Ishan Malhotra, a 19-year-old from New Delhi often visited his grandmother’s house in Sirsa village, Haryana. Most of his childhood’s memory revolved around the village locals, children and farmers.
At a young age, Ishan was exposed to the various challenges farmers face in rural India, the biggest of which was water management.
He saw the farmers getting up at odd hours of the morning to walk for several kilometres to switch on the water pumps at their agricultural fields. Ishan thought about the farmers’ life and how a lot of time and energy get wasted every day for a simple task.
That was the moment when Ishan felt something needs to help the humble Indian farmers. “In the cities, we have robots doing the simplest of tasks for us, but in the villages, where 70 percent of the Indian population lives, we have nothing,” Ishan said.
It was Ishan’s close encounter with the real issues of the farmers that gave him the inspiration to use technology to help the farmers.
After a long research of eight months and several failed prototypes, Ishan came up with a successful device, Pluto. It is an IOT device that can switch on and switch off the water pump through a phone call (mobile or landline).
How it works?
- Pluto uses an Arduino board and a GSM module. The user needs to install an activated sim card in Pluto (no speciﬁc sim card)
- Connect Pluto with the water pump’s contractor(switchboard).
- Then, all one needs to do is call on Pluto’s mobile number to
- After two rings, the call gets connected to Pluto. The user has to dial 1111 to switch on the pump and dial 2222 to switch it off.
Pluto has three bulbs to inform the user about different things. The green one glows when electricity is ﬂowing. The yellow one indicates if the sim card is connected to the mobile network and is ready to be used. The red one glows if the motor/any electrical appliance is ON.
Pluto comes with an instruction manual in Hindi and English. The device works on a simple mobile phone and doesn’t require a smartphone. It can effectively work even on a 2G network.
“I have small team consisting of me and the manufacturer. As I live in a boarding school I’m not always able to build physical devices. I write and debug the code while the manufacturer makes it in Delhi,” explains Ishan.
Ishan is currently studying in Jaipur. Hence, he first distributed about 25 samples to the villagers in Mahapura, Jaipur. All the villagers came back to him with positive reviews of the device. Soon, he received enquiries from a large number of farmers.
“It is a gift for the farmers. We read in the newspapers that sometimes farmer die due to electrocution when they go to the field to switch on the pump. This device has made things very easy for us,” said a user from Mahapura village.
Till date, Ishan has distributed over 700 devices in the five states of India – Sirsa(Haryana), Mahapura(Rajasthan), Begumpur(New Delhi), Ludhiana(Punjab), Uttarakhand and have received a really positive and motivating response.
“Usually, the women and old family members are given the duty to use turn on and off the pumps using Pluto. This has given them a greater sense of responsibility as they contribute in their family’s work,” Ishan said.
Ishan further shares that other mobile automation devices are dependent on the internet, 3G, 4G, smart application, or a smart phone at least. Pluto needs nothing of that sort. It only requires a 2G network and basic mobile, even a landline, to use all of its functionalities.
The uphill journey
Coming up with this simple device was not an easy task for Ishan. This young innovator had to struggle a lot to find the right technical parts for the device.
They had to ﬁnd capacitors that didn’t blow up with varying amounts of power. As some pumps in the village are triple phased and others are single or double phased, Ishan and his manager had to deliberate on which types components they’d use. Another issue was to get a mobile connection that works in the remote areas of the village.
Some villages had pumps that didn’t have a proper switch board. Hence Ishan and his team had to cut wire and make one to connect Pluto. At some places, the farmers were reluctant to adapt to a newer technology.
Reaching out to the masses wasn’t very simple either. Farmers were reluctant to try a new technology, which they were not familiar with.
To gain their trust, Ishan installed Pluto in the Sarpanch’s (village head) house. When people saw the usage and benefits of the device, they started believing in the idea.
There were some unexpected challenges like that of language barrier. Villagers saw Ishan as an outsider, and unfamiliar with the local language, Ishan found it difficult to explain the innovation properly. Hence, he contacted local electricians and other youth of the village who helped him advertise the product.
“Different farmers and regions presented us with different challenges. We just kept working. It was a lot of hit and trial,” Ishan recalls.
The Road Ahead
Ishan wants to take his product to more farmers. Starting from remote villages of north India, his plan is to take Pluto to other regions of the country as well. Ishan claimed that Pluto has been recommended to the agricultural ministry by Dr. Harsh Wardhan(Current Environment minister) as well.
“In the future, I wish to pursue something in computer science only. I wish to make newer inventions, like Pluto, that can change and simplify lives of people around me,” says Ishan
Further, Ishan wants to integrate seven new regional languages in Pluto so that it becomes accessible for the masses.
In addition, new features will be added to the device like giving farmers a weekly update about the weather. A notification will also be sent to the farmers to inform them about the time period when the electricity will be available in the village.
“I hope to seek financial support. Right now the parts we procure are purchased individually, hence they are of high cost. With a good
fundingwe can buy in bulk and reduce the average cost. We also need some technical assistance to increase its production by hiring a larger team,” shared Ishan.
Photos: Ishan Malhotra
Inputs for the story: Chaithra Srinivas