Sunny Splendor is a great piece of engineering – a solar vehicle that works as a mobile shop for people with disabilities to start up small businesses and earn a living. It was designed by Hari Vasudevan of Ostrich Mobility, and this is how it works.
“I earn more than Rs. 4,000 a day now and can even think of sending my children to a good school,” says Umesh, a street vendor from Bangalore who lost both his legs in a road accident. Umesh used to work as a driver earlier but his life came to a standstill for about five years after the accident. He could not find any suitable source of income and things became increasingly difficult for his family. So he set up a small cart and started selling items like tea, coffee, bread, biscuits, and chocolates. But business was never very lucrative because he couldn’t move around with his cart and had to remain stationary at the same spot all day long.
After struggling for a long time to make ends meet, Umesh received the most amazing gift a few months back. He was introduced to Sunny Splendor – a mobile shop meant for people with disabilities to run petty businesses from wherever they want.
Earning more than double of what he would make earlier, Umesh has now left hard times far behind and is extremely happy with his new shop on wheels.
Sunny Splendor was developed by Hari Vasudevan, Founder and Managing Director of Ostrich Mobility, a company that excels in manufacturing personal mobility appliances for people with disabilities.
“Umesh was able to increase his profits only because he got the chance to roam around with his shop. If one place is less crowded he moves on to the next, and keeps moving to the more crowded areas of the city,” says Hari.
For Umesh, the best thing about Sunny Splendor is that it needs zero maintenance and customers are often attracted to his shop just to find out how it works. This adds to his business and he has some very loyal customers who are amazed by his story and keep coming back to his shop.
Hari says he was inspired to design this vehicle in 2013 when K.S. Rajanna, a differently-abled man, was appointed the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in Karnataka.
“When Rajanna sir became the commissioner, he visited my office to see the kind of things we manufacture. He asked me a simple question: ‘Why don’t you hire people with physical disabilities?’ I told him that we deal with heavy objects and it would be difficult to find a person with disability who would want to do this kind of work. Moreover, we are not some big corporate firm and it won’t be easy for us to change the complete infrastructure of the office building to make it suitable for differently abled people.”
But the question remained with Hari. He found himself thinking about developing a way to help people with disabilities find a source of income. “And the idea suddenly struck me – I decided to design an electric wheelchair in a way that it would work as a mobile shop to help people run small businesses,” he says.
The mobile shop is called Sunny Splendor because there is a solar panel attached to its roof, which helps charge the batteries it operates on.
Sunny Splendor is basically an electric wheelchair designed like a three-wheeler, with a lot of space to display the items for selling. The wheelchair’s batteries can be charged with the help of electricity as well as solar energy. Eight hours of sunlight are enough to get the vehicle fully charged, and it can run for about 45km at a speed of 15km/hr after one charge. Even those who don’t have access to electricity can use it with the help of solar charging only.
There is a joystick to control the direction in which it moves and disabled people can use the vehicle to sell all kinds of things like magazines, food, toys, vegetables, and more.
Sunny Splendor is available in the market for Rs. 1.5 lakh. But many people who need it the most don’t usually have the required money to make the purchase. So Hari and his team are talking to NGOs and other organizations to make it available to people with disabilities. As of now, two people in Karnataka are using the mobile shops gifted to them by Mahindra & Mahindra (as a part of the organization’s CSR activities). Three other people have received them from the Kerala government.
Hari, who is 44 years old, founded Ostrich Mobility after completing his M.Tech course in product design and manufacturing. Prior to that, he did his BSc in Physics and BE in Mechanical Engineering, followed by seven years of work in the field of manufacturing automobiles.
“Engineering is my passion…I got a chance to meet many kids with disabilities during college because my final year project was related to making a device to help them walk. And after a visit to a school for children with disabilities, I decided that I will do something to help such people with whatever engineering I know. In 2005, I got four orders for wheelchairs from a school, and I decided to continue from there,” he recounts.
In 2007, Hari started Ostrich Mobility with the idea of making electric wheelchairs. Today, the company sells more than 22 products, including various electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters, hospital beds, and more. All the products are designed by Hari.
Hari feels that anyone buying Sunny Splendor is actually buying a business that can grow much beyond the initial investment. However, it is difficult for someone who is poor to make that investment so Hari is looking for micro-financing companies to help people purchase the vehicle.