Posts Tagged ‘Frugal Innovation’

Frugal engineering for India’s Mars mission

November 6, 2013

India has been struggling to bridge the gap to more developed nations without necessarily having to follow exactly the same path as that followed by other nations. Especially to achieve the development objectives in less time than it has taken those who did it first. Doing more with less is the name of the game and “Frugal engineering” (or “frugal innovation”) is defining a new paradigm for development.

There may perhaps not be any better example of the dictum that necessity is the mother of invention than can be found in India. Whether it is a refrigerator, ECG device or an automobile, Indian engineers have brought innovative products to market by designing them outside-in. …….

It may seem a contradiction, but some infrastructure gaps in India have positively affected Indian innovation: they have forced entrepreneurs and companies to adopt technologies that make relying on existing infrastructure (creaking and unreliable as it is in many ways) simply irrelevant. Indian engineers have invented a battery-powered, ultra-low-cost refrigerator resistant to power cuts; an automatic teller machine for rural areas; and even a flour mill powered by a scooter. People in the West, with its constant access to electricity, have little motivation to pursue such innovations. The Indian mobile phone industry is the poster child for leapfrogging over infrastructural constraints. A limited fixed-line infrastructure created an opportunity for mobile phones to reach many more people. Mobile telephony is also relatively cheap, sharable, and easily repaired. And thus, a new frontier of global innovation opened in India. …… 

The Indian mission to Mars which launched yesterday is another example of frugal engineering at work.

Hindustan Times:

India’s successful Mangalyaan launch is as much a financial accomplishment as a technical milestone. The entire Mars mission has cost the Indian Space Research Organisation a mere around Rs. 450 crore ($75 million) and took 15 months to put together. Much of the Martian price tag is for ground stations and relay upgrades that will be used for other Isro projects. The actual satellite costs a mere $25 million ( Rs. 153 crore), says Pallav Bagla of Science magazine. Comparison: Nasa’s similar MAVEN Mars project will cost 10 times more and will take three times longer.

Isro is widely cited as an example of “frugal engineering” …..  A US state department scientific adviser once said that Isro had reduced satellite assembly costs to a tenth of Nasa’s.

Isro’s accomplishments are remarkable given its tiny budget: $700 million ( Rs. 4,270 crore) in 2012-13. Despite a space programme whose financial base is the ninth largest, India is generally rated the world’s number six space power.

Of this, only 7% is allotted for planetary exploration. Isro’s prime directive has and continues to be the finding of technical means to support socio-economic goals such as education, medicine, water and disaster management.

Isro also defrays government support through a commercial arm, Antrix. Through the sale of satellite imagery, satellite launches and so on, Antrix earned a pre-tax Rs. 2 billion in 2010 alone. …..


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