Rickshaw-pulling made easy, with some help from MIT
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Students at the Development Lab (D-Lab) of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are studying India's rickshaw so that they can modify it and make it easier to pull.
"I am probably guilty of being in love with the rickshaw," says Gwyndaf Jones, instructor in D-Lab's programme Cycle Ventures.
"The rickshaw has become the way it is for very good reasons. A bicycle mechanic, a blacksmith and a carpenter put it together in thousands of workshops all over India, and it is highly inexpensive too. A major problem, though, is that it is too heavy, and creates health problems for the puller in the long term," Jones says.
That is where MIT has stepped in. "The mechanism may be simple, but there is no easy answer to the problem. The rickshaw driver can put out a very limited amount of power. At the same time, the changes we suggest must be inexpensive and easy to adopt. Those kind of constraints make for an excellent engineering project," says Jones.
Jones and his students have worked on homespun technologies in Peru, Ghana and Guatemala. In the India project, they have visited Guwahati four times since August 2009 to study the rickshaw.
Guwahati has a Rickshaw Bank, the brainchild of Dr Pradip Sarmah who has tried and improved on the vehicle's technology, and pioneered a micro-finance scheme that enables a puller to own his rickshaw.
In November last year, D-Lab invited rickshaw manufacturer Sandeep Arora, owner of New Delhi-based Sandeep Enterprises. "They wanted first-hand information on rickshaw technology, and how to make it lighter. They are making a rickshaw keeping various needs of the rickshaw-puller in mind," Arora says.
Cycle Ventures is currently working on lighter parts for rickshaws, testing their strength. Using a micro-chip in the pedal, they are also measuring how much power the rickshaw-puller puts into pedalling, and what makes the rickshaw lose power.
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