Tech companies crowd in at Kumbh, expected three crore pilgrims are gather at the Kumbh Mela in Nashik this year
Around three crore pilgrims are expected to gather at the Kumbh Mela in Nashik this year, but sadhus and spectators aren’t the only expected visitors. Innovators from organizations like MIT, Nokia, Wikipedia, the Tata Center for Technology and Design, the IITs and Reliance Innovation Lab will also be present at the world’s largest religious jamboree.
They’re viewing it as a unique opportunity — called the Kumbhathon — to work with a very large test group, study the stresses of rapid urbanization and create disruptive solutions in the domains of health, housing, food, payments and transportation. Over 30 days, the Kumbh Mela will become for them a petri dish to test out frugal innovations that will one day power the smart cities of developing economies.
“Our research team in Bangalore is looking forward to collaborating with MIT during the Kumbhathon in Nasik, to pilot innovations that will make a positive difference for rapidly growing communities,” said Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group to Kumbhathon members, “Researchers at Xerox are addressing a wide range of urban challenges using a combination of mobile sensing, crowdsourcing, and prescriptive analytics to create actionable insights for cities and their citizens.”
The Kumbhathon is a year-around project set up by these organizations to brainstorm and come up with solutions to address the challenges of Kumbh Mela. For instance, a 17-year-old has designed a foot mat that can count footsteps. “It can be placed anywhere and can help in sensing crowd movement, thus preventing stampedes,” said Darnish Singh Kalra, co-founder of Lucid Lane, a creative agency that is taking part in the event. Stampedes are a common occurrence at the melas with the 1954 edition witnessing around 1,000 deaths. The young designer has been recommended by MIT and has been awarded a scholarship by Xerox, Kalra added.
Similarly, Twitter and Facebook-savvy gurus like Swami Chidanand Saraswati, founder of Ganga Action Parivar, along with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, secretary-general of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, are working to support PM Narendra Modi’s push for renewable energy. To make Kumbh clean energy-friendly, the spiritual leaders will use their clout among devotees to promote the use of solar lamps sold by Urjakart, an Indian startup.
Mentored by tech companies, students too have hopped on to the Kumbh bandwagon with startup ideas. Two interesting apps developed by them for the mela are Epimetrics and Meditracker. While the former attempts to curb the spread of epidemics by digitizing doctors’ logs across the city, the latter acts as a ‘911’ service alerting medical personnel in case of any serious injuries.
Among other innovations playing a significant role at Kumbh is the concept of crowd steering using mobile towers, which is a real-time system that not only shows the density distribution of a large crowd but also tracks its flow, allowing people to be redirected away from saturated areas. There are also low-cost pop-up housing systems that use industrial racks from cold storage to create multi-level habitable spaces for people, and Annadan, an innovative supply chain that diverts food donated to temples to those who are hungry, thus reducing food wastage.