New Delhi: An Indian
start-up is catalysing a quiet revolution by designing, developing
and installing unique solar-powered ATMs in rural areas.
The initial lot of 400 solar ATMs, aptly called Gramateller
('gram' means village), the world's largest order, placed by the
State Bank of India (SBI), has been winning accolades for
performance and substantial energy savings.
The ATMs were installed in 2010-11 across several states, usually
within 20-50 km of the district headquarters, Vijay Babu, CEO of
Vortex Engineering, which makes these units, told IANS from
Following SBI's success with solar ATMs, the Catholic Syrian Bank
also placed an order for 50 Gramatellers and Indian Bank for 20,
while 10 more have been ordered by other banks, he added.
Both Babu and Lakshminarayan Kannan, who founded Vortex, are the
alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) and
the brains behind the Gramateller.
"Our plans to operate ATMs on solar power were greeted with utter
disbelief. We faced challenges initially in getting them adopted
by our end users, the rural folks, who are not particularly
tech-savvy. But once they realised that they were getting control
of their own money, they accepted it wholeheartedly," said Babu.
"The workload has increased with more and more people using these
facilities which, in most cases, are the only ATMs within 20 km or
more, thanks to the solar power backup," added Babu.
The two entrepreneurs took up the project in 2004-05 at IIT-M's
suggestion, developing and fine-tuning the product until it became
commercially viable in 2008-09.
The IIT-M, which had been initially approached by the banks to
develop a robust rural alternative to the existing ATMs, passed on
the proposal to Vortex. Babu and Kannan have since inked a royalty
agreement with their alma mater.
"Conventional ATMs may not be viable in areas subject to 8 to 10
hours of power cuts, given their dependence on gensets and
air-conditioning. But thanks to the rural Gramateller, villagers
don't have to undertake time-consuming trips to cities or towns
for money," said Kannan.
Vortex is the only Indian company making it to the Time magazine
2011 list of "10 start-ups that will change your life", selected
out of 31 companies honoured as "Technology Pioneers" by the World
Vortex was recently selected as the latest entrant to Business
Call to Action (BCtA), a global initiative that encourages private
sector efforts to fight poverty, supported by the UN Development
Programme, among others.
"The 'no frills' Gramateller has a 12-hour power back-up, provided
there is good sunlight at least for five hours daily. Solar panels
convert these rays into electrical energy, storing them in a
battery. A single unit saves more than 90 percent of the yearly
expenditure incurred on operating an ATM, which works out to
Rs.1.44 lakh, half of the amount being accounted by
air-conditioning," said Sabarinath Nair, marketing manager,
Gramateller comes with a biometric touch pad to prevent fraud and
tell villagers that their money is safe. It can also dispense
soiled notes in the interiors where crisp currency notes are
suspected of being fakes, Nair said.
Regular ATMs were priced between Rs.3.5-5 lakh apiece. They needed
another Rs.60,000 and Rs.80,000 for the UPS and AC. Gramatellers
cost around Rs.3 lakh each, which included a built-in UPS and did
not need air-conditioning, he said.
Solar panels for a unit require an additional investment of Rs.1.5
lakh, but have near zero operational cost. Unlike large diesel
gensets, these pay for themselve within two years.
Given Gramateller's success in harnessing solar energy and its
commercial viability, several developing countries from Africa and
East Asia are evincing interest in the technology, said Babu.
(Shudip Talukdar can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)