How the Internet of Things is being used to solve India-specific problems

If you’ve ever had to deal with a sudden infestation of rodents in your home, you know how challenging the task is. Consider then the magnitude of the problem when it is spread over an area of 4000 acres or more — the typical size of an Indian airport. Well, guess what — to tackle the problem of rats scurrying around nooks and crannies of airports, experts are looking at rat traps connected to the internet.

It’s part of a trend of using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology to solve problems that are peculiar to India. While its application in manufacturing and the consumer goods space is fairly widespread now, with the advent of low-cost processors and easy availability of back-end infrastructure that support machine-to-machine (m2m) communications, a new breed of IoT-powered devices are being developed.

The IoT-enabled rat trap, for example, is laden with sensors that sends out an alert when a rodent gets caught. Many of the country’s airports are already in talks with telecom services provider Tata Communications to procure these devices.

The smart trap, which is expected to cost no more than a few hundred rupees, can help airports and owners of other large establishments manage their rodent menace. The current solution is to place ‘dumb’ traps at strategic places and check on them regularly, which is enormously time-consuming. 

“At an airport like Mumbai, there would be hundreds of rat traps. While setting up the traps is easy enough, you don’t want to keep going back to them to check if they’ve caught a rat. The task becomes much easier if you have a device that alerts you the moment a rat gets trapped,” says VS Sridhar, vice-president of the IoT unit at Tata Communications. “We are working on this solution and are in the process of implementing it with a client.”

‘SmartKavach’ is another low-cost IoT solution developed specifically to track the health and fitness of workers on the factory floor. The well-heeled can use a  FitBit or an Apple Watch to monitor their fitness and basic health. But these would be too expensive to be deployed in a factory that has thousands of workers.

To address this, Easy M2M Technologies, a Bengaluru-based startup, came up with SmartKavach. The band, which costs much less than an average smart watch, can track a person’s vital signs such as his heart-rate. It alerts managers and supervisors if a worker’s vitals are abnormal or if they need immediate medical attention. Several heavy engineering companies are now using SmartKavach or similar solutions to reduce the number of mishaps on the factory floor. 

“Chips and hardware are becoming cheaper by the day, making the whole IoT ecosystem in the country more affordable,” says Ravi Gururaj, a serial entrepreneur and a member of software lobby Nasscom’s Product Council.

Gururaj’s company QikPod uses IoT-enabled lockers for receiving and storing e-commerce shipments when it isn’t possible to deliver these to customers’ doorsteps right away. Since they are IoT-enabled, these lockers can be operated remotely, while still remaining secure.

Several other companies are also employing IoT to make their businesses more efficient. Take Chai Point, which sells quality teas online and offline. It has introduced IoT to ensure that the quality of the beverage remains the same across all its stores. The centrally-controlled tea vending machines dispense tea with exactly the same combination of herbs and spices to make the taste uniform. The Bengaluru-based company is now renting out these tea makers, under the brand ‘boxC’, to offices.

Though India started its IoT journey much later than some of the developed countries, research and consultancy firm KPMG estimates that the country already has about 120 players selling IoT solutions of which 60- 65 per cent are start-ups. “I think, it will be a hockey-stick growth (in the Indian IoT market),” says Sridhar of Tata Communications.

Globally, too, the IoT solutions market is expected to skyrocket: From $1.3 billion in 2016, it is projected to grow to $9 billion by 2020, according to KPMG.

Recognising the demand for newer skills that the technology would need in the future, academia are also responding to the trend. For example, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in Tamil Nadu has added projects-based modules on IoT to its standard curriculum. “Three years ago, we added an IoT module for our students in the Electronics stream. Students should touch base with hardware solutions since knowledge of software alone is not enough,” says M Arun, an associate professor in the Department of Electronics Engineering at VIT. 

On an average, a VIT student now churns out 10-12 IoT projects during his or her four-year graduate course. The projects are mostly targeted for use in solving India-specific problems, say, in agriculture or for monitoring pollution. And they are low-cost too so that their use and impact can be maximised. 

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