In a recent debate at Fortune Brainstorm Tech at Aspen, Colorado, between Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, and Peter Thiel, technology investor and entrepreneur, the latter had said:
Technology is critical. It is the only way that things get better in the developed world. And I think we should distinguish the developed and emerging markets very sharply. In places like China, India, Africa, Latin America, there’s zero need for innovation. All they need to do is copy things that work.
Even as Thiel was arguing against the need for innovation in India, Assam-born Uddhab Bharali was being shortlisted for NASA Technology Award 2012 for his desktop pomegranate de-seeding machine. He has also been nominated for the World Technology Award 2012 given by World Technology Network, for a mini CTC tea plant that aims to help smalltime tea pluckers and farmers.Uddhab Bharali, 45 lives in Lakhimpur District, Assam, and is a mechanical engineer, and has a whopping 39 patents, and 98 innovations to his name, in 24 years. His first innovation was a polythene-making machine in 1988.The pomegranate deseeding machine, invented in 2006 by Bharali, is one of the 26 qualifiers for the NASA award, out of which 10 finalists would be chosen by an online voting.
The deseeder, already being exported to the US and Turkey, separates the outer cover and thin inner membrane without damaging the seeds. It has a capacity of deseeding 50-55 kg of pomegranate fruits per hour.Nominee for the World Technology Award, the mini tea plant was built in a low budget of 6 lakhs, and follows all established procedures of a full-scale tea plant. This tea plant can produce up to 100 kg of tea every day with a power requirement of 2KW and a space of 14 feet by 20 feet.
A Denmark based agency working for rural employment has assured Bharali of logistical support to develop the plant.Among his numerous innovations are an areca nut peeler which has found customers in Indonesia and Ethiopia, cassava peeler which has been bought in Kenya, garlic-peeling machine, tobacco-leaf cutter, paddy thresher, cane-stripping machine, brass utensil polishing machine, safed musli-peeling machine, jatropha de-seeder, mechanised weeding machine, passion fruit juice extractor, trench digger and a chopper for cattle and fisheries feed. He also designed a stevia pulveriser, multipurpose herbal dyer which retains the colours of objects put in them like tea, king chilli powder, turmeric or ginger and passion fruit gel extractor.
The serial innovator has been developing machinery that benefits the poorer sections of the society. Though it seems like from his most popular innovations, It’s not only about agriculture based machinery but anything that makes life easier for those in need.Uddhab himself comes from very difficult circumstances.
He used to skip meals and sleep on an empty stomach at times or borrow food to eat. When he was recognized for his first innovation he couldn’t even afford a hotel and had to sleep on a railway platform. Other than these recent international nominations, Bharali is also the winner of various national prestigious awards including the ‘President’s award for innovation in 2009’ , ‘Shristi Samman – master innovator award’ by NIF-India on 2007 and is also the recipient of the ‘Meritorious Invention award 2010’, from the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. National Innovation Foundation has been helping him out innovate, facilitating licensing, and providing other technical support.Not only innovating and designing, Uddhab Bharali also manufactures some of the machines, usually built at UKB Agrotech machine designing research center.
Depending on the specific, some of the machine parts may be outsourced, but only to people in his home district. These parts are then sent to UKB Agrotech where the parts are assembled to build the final product. UKB Agrotech has trained staff under Bharali himself who work exclusively for UKB Agrotech. Currently there are nine people on the team.Bharali is associated with the IIT RUTAG (Rural Technological Action Group) , Guwahati and has developed two machines, a cocoon opener and a cotton lap cutting device for use by common people. A third machine, a manual areca nut bisector is under the works. Other than this, Uddhab is associated with various government and non-governmental organizations. He is a resource scholar to many schools and colleges and takes entrepreneurial classes at the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship, Guwahati.
With innovators like Uddhab Bharali, who have not only been innovating new products, but also providing employment to people, and easing their lives, who says India doesn’t have innovations and doesn’t need them? What do you say? Isn’t Peter Thiel wrong here?