Emerging Entrepreneurs

Creating a smart way to manage waste

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on June 24, 2019

Mahek M Shah, Director, Antariksh Waste Ventures   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Antariksh builds an IoT-based solution for each stakeholder in the ecosystem

After completing his mechanical engineering degree from IIT-Madras, Mahek M Shah dabbled in a whole lot of things. He joined a trading company in Hyderabad as a derivatives trader and moved to algorithmic trading strategies for the company. He was there for three years before starting his own venture, in the e-commerce space.

“I failed in almost everything,” he says, matter of factly, and shut down the venture within 18 months of launching it. An MBA from Italy, specialising in product design, energy management and design management followed before Mahek returned to India. He joined a start-up in Hyderabad as a product manager, building four products for the company. That experience too didn’t last long, before Mahek developed a Swachh Bharat app.

The app, says Mahek, was integrated with Twitter and all that one had to do was to take a picture of a civic problem through the app and Twitter would auto-compose the message, which would tag the Prime Minister’s Office. This was in 2014, when the Narendra Modi Government, fresh in office, had announced the Swachh Bharat programme. The project still continues, albeit as a hobby, says Mahek.

He realised that almost three-fourths of the complaints through the app related to uncleared garbage or overflowing garbage bins. That was the trigger for his venture, Antariksh, whose aim is to use IoT in waste management and involve all the players in the ecosystem – citizens, conservancy workers and conservancy administrators – in a smart way of clearing garbage. The project is being piloted in a south Chennai locality with lot of positive feedback, says Mahek.

Mahek says he spent time in Warangal, Hyderabad and Chennai talking to conservancy workers and administrators and to citizens to find out how the system works. This was the building block for the app that had solutions for each of the stakeholders. “All of them have different types of challenges. We plotted this entire graph,” says Mahek.

How it works

A citizen can use the app to find out if a bin in his or her area is full or when it is going to be cleared. They can identify the bin closest to their house and subscribe for alerts from that smart bin. They will get an alert, say, about an hour before the bin is due to be cleared for them to dispose of their garbage. For the conservancy workers or the truck drivers, the app will tell them the garbage levels in the bins in their mapped area. The conservancy administrator will get alerts on bin levels in the area under his or her jurisdiction.

“We are working with municipalities to get standard timings. In the pilot that we are doing now, we know the approximate schedules for clearing the garbage,” says Mahek. Based on that, Antariksh tries to map out the alerts for the citizens. The product is still in the testing stage and Mahek is waiting for an order from one of the cities implementing projects under the Smart Cities mission.

Social media impact

According to him, social media has made life hectic for municipal authorities. Citizens take pictures of every pile of uncleared garbage or overflowing bins or leaking sewer lines or potholes on roads and post them on Twitter or any other social media platform. This puts pressure on the administrators so much so that municipal corporations have started having social media cells to respond to these complaints. Antariksh, says Mahek, plans to map the complaints and integrate them with its system so that it helps the authorities respond immediately.

Antariksh uses sensors fitted on to poles placed over the bins to get alerts about the garbage levels. The company makes the IoT sensors, integrates the custom boards, takes care of battery optimisation, integrates the solar panels with the system and ensure live power integration. It is ready to execute an order, but is waiting for one under the Smart Cities mission. Unfortunately, the tenders specify minimum experience and turnover qualifications, which are not friendly for start-ups. Due to this, Antariksh may have to tie up with some other bidder under the Smart Cities project to integrate waste management with that bidder’s overall proposal.

Also, says Mahek, investors are not too keen to invest in a start-up like Antariksh since it involves dealing with the government or government agencies. He hopes that he will be able to meet the right investor as he needs money to increase the team, test more components, reduce the board size and improve battery optimisation. He is, however, confident that it will work because solid waste management is such a huge task in cities.


Published on June 24, 2019

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