By Kavitha Srinivasa
Prior to founding the start-up, Jayakrishnan has worked for 17 years. He has gained experience in five organizations including Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) the primary space agency of the Indian government and QUALCOMM. With core expertise being RF/Wireless Hardware Systems, Embedded and Connectivity Solutions Development, team HWDL is working on FM RDS Utility, an innovative solution that bridges the sweet spot between FM Radio and Offline Mobile App. This unique combination is capable of providing text messages, audible alerts, geo-location co-ordinates, offline map, animated indications and alerts to mass public even during internet and mobile network outages. Thus it can serve as a great utility during disaster management, rescue operations or other emergency situations.
Just when he was finding his footing, Chennai was deluged in 2015, followed by hurricanes in 2016. Both natural disasters showed life in a different vein. Connectivity was crux of the issue. “In 2016, I decided to move to Kochi, my home turf,” said Jayakrishnan. Even there nature was not at her best. Normal life was disrupted when floods rocked Kerala in 2018. Ironically nature’s outrage became the starting point of a new wave of thinking for Jayakrishnan supported by his wife Divya Govind. With expertise in multiple domains, Divya is the operations lead at HW Design Labs. The couple is joined by Arun Kumar, a software architect. Together, the like-minded team has worked on a new offering.
Having been working with various industries in technical roles, Jayakrishnan could gauge what it takes to create a last mile solution that serves the public. “Internet usually works in normal situations. The same cannot be said about network and data during an emergency,” he reasoned.
The All India Radio (AIR) does air out audio messages through terrestrial forecast but it requires precision and information channels for wide-scale dissemination when disaster looms large. HAM could be an option but the volume of information takes time to decode from point to point. “We need a dynamic way of handling information,” he explained. A few brainstorming sessions with the team and they arrived at a system with software and hardware capabilities to handle a huge community of people when disaster strikes. Connectivity and navigation are twin tenets of the vision. The vision is backed by expertise garnered in previous product offerings. HW Design Labs had already created solutions for public transport in Chennai.
So in 2016 the vision began to redefine various parts of the Smartphone including the FM Radio. Strictly speaking, FM Radio may not be a popular choice on Smartphones for all. Yet the radio is being transformed as an information channel to tap during emergencies. Itâ€™s backed by the fact that FM is for free, low on battery and is real time.
The company began to work on the concept. A few more steps in this direction and the team realized that itâ€™s important to load the Smartphone with problem solving skills.
The Smartphone is being developed to act as a Receiver. The radio in the Smartphone is moving beyond its function of being an audio player, as itâ€™s fed with vital information. This is required as the Internet Speed and Network Coverage dependencies affecting the mobile users are common. This is particularly true during the Emergencies and Disaster Management, where large number of users need to be instantly notified with important alerts and warnings.
The FM RDS Utility works based on the FM Radio principle and can address six + such problem areas and capable of instantly notifying the mass public with Live Text messages, Audible Alerts, Animated warnings and also Live Geo-graphic Indications on Offline map.
Individuals need to plug in earphones and update themselves with notifications from the FM radio quite like listening to music. Right now, the information is being made available in English, though there are plans of localizing the information in Indian vernaculars.
Text messages that will be sent through RDS or Radio Data Service can be viewed on screen along with GPS (Global Positioning System) location details. All this happens without the internet.
FM RDS Utility uses the in-built FM Receiver in Smartphones, which can receive Live Feeds even in Flight mode where the battery drain is very minimal thus provides extended standby time to the survivors during natural disaster situations.
The FM RDS Utility comprises a Hardware and Mobile Application.
The Hardware (FM RDS Broadcaster) is a multi-function device which includes a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) Receiver, Radio broadcaster and other sensors required to assess the situation and automatically switch their mode. The device is portable and can also be powered from the Vehicle Battery. It can serve to improve the normal public life as well as during emergencies when mobile networks and power are disrupted.
The Mobile App (FM RDS Utility) can work offline and it uses the in-built FM Receiver in Smartphones. It also has an offline map to indicate the geographic indications.
The FM RDS Utility will also give an insight into public transport, boat or ferry services and other location specifics. It is also fine-tuned to track the disaster and send out alerts. There are plans to include alerts on forest fires.
The other areas of application include tracking a Bus or Boat, Locating Garbage Trucks, e-Governance for Public Notice, Wild fire alerts and Wild Life Alerts in nearby forest areas. “We are tech enablers and not experts in rescue operations. But when disaster strikes, the area is cut off from communication. Other areas suffer from information overload, which can be confusing,” felt Jayakrishnan.
Jayakrishnan hopes to have a community and mass outreach through the Smartphone FM RDS Utility. As tech enablers, the startup will position the Smartphone for disaster related services. It is hoped that the app will be able to provide live updates to the rural population in times of a calamity. The idea is strengthened by the fact that the entry level price points of Smartphones begin below Rs 5,000. In order to make this a reality, it is intended to connect with the relevant ministries as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reach out to the rural segment.
Of course, the dream of making a social impact can be realized only if there’s financial backing through industry & partnership. Financial support has come from electronic hardware incubator Maker Village. Seed funding too has helped take the idea forward.
This requires huge efforts and investment from Development and Qualification stand point. The start-up is associated with Maker Village, the largest Electronics and Hardware Incubator in the country supported by MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), Government of India (GoI) and IIITM-K (Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala). Maker Village provides all the facilities to perform the Design, Development tools, Software licenses, modern Test and Measurement lab facilities for the development of the product. Maker Village facility is also equipped with fabrication and assembly machineries for volume production. This is definitely a boon when such facilities require huge investments for developing and deployment of technology products which start-ups see as a challenge to arrange and manage on their own.
The product is being developed, and the startup hopes to make it commercially available during the course of the year. Regulatory approvals from GoI are being awaited. The team also have interacted with the transport management & industry experts on taking this forward.
This unique solution was demonstrated during Indian Navy Day, 2019 at Navy House in New Delhi. A patent has been filed by the start-up in 2016.
This pet project of HW Design Labs is expected to become their flagship product. Here’s wishing them the very best.