Finding Eureka moments in drudgery
Over the telephone from Kolkata, Pratik Kumar Ghosh seems to be a man of few words. The 55 year-old mechanical engineer has none of the chattiness — effusive or grating — that award-winners usually do. When asked about the recent union government innovation award he won in April, he merely grunts. But the moment I begin to ask about rickshaws, Ghosh opens up, slightly so.
Ghosh won the National Innovation Council’s Innovation Challenge to Reduce Worker Drudgery for designing a cycle-rickshaw which uses the passenger’s load — even the bumps on the roads — to propel itself. “I hope it changes the lives of rickshaw-wallahs in Kolkata and around the country,” says Ghosh, an assistant manager at the Kolkata-based engineering company, Shriram EPC Ltd. He won the award with five other participants.
Last October, Ghosh saw an advertisement by the National Innovation Council in a newspaper about innovative technical proposals to reduce the professional drudgery of our working class population. “We now have autorickshaws in my part of town, but Kolkata still has cycle rickshaws and the pullers really have to slog it out. The advertisement, along with the pictures of the rickshawallahs, deeply touched me,” says Ghosh.
He refers to the existing rickshaws as ‘rude rickshaws’. “The rude rickshaws were designed to carry human load and goods without keeping the puller’s ease in mind. In the history of its long existence, the vehicle only underwent cosmetic design changes,” he says. To create the new design, Ghosh worked with the current dimensions of the cycle rickshaws.
Ghosh explains the shortcomings of the traditional rickshaws. “The chassis is horizontal to the ground. So, the entire load on the chassis acts as dead load without any forward component,” explains Ghosh. In Ghosh’s proposed rickshaw design, the chassis is at an angle of 10° to the ground, thus leaning towards the front. Any load on the chassis has a forward component, which assists propulsion. This, in turn, ensures that the puller has to apply minimum force to move the vehicle.
Ghosh points out another problem in the existing design that he has fixed in his winning idea. Currently, the chassis is fixed at all three points with a triangular frame. “Naturally, on an uneven road, the puller and the passenger experience jerks, spreading the impact to the entire vehicle, which only means more work for the rickshaw puller,” says Ghosh. In his new design, the chassis is assembled with the triangular frame in a different way — it is hinged at the pedal hub and the two other points are firmly fixed with the triangular frame as done in conventional rickshaws. The hinged point acts as a pivot, and the shock generated by the road is transmitted as a force to the triangular frame by the chassis and triangular frame’s connecting links. This arrangement makes potholed roads a lot more bearable for the rickshaw.
The third, and perhaps the most useful change Ghosh made was to the axle. In the existing rickshaws, the passenger weight comes directly on the axle, which is then hauled entirely by the rickshaw puller. Ghosh changed the passenger seat in a way that the passenger can push the vehicle with their body weight.
The seat frame of the passenger is designed in such a way, that the two front legs are hinged to the chassis. The rear two legs remain pressed with the bearing box horizontally, thus converting the downward passenger load to horizontal propulsive force. “The heavier the passenger is, higher will be the force generated,” says Ghosh, with an uncharacteristic chuckle.
The best part about this new rickshaw design, says Ghosh, is that it can be assembled with the existing parts of rickshaws. “You don’t need to redesign anything, or waste any part of your existing rickshaw. Anyone can assemble it,” he says. Through this design, says Ghosh, his dream of creating something useful has gone beyond fixing motorbikes as a precocious 11 year-old.
He’s only worried about one thing. He isn’t sure when — rather, if — this design will see the light of the day. “Someone — manufacturers or the state government — needs to pick up the design and overhaul the way our rickshaw pullers work right now. It is a simple, yet revolutionary idea. But I am a mere engineer — I regret not being an entrepreneur, too,” smiles Ghosh.
Twenty four year-old Raghunath Lohar, however, knows he can be both. Lohar, too, won the National Innovation Council’s Innovation Challenge to Reduce Worker Drudgery. Lohar has designed a device for construction workers to distribute the load from the head to the shoulder, and says he does not plan to wait for someone to pick up his design and create the product. “I’ll invest some money and do it myself,” says the aeronautical engineer who studies at the Aeronautical Institute in Chennai.
Lohar was almost waiting for a chance to put his design on paper. Four years ago, he saw a construction worker balance heavy bricks on her head at a site near his home. “I was watching her, absent-mindedly, when suddenly, she lost her balance and dropped the bricks on her shins. She bled till she almost fainted. I always wanted to design something that could help thousands in her position,” he says.
Lohar’s device, which he calls a ‘vessel’, is a vest made of belts with sponge bases for shoulders, pipes for vertical support and several detachable parts. These parts can be changed according to the manual labour done by the labourer. A flat desk, with a detachable semi-circular rim, can be attached on the top, helping the labourer carry loads and containers. A multipurpose attachment can be used instead of the flat desk to carry odd-shaped loads such as logs.
“The main advantage of my design is the distribution of weight from head to shoulders, which relieves head and backaches. Workers will no longer need to balance objects on their head — which means they do not have to alter their natural body movements at work,” says Lohar. He adds that the vessel is equipped with belts fitted with Velcro straps and can be removed easily. A worker needn’t remove them in the middle of the day because it doesn’t interfere with his daily routine. The vessel is light since it is made of recyclable plastic and fibre.
“The design can be used in farms, to move about sacks, cement, tiles, bricks — and so much more. Imagine how much productivity can be enhanced with such a simple change,” says Lohar, with a hint of hope and pride.
To contact PK Ghosh and Raghunath Lohar, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org respectively