Inventing for Have-Nots’

At NIT in Srinagar is a civil engineering professor who is passionate about machines. In the last few years, he has devised a basket full of interesting appliances and devices, with a focus on renewable energy and the people lacking access to better facilities for lack of power supply or resources, reports Masood Hussain

Prof Danish Ahmad (NIT Srinagar Innovator)

In the last 100 years, solar energy has emerged as a key player in managing humanity’s energy requirements. Now, solar energy is wheeled into power grids and sold with thermal and hydropower.

For off-grid areas and consumers lacking formal electricity supply set-up, however, solar energy is the only power source that they have access to. Most of the off-track underprivileged people use solar panels for lighting. There are a huge tribe of innovators and scientists who are working round the clock to make appliances that can give this population the luxury of using solar energy to have almost the same kind of life that exists elsewhere.

A NIT Product

One of these scientists is Danish Ahmad, a professor of civil engineering at Srinagar’s National Institute of Technology (NIT). Already acknowledged as the  Best Innovator by the NIT for his commitment to developing innovations that serve underserved areas, he has spent years in innovating appliances that work on solar power. Passionate about using innovation to improve the lives of underprivileged classes living off the grid, he has devised a complete set of devices powered by solar energy.

What is interesting about Danish is that he did his BE from NIT and then a master’s from the same institution in water resources. Finally, as fate has it, he was appointed as a faculty in the same institution.

The First Innovation

Danish’s first invention was a modified, low-cost solar water purifier that utilises solar energy to purify dirty water through the process of evaporation and condensation. He has obtained the necessary patent and proprietary rights for this invention.

“When I devised it, somebody suggested me to patent the technology and I followed the process and in 2019, I got its patent,” Danish said. “It would find its use where there is no electricity and it is so efficient that you pour dirtiest water into it, it will use a cooling and evaporation mechanism to get you almost distilled water.”

Passion versus Profession

The senior faculty of the NIT, Danish said that his passion has led him to have a full-fledged workstation at home where he has been experimenting with device development. He teaches civil engineering but is passionate about mechanical engineering. “I was inquisitive from a very young age,” he said. “I would open any device and see how it functions and understand its mechanism.”

For the daytime, Danish teaches students at NIT. Back home he is working in his workshop, which is actually his laboratory. “It is a full-fledged workshop where most of these appliances were created,” Danish Ahmad said. “These are affordable solutions to situations that I released after watching the life of people living far away.”

Danish said he has almost 15 market-ready devices. My focus, he said is to have devices that have quick applicability and do not require the grid energy for use. His focus area has always remained the population that off track, off the grid.

Second Patent

Danish second patent came out of his tensions about how not to put off an LPG heater. Normally, he explained, when the LPG heaters are put on, these warm the room but generate a lot of smell as oxygen depletes and people have to switch it off and ventilate the room and resume the process.

Prof Danish Ahmad’s workshop at home led to as many as 18 innovations so far. KL Image

“I worked on a chimney that gets the gases out of the room but is sensitive enough to radiate the heat back,” Danish said. “A series of tests proved it to be efficient in retaining energy up to 85 per cent but still there is a loss of 10-15 per cent.” The technology fetched me a patent for a low-cost gas vent for LPG heaters.

His third project was the making of a solar water cooler for areas lacking electricity. “I used solar power as the energy base and create a cooler that would cool the liquid during the daytime on the solar energy,” Danish said. “In the night it starts consuming stored energy that it saves during the day operations. This fetches the facility a round-the-clock use.” This technology that adds a fan to the traditional system of cooling fetched Danish his third patent.

New Devices

In his career, Danish has been experimenting with many interesting ideas. He did succeed in devising many devices. Consumption of impure water, Danish asserts is key to disease. Water resources was been his subject during his studies, His focus remains on water.

Water filters are a twenty-first-century requirement but these are usually immovable devices and require energy for filtration. During travel, Danish said people usually lack knowledge about the source of pure water so in desperation they end up consuming impure water.

“With picnic-goers in mind, I devised a low-cost portable water filter. It is in fact a bottle filter,” Danish said. “Normally in energy-powered filters, it requires almost 30 minutes to get you cleaned water but the bottle I devised, it takes barely 30 seconds to one minute. Its rate of filtration is very high”.

Another of his devices is a portable instant water cooler. This device is aimed at offering an alternative to people who can either not afford a fridge or is travelling or on a picnic and wish to have cool water. His lunch-box-sized cooling system works on a car battery and has the capability of cooling water in 20 minutes.

