Field Testing Essential Technologies in Rural India


Harsh Vyas foregoes the long flights that engineers in global development often take before they can test essential technologies in underserved communities. Instead, he drives to rural India from his home in Vadodara, Gujarat, in Western India.

By day, Harsh Vyas works as a product design engineer at ITT Corporation India, specializing in industrial pump manufacturing. He spends free time visiting rural communities to test essential technologies found in Engineering for Change’s Solutions Library, a database of products described in standardized format for side-by-side comparison.

“I am connected with people who are conducting field visits and I am collaborating with them to implement technology for global development. I do it all after office hours and on weekends. So, moving slowly but steadily,” Vyas said.

Vyas graduated from E4C’s Research Fellowship in 2018. Working with 15 other fellows from around the world, Vyas investigated products that meet basic needs in underserved communities. His work contributed to the Solutions Library.

His fellowship has ended but Vyas has taken his work home with him. His latest research project has been the field testing of corn shellers. He 3D-printed a prototype sheller based on models by MIT’s D-Lab that have been entered into E4C’s Solutions Library as the D-Lab Corn Sheller.

Then, connecting with a colleague who visits farming villages in the region, Vyas introduced the corn sheller and studied its performance under local conditions. He found that it was more efficient than shelling with traditional tools, and it excelled at keeping the kernels intact for planting. The device also presented no cultural barriers to adoption, Vyas reported in a summary of his field tests for E4C.

Vyas has also reported to Engineering for Change on research into ferrocement as a low-cost, robust material for constructing water tanks in rural India. Findings by the investigator Ankur Khanpara suggest that ferrocement provides earthquake and wind resistance for a cost that is nearly half that of reinforced concrete, Vyas noted.

Before connecting with E4C, Vyas worked with an online UN volunteer program helping to design a low-tech wind mill to mechanize a rural water well in Tanzania. And he is now combing through the Solutions Library for products to test in his home state.

“I always believe that the best form of service is when you can use the available resources and knowledge for helping others to improving their standard of living,” Vyas said. “I have worked with local NGOs providing basic needs of food, clothes and education for the underprivileged. After that I thought why can’t we use technical knowledge and technology for global development? That was the moment which motivated me to go forward and pursue engineering for global development.”

When Vyas began the fellowship, he said it would serve as a stepping stone to better contribute his skills toward the improvement of underserved communities. Through his ongoing work, the fellowship has done just that.

“This fellowship is a platform where experts work toward the common goal of sustainable development,” he said. “Fellows bring experiences from their diverse backgrounds and locations, and sharing them reveals real-world situations that require optimized technology to improve.”

After graduating from the fellowship and working in global development technology, Vyas has simple advice for novice engineers.

“I want to encourage engineering youths to get involved in contributing their knowledge and skills to implement technology for global development,” he said. “Catch up with local universities and attend local conferences related to global development.”

Rob Goodier is the news editor at Engineering for Change.
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