A patient in a rural area required immediate electrocardiography but as soon as the nurse at the local Government hospital started operating the machine, there was a power failure. Time lost while switching to back up power can be crucial for such patients. But thanks to frugal engineering being done in India by companies like GE, Intel and Cisco, low cost solutions to deal with such situations are now at hand.

For example, GE Healthcare is investing in one of the most technologically challenging products in the medical diagnostics world with new Computerised Tomography or CAT Scan. It is expected to be at about 40 per cent cheaper than a standard CT.

Mobile X-Ray and electrocardiograph machines that have been designed for easy mobility and manoeuvrability through lifts and narrow corridors, into ICU's, operation theatres and wards are few other examples. MediRay HealthCare provides products that can run on car batteries or even smaller batteries and are available at affordable cost.

“Those are the frugal or jugaad kind of innovation approach, which are different, and do not take the existing platforms that we have while trying to reduce cost. This is an exciting time for such products,” Terri Bresenham, President and Chief Executive Officer, South Asia, GE Healthcare says

Going national

But, not all innovations are limited only to rural areas. Tech firms are developing products that's useful for consumers anywhere in the country. GE recently developed a new magnetic resonance that consumes 30 per cent less power. The company sells 25 per cent of its products manufactured here and would continue investing to develop ‘Made in India' products. It has recently opened a new plant in Pune for research and development and manufacturing.

“We make capital investment with our partners for different business models here that can lead to more infrastructures being built in a cost effective way,” Bresenham said.

Networking giant Cisco Systems, over the years at its R&D centre in India, has contributed to the development of Internet protocol-based networking technologies.

It has culminated in the conception and end-to-end development of a product – the ASR 901, launched in late 2011. It is a family of 3G or long term evolution-capable advanced services routers designed to meet the needs of Indian service providers in building the next generation of mobile network infrastructure.

“This frugal engineering philosophy has percolated into other efforts in the company and we have examples of this in various products such as set top boxes and telepresence devices. Frugality in power consumption is something that cuts across pretty much all hardware development across the company now,” says Dr Ishwar Parulkar, Chief Technology Officer of Cisco Systems in Bangalore.

The typical power consumption of these products is less than half of typical products in this space. According to Parulkar with the fast adoption of mobile devices and resulting service provider investment in building network infrastructure, the company sees more opportunities for building India specific products in this space.