Besides, he has invented a remote-controlled portable AC that also works on a car battery or small converters. “I have used a different technology in it which is completely different from the one used in fridges,” Danish said.

Out of curiosity, Danish said he invented a low-cost combination lock system that works on a 4-digit key. It has the possibility of changing the keys. “It was devised for people who have the habit of misplacing the key of formal lock systems,” Danish said. “It is cheap, durable and very simple.”

Another of his water-related devices is a solar-power water heater, which is portable. Again, aimed at people going to far-off places during hiking and travel who cannot have hot water for ablution and bathing. “It is foldable and within 15 minutes, it fetches water heated up to 60 degrees,” Danish said.

Survival Kits

What is interesting in Danish’s basket of inventions is the number of items that are devised for survival in trying situations.

One of the devices is an atmospheric water extractor that can draw water from the humidity in the air. “Consider a place where you do not have water at all,” Danish explains. “In such a situation, my device will help you suck water from the air. Its quantity will be small but, still, it will be enough to have water where there is no possibility of getting it otherwise.”

Danish is aware of the catastrophe that earthquakes wreck on earth and decimate societies. The tragedy is that earthquakes cannot be predicted. He devised a microwave sensory earthquake alarm system that works on sensitive technology. “It is established that people barely notice the first tremors that come before a major shock,” Danish said. “This device will alarm with every shock, regardless of the fact whether it is a small or a big tremor. Its alarm is so powerful that it will wake you up in the middle of your sleep and your neighbours too. It can help people get ready and stay cautious with the first tremor itself.”

In the earthquake warning system, however, the application for the patent has been filed by the NIT as an institution even though it is Danish who is behind the device.

Growing out himself, Danish has understood the challenges that senior citizens face. “Imagine a situation that the grandpa left for a morning walk with his walking stick in hand and a cell phone in his pocket and an hour left his phone is switched off because he had not charged the phone,” explains Danish. “I have devised the walking stick that has a phone charger in it. It will help him walk while his phone gets charged. It will help people, I believe.”

Other Devices

Most of the devices Danish has worked out are the outcome of the requirement. “We have Kangri as part of our culture but once you come from a day’s work, you do not have it ready at home,” explains Danish about an imaginary situation. “For such situations, I devised a portable energy-saving device that heats up within 15 minutes and requires a small energy that usually is consumed by a bulb. It can even be charged from a battery. It is much safer but obviously not an alternative to the Kangri that we must preserve.”

Besides, he has devised a robotic flower vase that is a novelty and works on sound control. It is aimed at replacing the plastic decorative flowers that people use and later throw away.

All these innovations are handy and portable and are aimed at the populations that live far away in uplands where natural water sources are scarce. Tens of thousands of people live uphill in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir where supplying tap water is expensive and fraught with tensions, especially during winters. Besides, there are a lot of people who go up the mountains in herds for almost half of the year. These appliances are aimed at helping them have better life.

Market Ready Devices

Danish Ahmad said his innovations have received widespread recognition and praise from experts in the field. He has been invited to speak at numerous conferences and events, including once to a TedX Talk. His commitment to creating sustainable solutions for under-served communities has earned him a reputation as a leading innovator in the field of sustainable engineering.

However, what is interesting is that Danish’s innovations are yet to move from his laboratory to the market. Though he is open to the sharing of technology with the interested parties for mass manufacturing, there is some kind of disconnect that prevents people from using these appliances because they are yet to be manufactured at a mass scale.

“Learning is a lifelong process. You start it early and learn every day,” Danish said. “I am working on newer things while writing, devising and studying. I have done almost five courses online for which I had to sit in the examination even when I am myself a teacher.”

So far, Danish has filed 17 patents including the four – earthquake alarm system, floral vase, fruit harvester, and magnetic field detector – in which his employer institution is the applicant. “I have already three patents to my person and others are in the process of being granted,” Danish said. “After publication, it takes almost two years to get it granted formally but these all are published.”

While teaching and innovating newer things, Danish has not stopped writing. So far, he said, he has four books to his credit and some of them were translated into eight to ten languages for a wider audience. These include Solar Energy Utilization, Innovative Mindset, Water Quality Testing and Treatment and a book on innovations.

Right now, he is working on almost half a dozen other devices and some of them are close to a stage where he will be moving patent applications. Those ready and published include a fruit harvester that would prevent people from harvesting fruit without climbing the tree and a low-cost magnetic field detector.

“I am also waiting for the industry so that some of these technologies can be transferred for mass manufacturing. One thing you need to know is that I do not make prototypes, I make working products directly.”

Ifra Reshi contributed to this report

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