Tata Nano as art piece, photo taken by V Malik
India has long been known for innovations such as free public restrooms (peeing on the street) and high capacity buses and trains (use the roof). As the country matures, however, so is its style of innovation. Today, truly awesome products are emerging from and for India. These include a $3000 car, a $800 ECG and a $50 tablet PC. Pretty cool? Indeed.
$3000 Car: The Tata Nano
This is your Nano on drugs. Photo by V Malik
This was pegged as a one lakh car (about $2000) but the price is over $3000. Still quite cheap. In India (and here) the vast majority of personal transport is on two wheels (motorbike) or three (trishaw). The Tata Nano aimed to push into that market and it’s gained a respectable share (see Top Selling Indian Cars, May 2011).
It’s a cheap ass car and its best reviews are that it runs. The worst (and funniest) was “Pros: very bad car. Cons: very bad”.
Still, everyday I see people taking their whole family on a motorbike because they have to. You see these soft baby legs sticking out and it’s just horrifying. The Tata Nano is definitely better than that.
$800 ECG: The Mac 400
Photo via the GE Innovations page
I’m not in the market for an electrocardiogram (ECG) myself, but I might be. ECG’s are vital for diagnosing heart stuff, an organ which is vital for living. The Mac 400 is an innovation from General Electric that has made the device much more accessible.
This miracle of compression sells for $800, instead of $2,000 for a conventional ECG, and has reduced the cost of an ECG test to just $1 per patient (The Economist, great article on the whole subject)
Medical innovations are obviously important, such that there’s a Stanford India Biodesign team dedicated to researching them. Other less inspiring innovations are that loose intellectual property controls mean prescription drugs are dirt cheap here (generally), and low wages make doctor time (generally) cheaper.
$50 Tablet: The Sakshat
This was vaporware for years, but “IT Rajasthan will be getting the first batch of 10,000 tablets in late June” (Gigjets). It’s heavily subsidized by the Indian government and I wouldn’t call it a flagship product, but it at least seems to exist.
Again, the jury is still out on this one. For one thing, the government is paying a direct subsidy of Rs. 1100. They also subsidized its development. Still it shows that pattern of pushing price points below what people thought was possible.
It runs Android, has WiFi and, well, I guess I’d like one.
Are there other innovations? Why of course. Let me re-refer you to the venerable Economist.
Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing, one of India’s oldest industrial groups, has developed a $70 fridge that runs on batteries, known as “the little cool”. First Energy, a start-up, has invented a wood-burning stove that consumes less energy and produces less smoke than regular stoves. Anurag Gupta, a telecoms entrepreneur, has reduced a bank branch to a smart-phone and a fingerprint scanner that allow ATM machines to be taken to rural customers.
Other stuff I’ve heard off (off the top of my head) is a $50 (Rs. 2,500) fridge that doesn’t use electricity at all (it’s an insulated clay pot) and the Samsung Guru solar powered phone (it’s a showpiece and not especially useful). There is also, of course, the idea for a $300 house.