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When Teenagers Become Innovators
By Editor-In-Chief, Technomic Review
Not all useful technical ideas necessarily deal with expensive equipment, nor do they originate from people with technical qualification. A twelve year old girl proposed a modification to the standard walker, so that the modified walker can be used easily while climbing or descending stairs. The innovator was helped by National Innovation Foundation in converting her idea into reality.
Ms.Shalini Kumari, a twelve year old student of eighth standard, Hartmans Girls School, Patna became a celebrity in 2011 by winning the IGNITE award of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) for her invention of a modification to the standard walker. Her modification would make the walker usable on stairs. Her ideas have now reached the stage of commercialization.
|Figure 1: Source: Picture from http://nif.org.in/dwn_files/award-books-ignite/2011-awardbook.pdf|
A conventional walker provides support in walking to disabled, elderly, and people recuperating from leg and back injuries.
It consists of a metallic frame with four legs, enclosed on front and both sides, and open at the back, loosely resembling a witness box. Usually, all the four legs are equal in length. It is waist high, its sides can be held comfortably by the user. Its depth is about twelve inches, and width slightly more than that of a user, so that the user can easily stand inside it. While walking with it, the user first lifts and places it slightly ahead, then balancing himself or herself by holding it, steps forward towards the walker, and so on.
The standard variations found in walkers are: walkers of low height meant for children, walkers with just two legs to serve as an extended walking stick, and walkers with wheels to permit easy movement.
However the standard walkers and the modified ones are all meant for use only on level ground. They become uncomfortable to use while climbing or descending stairs.
How the idea was born
Shalini Kumari became aware of the above difficulty, when she saw an elder in her own family finding it difficult to climb stairs with a conventional walker. Her grandfather once suffered a fracture, and while recovering from it, had to depend on a walker for support in walking. The walker was fine when he walked on level ground. But he could not visit his terrace garden, as the walker could not support him to traverse the stairs. While observing his difficulty, Shalini was struck by the idea that the walker could be modified so that it becomes suitable for use on stairs.
In the design proposed by her, the front legs did not have a fixed length; their length could be adjusted by the user, depending on her or his need. The legs can be locked once their height is adjusted. Shorter front legs are needed for climbing, and longer ones for descending. The amount of change depends on the size of a step, which is usually fixed for a stair case. In addition to spring loaded, self-locking, adjustable front legs, she included in her design a folding seat, a horn, and a light.
She expressed her ideas in the form of several sketches, but had neither the resources nor the skills to convert her design in to a physical product. Abhishek, a friend of hers who had won an award from the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) in 2009, came to know about her idea, and encouraged her to approach NIF for taking the idea forward.
NIF, headquartered at Ahmedabad, is an autonomous organization set up by the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India, and its objective is to promote grass roots innovations. “NIF helps grassroots innovators and outstanding traditional knowledge holders get due recognition, respect and reward for their innovations. It also tries to ensure that such innovations diffuse widely through commercial and/or non-commercial channels, generating material or non-material incentives for them and others involved in the value chain.”
NIF helped Shalaini Kumari by getting a prototype of her design fabricated and tested.
In the meantime, Shalini submitted her idea for the IGNITE award of the NIF and won it in 2011.IGNITE – a national competition of original technological ideas and innovations by children up to class 12 or those out of school up to the age of 17 years – is organized by NIF every year to promote creativity and originality among children.
Helping the innovator
NIF, in addition to getting a prototype of the adjustable walker fabricated, filed an application for patenting her design. The application is still in process. Once the patent is granted, Shalini will get royalties.
Shalini’s adjustable walker won two other major awards in the next four years, the IMC Inclusive Innovation Award in 2014, and the NIF Biennial Grass Roots Innovation Award in 2015.
The IMC Innovation Award is given by the Indian Merchants’ Chamber. It is meant for entrepreneurs who focus on financially viable, high quality products, affordable by all sections of society, and are of use to particularly the population at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
The Biennial Grass Roots Innovation Award is given by NIF once every two years. NIF accepts only those entries that are self-driven i.e. developed entirely through their own efforts at individual or community level singly or in small groups. The competition aims to promote innovation so that the livelihood prospects of the masses improve.
As mass production and marketing are outside the purview of the innovator and NIF, NIF signed an agreement with Kaviraa Solutions for non-exclusive manufacturing and marketing rights of the adjustable walker. Kaviraa is a Nagpur based firm producing and selling home medical equipment. The above company has already started accepting and delivering orders for the adjustable walker.
According to Pratul Janefalker, Proprieter, Kaviraa Solutions, Kaviraa has made many changes to the prototype of NIF’s. A locking system has been added to the handle; an LED light with switch was fixed on the front side; and the number of teeth in the gear has been increased from one to three.
Figure 2: Source: Adjustable Walker, Kaviraa Solutions
Initially, in 2015, the product was launched in the states of Maharashtra and Chattisgarh; in 2016, Kaviraa wants to sell in 9 states, and in 2017 in 20states.
The expected sales by Kaviraa in 2016 and 2017 are 25,000 pieces, and 80,000 pieces respectively.
Currently eight sales managers are attached to this project. They plan to work with orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, NGOs, and Neurologists for lead generation.
Lessons from teenage innovators
Anil Gupta, Professor, IIMA, and executive vice chairperson of NIF, states in his introduction to IGNITE 11:
- Children do not want to live with problems but want to solve them
- The ability of children to connect solutions of different problems is much better than that of adults
- While promoting creative ideas, we should give priority to desirability of the idea than its feasibility
- Most children in their creativity, focus on ideas that solve the problems faced by elders and women
- Gender balance among child innovators is much better than that among adult innovators
- Among children there is increasing concern about conserving material and protecting environment
- Most of the creative ideas are coming not from metros but from smaller places.
It is remarkable that the idea of the adjustable walker originated from a teenager. She recognized a lacuna in the functionality of an existing product, and had the confidence that the gap could be filled by a simple modification of the existing design. Another unique feature of the above story is that, once the innovator conceived the core idea, there was an institution, namely the NIF, which saw merit in her idea and came forward to concretize the idea by getting a prototype developed. NIF went further in seeing the idea through by finding a vendor and allowing them to commercialize the prototype. Thus, for an important product idea to see the light of day, institutional support is essential, and institutions which could provide such support play a significant role in sustaining the innovators and their inventions.
- Wikipedia article on walker – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/walker_(mobility), accessed on 17thMay, 2016
- NIF website — 2011 award book for IGNITE- http://nif.org.in/innovation/modified_walker_with_adjustable_legs/672, accessed on 17th May ,2016
- NIF Website — 2015 award book for biennial grass roots innovations- http://nif.org.in/innovation/modified-walker-with-adjustable-legs/779, accessed on 17thMay, 2016
- IMC Inclusive innovation award – http://nif.org.in/shalini_IMC_inclusive_innovation_award_2014 accessed on 17th May, 2016
Technomic Review/When Teenagers Become Innovators/TR-2016-05-0002/