Finding a public toilet, leave alone a clean one, can often prove to be a challenge in India. But this brilliant app not only helps you find one, but also allows you to add new ones that you discover to the database, so others can be helped too.
It was on a road trip from Meerut to Delhi that Mudit Tyagi realised for the first time that finding clean and usable public toilets in India is a very big, and a very real, challenge.
“We faced the problem when we were travelling with our mother, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. We were taking her to Delhi for her medical appointment, and I saw that it is very difficult for people in her condition to find clean public toilets and washrooms,” he says.
This inspired Mudit, the founder of an organization called DevJiva, which makes socially useful applications, to develop a unique app called Susuvidha.
The app collects information about all public toilets located in the vicinity and presents it to users in an easy-to-use format.
Susuvidha has been downloaded by over 1,500 users already. The app is not just confined to India but covers the entire world.
How does it work?
The globe is divided into 20 km segments and the latitude and longitude of the mid points in each segment is noted. Then, the Susuvidha servers run a very long Google search in the backend. It is a vast search, which includes all cafes, restaurants, and words like toilet, loo, bathroom, washroom, etc., at each latitude and longitude. This search is constantly running in the backend of the app and the results get saved into a database. Thus, when a user runs the app on a GPS enabled phone, he/she can spot all the toilets available in and around that specific area, in the form of red pins.
As of now, over 4,000 toilets from India are present in the Susuvidha database and can be found by users when needed. The app is available on both Android-based phones and iPhones.
What else can it do?
In addition to the algorithm that is constantly searching for toilets, the app also has a feature that allows users to add new toilets to the database. If a user is present at the location of a public toilet and finds that it does not show up in the app, he/she just has to click on the ‘add new location’ option. The phone picks up the address with the help of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and sends it to the database. All toilets added by users are verified before they are visible in the app. This is done with the help of Google Earth to ensure that the location that has been added is actually a toilet and not something else.
“Our hope is that if there is more adoption of the application, more and more people can share the toilets they find, and the data gets crowdsourced further…You cannot do community development alone. The community has to get involved. So, we can create these platforms and develop the technology, but it will become truly useful only after people start participating,” says Mudit, talking about the user involvement feature of the app.
Susuvidha also provides the option for users to read or write reviews and ratings on each toilet.
On selecting the pin that marks a particular toilet, users find the address, the distance from their location, the ratings of the toilet, and options to read and write reviews. This feature has been added to ensure that the standard and cleanliness of the toilets can be verified with the help of comments coming in from the users.
The bigger picture?
Mudit, a graduate of Columbia University in the US, has been involved in four startups and now runs two companies in India and the US. One of these is DevJiva, which has offices in Pune and Hyderabad, and has a team of 16 people.
For Mudit, the Susuvidha app is only the starting point for solving the problem that he first encountered when travelling with his mother. The larger goal is to contribute to the construction of toilets in the country.
“But, first things first. Let’s try and figure out where the existing toilets are,” he says. The major problem, he says, is that toilets for the use of the general public, those who do not belong to the more affluent sections of society that visits malls and cafes, are few and very far apart.
How much does it cost?
The app is free and will remain free for all users, but Susuvidha plans to introduce a revenue model in the later stages by adding options for travellers to find bus stops and hotels, features that might be of interest to the travel industry.
“Twenty percent of Susuvidha’s profits will be donated to Sulabh International Social Service Organization to support its adoption of Indian villages, and its research in the development of safe and cheap toilets, with water treatment and energy generation units that use the waste products. Furthermore, fifty percent of profits will be invested to support small entrepreneurs who set up and operate Sulabh-style toilets,” says Prashant Bharam, an employee of DevJiva.
“To bring about change, you need three things. You need to have an idea. You need to implement it. And then you need to involve people. We have done the first two, and are now working towards the third,” concludes Mudit, the man who has played a very important role in teaching his employees that the technology they learn can be used to solve real problems.