Entrepreneurship Technology

Accessible home automation, by a group of Delhi high-schoolers

(L-R) Aryan Chand, Aryan Srivastava, Neil Dey, and Akaash Parthasarathy   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When they joined the LaunchX club in their school in July last year, Neil Dey (17), Akaash Parthsarathy (14), Aryan Srivastava (14), and Aryan Chand (15) thought their interest in tech would carry them through. Dey was in Class XI, and the rest were in Class IX.

Once in the programme, this band of students from Shri Ram School, Aravali, Gurugram, realised there were different nuances within tech that appealed to each of them. LaunchX, an independent high-school-level offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Launch, is a fully planned course-load, alongside regular school work. Its mission is “to empower young people to build the future”, and to give them “the entrepreneurial skills and mindset to start real companies”.

Coming together

Through the pre-programme test and course work phases, Dey found that he engaged with tech best through a business development perspective; Parthasarathy realised he was good with numbers and with money; Srivastava, that he has a knack to understand the tech market; and Chand, his passion for the nitty gritty of the tech itself.

It is this alchemy of talents, brought together as their startup-in-the-making Swifi, that saw them through the Asia finals of LaunchX in Bangkok this March. Here, Swifi, which makes affordable home automation systems with manual control options in case of Wi-Fi failure, was given the Top Inventor and Global Finalist titles, pushing them to qualify for the main summer LaunchX programme at MIT later in May.

Thinking of privacy
  • Swifi believes that “eventually, we’re moving into a world where every little bit about us is going to be available to everyone.” Having said that, they have thought of the data that their devices collect. “We’re doing everything to protect privacy — the data is not even going to be accessible to us, only to the device,” Dey says.

Both these events were like Shark Tank, the popular American reality TV show that gives aspiring entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their products to a panel of insanely wealthy investors. Except here, the young entrepreneurs get sustained mentorship and connections instead of investors.

“The idea is to help us prep for and build an actual company, which solves an existing problem in the market at the end of the day. It’s not just about a ‘school project’,” explains Chand.

The solution

Home automation, the tech that lets you switch your electrical appliances on and off remotely, isn’t really a new concept at all. But its adoption rate in India is low and slow. The sheer expense of making a home ‘smart’ is the primary reason.

Prototypes of Swifi’s devices

Prototypes of Swifi’s devices   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“This adds to the mindset that people have right now, where they just don’t see the point of home automation. Not only is it convenient, but it also helps you gain insights into your power usage patterns, especially if the device comes with an app, like ours does,” says Dey. “People are more willing to experience it if it’s a small investment, so cost-efficiency is a massive selling point.”

To tackle this price barrier, Swifi sources all parts of their standard switch-board-sized device from the local electronics market. This reduces their overheads. Additionally, instead of investing in an injection mould right away to make the device, they’re currently only 3D-printing. “We’ll only invest in a one-time injection moulding once this is finalised,” Dey says.

Giants like Philips Hue offer only individual smart lights between ₹2,500 and ₹3,000. Another competitor, Sonoff, has a device much like Swifi’s, which can control four to eight smart appliances for a price of ₹8,000; however, Swifi’s device distinguishes itself in this segment not only with a lower price (₹2,500 to ₹3,000), but also by offering control to bigger appliances like air-conditioners and geysers.

The team has also added a remote-control for the devices, in addition to their compatibility with smart assistants like Google Home and Alexa, as well as an in-house app.

Still self-funded and helped along through the resources of family and friends, the four students behind Swifi are now planning to participate in national competitions such as Techronext, an ICT conclave by the Punjab Public School in Nabha, Patiala. They will also soon start a crowd-funding campaign to be able to take it to market. The immediate aim is to start selling their devices by the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 1:26:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/accessible-home-automation-by-a-group-of-delhi-high-schoolers/article28259602.ece

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