and transforming far faster than it's government is constructing new power plants. So even as India goes high tech, the lights are going out.
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Power Issues


The power issue is a huge bottleneck when talking about the economic growth of this country. In fact, the problem isn't getting better - it is getting worse! As the country grows in population, the demand for energy is even greater. In the state of Maharashtra, routine power outages occur almost on a daily basis in some parts of the state. Also, the state electricity board charges exorbitant prices for energy to offset the losses from free-loaders who just tap into their neighbors' electrical lines. Also, load sharing causes power outages for hours at a time - some are as long as 12 hours. Derek and I stumbled across the existence of UPS devices that are supposed to power a television, a fan, a refrigerator and other household items for a few hours. This is a great idea, but the prices of the UPS devices (which rely on Lead-Acid cells) are very high. We were quoted a price of 8000 Rps. (200$) for one of these devices.

This is obviously not a reasonable solution to the scheduled power outages. Another solution for load-sharing outages is the use of Petrol-Kerosene generators that are used by farmers. Of course, these aren't cheap as well, but they provide electricity when needed. Typical generators are run on a combination of Petrol and Kerosene which are usually used to power the irrigation pumps. Solar power is available, as the equatorial sun passes over India for long stretches of the year. This solution has been studied, but the cost of manufacturing solar cells for mass distribution in India isn't economically feasible yet.

Lately, the team has been looking into alternative energy solutions. Human powered solutions have been looked at and considered, and several potential products are being developed that may help many people stranded without electricity. It's interesting to note that even though the power infrastructure is unreliable, the mobile base stations that cell phones connect to are backed up through generators. Telecommunications in the Dark Ages!

Slideshow Link is here

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Save the Children Event

Qualcomm sponsored the construction of a library for disabled children in Bombay. The opening was a really fun party for the kids. They were so damn cute. I'll post a video of them dancing with a purple dinosaur (no relation to Barney).
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Monday, August 20, 2007

Indian Wireless Market

So why are we so excited by mobile phones in India? Why not japan or korea? (ok, those are exciting too, but for different reasons).

First of all, India has a long way to go to eradicate massive poverty. According to the Economist, 77 per cent of India (836 million people) live on less than Rs20 per day (20 rupees is about 50 cents in US dollars) . Furthermore, almost half of India is Illiterate, which is a major factor in the lack of economic mobility.

So with this in mind, it really doesn't come as much of a surprise that there were only 2 PCs for for every hundred people in India, during 2007. And even though broadband access is available for only rs250 per month ($6.20), TRAI reports that there are only 2.46 million broadband connections in India in 2007. This can be compared to the 28.18 million connections in China or 42.17 million connections in the US (as of 2006).

So things look grim. Don't forget that 30% of Indian homes lack electricity, and

Gartner research shows that India is the world's fastest growing wireless market. Currently, there are 180 million mobile subscribers, estimated to grow to more than 460 million connections by 2011.

Fueled by an average economic growth rate of more than 8.5% for the past four years

While the number of PCs will increase, the penetration is likely to be very low for many, many years. What does this mean for India's economic and social development?

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