For Rishikesh CS, a national award winning innovator, attending pre-university (PU) college (Class 11 and 12) felt like a waste of time.
Intensely passionate about electronics, the resident of Muhamma in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, wanted to go beyond the confines of his Physics textbook, where his passion was relegated to just a chapter.
So, he began skipping classes and attending degree classes in electronics, which did not last very long, and soon dropped out of the formal education system altogether.
“I also dropped out because political activities like regular strikes kept interfering with my studies. However, disaster struck in 1995 when during our final exams, the principal asked me to furnish a demand draft amounting to Rs 1,500 because of attendance shortage. Only if I paid this sum, could I write the exam. I was unable to do so, and thus could not attend my second-year pre-degree course exam,” says Rishikesh to The Better India.
Following this, he began to take up odd jobs that involved repairing electronic devices like fused tube lights, lighting circuits, induction cookers, security systems and electronic chokes.
As the son of Kerala Water Transport Department employees in a small town, the decision to give up a potential chance at a college education at the age of 17 was fraught with risk.
But this did not come as a surprise to those who knew him best. As a young child, he would play around with his parents’ transistor radio trying to understand how it worked.
“I never thought about becoming an innovator, but ever since I was a child, I always maintained a stirring passion for technology, particularly electronics. My mother told me that when I was six years old, there was a gasoline motor water pump at a nearby fish farm I would closely observe every day, and kicked up a fuss about getting that motor to our home. That was the first piece of technology that excited me,” he says.
As his curiosity grew, he began picking up books on electronics, and the hobby gradually turned to a deep and abiding love for the subject.
“My first innovation happened way back in 1991 when I was a school student. I had made a battery-less AM Radio which can catch the nearby AM Station. My classmates appreciated it and would play it in between classes. Unfortunately, one day our teacher saw my friends and I enjoying the music. She thought we were fooling around and wasting time. She scolded me and beat us with a stick. But within minutes, she realised I had made it using my innovative skills, and apologised,” he says.
After dropping out of PU college, he asked a few of his friends who had managed to attend universities abroad to send across a few more books on electronics, while scouring through the internet to mine additional material. Rishikesh read everything he could lay his hands on. Little did he know that one day his passion for electronics would one day save lives in times of natural disasters.
Located amidst the beautiful backwaters, Rishikesh’s hometown of Muhamma has witnessed multiple board tragedies and mishaps.
In 2002, one such tragedy took place in his neighbourhood when a boat capsized. What he did was develop an early detection sensor at the bottom of the boat that could help those on it gauge the level of water, keep them informed and send out wireless signals.
Fast forward ten years later, and the town was caught in a state of panic about what would happen if the ageing Mullaperiyar dam did burst. Experts have long called for its decommission because of its ageing structure.
“Only the government is aware if such a disaster is about to occur—they have the devices and data to measure any incoming danger. Meanwhile, people are made to wait until a red alert is declared to know if they are in any real trouble or not. I tried to deal with this by building a small wireless vibrating device that could be used by ordinary people. Of course, this cannot help you prevent a disaster. But often, the bigger danger is when a building collapses on unsuspecting people. So people have the opportunity to evacuate them before it’s too late,” he told Edex Live in a conversation published in October 2019.
However, the innovation that got him nationwide attention was inspired by another tragedy.
“In 2010, I made a wireless high tension electricity detector (11kv, 66kv, 110 kv 220kv). With this device, we can check whether the power lines are active (live) or not,” he tells The Better India.
“The sudden demise of his friend who was a lineman in the state electricity board due to electric shock while working on 220V line (power which surged through 11kv feeder line), left him at aghast. It was then he thought of making a device, which could prevent such incidents in the future. Conventionally, small testers are used for detecting electric current with direct human body contact. Rishikesh has come up with a handheld electricity sensing device, which is compact, portable and light in weight. This device is wireless and can sense electric current upto 11 KV from 11 meters away from (the) ground. It can check electric current in transformers and concealed wires too,” says this description by the National Innovation Foundation, a national initiative to strengthen grassroots technological innovations and traditional knowledge
Measuring 8 metres long, there is a button on the device you can click, and a beep will warn you whether a damaged electricity line still has power running through it. Rishikesh won a National Innovation Foundation award in 2015, which he received from the then President Pranab Mukherjee. This is an award given to original innovators at the grassroots, who don’t have any higher education qualifications.
But there was more to come.
Two years later, he was back at it when four people died on the railway tracks passing through Eramalloor village, when a train running on an electric engine ran over them. Turning on a rather sharp curve, villagers on either side never heard it coming.
So, what he did was build a wireless transmitter which can relay information of a train passing by every five seconds based on the signals it receives from the train.
Nonetheless, his most significant innovation arrived last year, and this addressed a major public safety concern.
Many people in the state have lost their lives in the rainy season as a consequence of electrocution after power lines snap and fall on the ground.
In a bid to address this concern, Rishikesh has invented a device that uses wireless signals to automatically snap the passage of electricity when the power line comes crashing down.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, he says, “The device can be fixed on both ends of the electric line. A receiver can be fixed near the transformer unit, and a transmitter can be fixed at the end of the line. When the line gets severed, the receiver will get a signal from the transmitter within seconds, and the transformer automatically gets disconnected. The unit can be assembled for less than Rs 5000.”
At present, his patent on the said device is being processed and thus isn’t very keen on sharing any further details. But the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has expressed a real interest in adopting his device.
Rishikesh’s work isn’t merely restricted to exciting innovations and inventions. He has led a state-backed campaign in his town that strives for energy efficiency and conservation.
His inputs, which include advising residents to judiciously consumer power, played some part in helping the town receive round the clock electricity at a time when load shedding is a common occurrence in the state. He also conducts campaigns on energy conservation with schools, the local police and other self-help groups as well.
In many ways, Rishikesh is not just a man of science but also a man of the people. Using his in-depth knowledge of electronics and penchant for innovation, he has served them admirably.
And that does not require a college degree.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)