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Water pumps can now be switched on at the click of a button, thanks to this student innovator

Shruti Kedia
18th May 2018
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“I feel that technology should not only be used to create robots, driverless cars, and to drive globalisation but also to empower the masses, especially the farmers of our country who bring food to the table.” 

Young Ishan Malhotra would pass through the farms of Mahapura village every day on his way to school. He would see men, their shoulders hunched tilling the soil day in and out, women sowing the fields, and farmers working round the clock to ensure water supply in the fields. He says,

In thousands of these villages, electricity supply is irregular. This forces our farmers to visit their farms at odd hours, several times in a day; and even during the night just to switch on the motor pumps and irrigate their fields.

A student of Jayshree Periwal International School, Jaipur, Ishan wanted to solve this problem faced by the rural farming community and find an easier way to help water the fields.

Hence, the then 15-year-old embarked on a project to incorporate technology in the fields where a farmer could control his motor pump via his/her mobile phone or landline.

In 2017, Ishan launched Pluto, a device that enables the user to remotely connect the submersible pump, like a tullu pump, or any other electrical device, to its source of power from anywhere by using a phone, landline or mobile.

Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, appreciated Ishan for his device and for doing his bit to empower farmers.

It provides the user with accurate information of the power/electricity status of the area where it is being used. The principal benefit, Pluto’s website explains, is that the user does not have to be physically present to switch on/off the water pump. Twenty-eight-year-old Krishna Devi from Nevata village in Mahapura says,

Pluto saves us a lot of time. My husband now spends time with his children and helps them with their studies at home.

With manuals in dual languages, English and Hindi, Pluto has over 400 users spread across Mahapura, Rajasthan and Khajakhera in Sirsa, Haryana. The device is priced at Rs 500.

The idea

While attending the Stanford Honours Academy in Jaipur and pursuing a course in ‘Video Game Design’, Ishan developed a strong penchant for technology.

His desire to work with the farming community, near his school, got him thinking whether a technological solution was possible for. They only have one wealth, their crops, to survive on, he shares.

In the summer of 2015, under the guidance of Sherol Chen, Instructor-Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies, he started working on his idea. He skipped basketball games, midnight feasts; and worked with single-minded focus to finally come up with a prototype. Through Sherol Ishan, he contacted Carson McNeil, Software Engineer-Human Sensing at Google, to examine his prototype. Based on his feedback and multiple evaluations, Ishan developed Pluto within two years. He says,

Within six months I developed Pluto. But little did I know that technology is not as foolproof as I thought it would be. The product suffered numerous malfunctions. When I failed after repeated attempts, I was on the verge of losing my patience. That was an ‘ouch’ moment. However, I continued to improve on my product and it took me a two years to develop a Pluto device that was free of technical glitches.

He used crowdfunding to fund his project while his school and parents supported him and mentored him throughout his project. Ishan says that his parents inspired him to give back to the society. They believed that “educated and qualified youngsters can change the world.” He adds,

I belong to a Sikh family, and have always seen my parents and grandparents performing ‘seva' at gurdwaras. I started doing seva from the age of three. The need and fundamental obligation to give back to the society has been deeply ingrained in me and my sister, Simar.

Over the years, the siblings have been involved with Parvaah, an NGO that works towards protecting the environment and empowering the underprivileged and economically backward rural communities.

The device

Upon multiple interactions with the farming community Ishan learned that farmers walked 5-7 km daily to operate the motor pump. Further it proved to be a health hazard for aged/senior farmers to walk in harsh climate, particularly monsoons.

Pluto was designed to mitigate these problems.

The device enables farmers to operate their motor pumps, installed in the fields, via mobile phone or a landline — anywhere, any time. Keeping in mind the fragmented digital connectivity in rural villages of Rajasthan, Ishan’s device functions without a 3G or a 4G network and is not a mobile-based application either. Ishan explains,

A basic 2G network is all that is needed. A smartphone is also not required. All of Pluto’s features can be accessed by a normal mobile/landline.

Pluto works on the concept of input/output controller (IOC). Essentially each Pluto has a sim card that is controlled with Arduino, an open-source platform used for building electronics projects, and a GSM module.

A farmer needs to install an activated sim card in Pluto to start the device. The user then needs to connect the device to their water pump contractor’s switchboard. Once the device setup is completed, the team actives the devices by guiding the user on phone call itself.

It is fitted with three ‘bulbs’ that provides the user with real-time information about the working of the device: green indicates electricity flow; yellow indicates that the sim card is connected to the mobile network and that the device is ready to be used, and the red indicates that the motor pump is switched on.

The impact

While there are multiple challenges faced by the agricultural sector — including fragmented land holding, irrigation problems, seed problems, sustainability problems, and over-dependence on traditional crops like rice and wheat — for Ishan, water and electricity were the primary problems which required immediate attention.

Initially, he made 25 pilot devices which were distributed among the farmers of Mahapura village. Within a few days, more farmers approached him for his device.

“Pluto has changed our lives,” 52-year-old Dharam Raj, a farmer from Nevata village, shares.

Ishan then distributed the device to the farmers of Sirsa, his maternal hometown. He met several sarpanchs, and village leaders, and informed them about the benefits of Pluto. When he visited them after two months he received an overwhelming response. farmer Baldev Kumar, aged 40, says,

We don’t have to go to our farms during rains. We control the pump from the comfort of our home itself.

Since women were normally tasked with watering the fields, Pluto has also empowered them. Pluto, Ishan says, gave the village women “a sense of fulfilment and made them realise that they are no less important than their husbands.

Ishan has proved that the youth indeed are the driving forces of India. He remains unfazed about the commercial aspect of his product, and says that all that matters is that his device can bring about social change.

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