An engineer from my undergraduate school IIT Kanpur who also went to the University of Florida has invented a lantern-cum-stove that lights up a small room while cooking food, an intriguing application of “frugal innovation” for the 600 million rural Indians, many of whom don’t have access to reliable electric power.
The creator, Anil Rajvanshi, who heads the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (Nari) in Phaltan, Satara, India says that the Lanstove runs on kerosene and produces illumination equivalent to that of a 300-watt lightbulb. The flame is lit with the flip of a valve-swittch and the unit includes a pressure cooker based on the heat pipe principle. Without smoke (that plagues village huts using firewood) or the smell of kerosene (in cruder devices) ,the Lanstove provides light and cooks a complete meal for a family of five in about 2 hours. The cooker can be used for cooking rice, lentils and vegetables, which are typical staples in an Indian rural diet.
India’s DNA newspaper reports that the Lanstove runs for six hours on a liter of kerosene. “Our tests confirmed that the carbon dioxide level generated while using Lanstove is very low as compared to that produced by chulhas (traditional wood-fired stoves).” Village resident Sunita Mohite told the paper, “While I cooked on Lanstove, children complete their homework. Otherwise they never touched the books after 6 pm.” Rajvanshi’s organization has applied for funds from India’s ministry of science and technology for manufacturing 100 units of Lanstove. “If manufactured on a commercial scale, the device could cost under Rs3,000 ($60) and villagers could pay in installments,” he said.
Major multinationals such as Shell, BP and Philips have also attempted to address these needs in India and elsewhere but no breakthrough device has yet emerged.
Takeaway: There is a huge need for innovation specific to the needs of the Indian population. While commercial success take a lot more than an invention or a working prototype, it is heartening to see engineering talent being applied to the bottom of the pyramid. Your engineers may already have a core technology or approach that is not relevant in the West but solves a major need in India; or they could readily develop something for the India market.