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35 Innovators Under 35

Somnath Ray, 35

A viable para-transit mode of mobility

Dplay, Delhi

Somnath Ray tests the newly developed tricycle for the disabled.

When Shuruat and The Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust, a Mumbai based NGO that has vast experience in empowering and extending mobility to the disabled individuals from a lower economic strata approached Somnath Ray to redesign the traditional tricycle used by the disabled as a viable para-transit mode of mobility in Indian cities, the challenge before him was to innovate and to radically rethink its use not just as an instrument for easy mobility, but also as a mobile platform that enables financial sustainability and social freedom by allowing its user to ply a mobile based commerce from it and yet cost less than $160 (Rs. 8,000).

Based on his earlier research work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on electric auto-rickshaws as a viable para-transit mode of mobility in Indian cities, Ray designed a new tricycle that was designed to be more stable, safer, easier to power and steer, more convenient for ingress and egress, and specifically designed around a secure load carrying with a display unit functionality. Ray radically re-organized the traditional design of two-rear wheels and the solitary front wheel layout as it was highly unstable and prone to severe accidents involving overturning during sharp turns or during braking at the end of a flyover. This design was also unsuitable for installing the additional boxes for plying any kind of retail commerce.

The two-sided power train was developed from existing off-the-shelf bicycle parts and powering was enabled through a pumping action as against the traditional rotational lever. The pumping action reduces the stress on the arm of the user. The steering system was devised from easily and widely available scooter clutch cables for a tight turning radius. The unit for commerce was designed to compress into a minimal volume when the vehicle is in motion and unfold to create more surface area for visibility and display of seller's wares. The braking system was redesigned to be more powerful with two front wheels providing the stopping power instead of just one wheel as is traditional.

The project is past the first prototype stage and is on way towards the second final prototype and the pilot test phase. Next stages will include an electric motor powered version.

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