Kerala-based sociopreneur is wiring up cities with automated e-toilets.
Young and affable ‘sociopreneur’ M.S. Vinod has chosen to live his dream in the cause of public good, or make that ‘public convenience’ — it’s all about wiring up filthy cities with, hold your breath, an e-toilet infrastructure.
This takes the form of compact, squeaky-clean and fully automated e-toilets, and nearly 200 of them have already been installed in select cities across the country.
The 38-year-old executive director of Thiruvananthapuram-based Eram Scientific Solutions did not think twice before naming his innovation ‘Delight’, which is garnering interest both within the country and outside.
The latest recognition has come from none less than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given his company a Rs 2.9-crore grant for research on automating the cleaning and disinfection of public toilets.
Vinod’s innovation doubles as an income-generating asset that is sustainable, cost-effective and energy-efficient.
Above all, it is proving a bright little spark that is igniting the minds of public health and sanitation activists.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who until recently held the Sanitation portfolio and spearheaded the ‘Nirmal Bharat’ campaign to promote urban and rural hygiene, responded positively to the e-toilet and its potential to help end the practice of open defecation.
Clean and automatic
Through the digitally controlled e-toilet network, “one can locate toilets, check the working status, and remotely control the units to ensure smooth functioning,” says Vinod.
The portable unit takes up not more than 45 sq ft of built-up space.
From a user’s perspective it features payment-based access, energy/water saving contraption, audio-based user instructions and self-cleaning mechanisms. It limits water use to less than four litres per user.
Back-up power, inbuilt water tank, GPRS-based remote control, and self-check capabilities are the other features, rounded off by digital advertisement options.
Optional facilities include sterilisation/ disinfection features, solar panels and water recycling devices.
Finding soci@l feet
With an MBA and a law degree, tech-savvy Vinod always dreamt of finding socially-relevant uses for ICT (information and communication technology).
After failing in his initial attempts at floating a company, he worked as an IT officer with the Kerala Government. He was part of the team that rolled out the popular Akshaya e-governance project, and says the experience changed his life.
He conceived and implemented more e-governance projects both in the Government and private sectors, including the ‘Insight’ ICT centre for the visually challenged and IT-enabling of village industries.
He now holds top managerial positions in Rain Concert Technologies, a company he co-founded in 2006 with a friend, and in Eram Scientific Solutions, a joint venture with the Saudi Arabia-based Eram Group.
Rain Concert develops high-end Web and mobile applications, and electronics. Its research and development arm, Dea Celera Electronic Devices, ventured into clean technologies and pro-earth applications.
Overcoming several teething troubles, and through trials and errors it developed the e-toilet with the support of the Kerala Government.
The project impressed Siddeeq Ahmed of Eram Group enough to buy 50 per cent into Dea Celera in 2011, leading to the creation of Eram Scientific Solutions. It is working on innovations in the areas of food safety, agriculture, surveillance and utility products.
“This is not a commercial enterprise,” Vinod emphasises. “Money we make from this project would be re-invested to further refine the product or design other socially relevant products,” he adds.
He hopes that Government organisations, local bodies and private sector companies will deploy a part of their corporate social responsibility funds to buy ‘Delight’ e-toilets.
In fact, the Kerala Government has agreed to give 50 per cent subsidy to gram panchayats for buying the e-toilets and plans to extend tax exemption to the project.
Discussions are on for technology transfer arrangements with South Africa and dealerships in Nigeria and Botswana.
“Convergence of technologies in sanitation was indeed a challenge that we overcame. What has taken shape is a game-changer product in public sanitation,” says Vinod.
Toilet map for travellers
Vinod aims to create a network of e-toilet infrastructure across Kerala and other parts of India through a convergence of Web-mobile-electronics technologies. The proposed Kerala Connected Toilet Infrastructure (CeTI) is based on the Australian National Public Toilet Map.
By mapping and linking the toilet units through Web and mobile, it promises to raise the comfort level of travellers to a new high. Based on their itinerary, travellers can zero in on the nearest toilet with ease.
They can fix a parking space, make payment, view the timings, check for kids’ facilities and other details, all on their mobile devices. A working model is in place at Pathanamthitta district.
The network of ‘intelligent toilets’ also throws up opportunities for ‘social public infrastructure advertising’, says Vinod. Here, public infrastructure can be used to spread socially-relevant messages through high-impact LED screens, especially in rural areas.