ANNA FERNANDES | NT KURIOCITY
Lately there has been an emphasis on the importance of keeping one’s hands germ-free. And thus, to help minimise contact and prevent the chances of infection, Polytechnic students and siblings 20-year-old Rehan Khan and 18-year-old Hinaz Khan have developed a sensor-based battery-operated automatic hand sanitiser dispenser. Rehan has a diploma in electronics and communication from Agnel Polytechnic, Verna while Hinaz is currently pursuing her third-year diploma in electronics and instrumentation at Government Polytechnic, Panaji.
The duo had initially planned to work on a different project – an automatic thermal scanning device. However, they decided to put it on the backburner owing to lack of sufficient funds to build and prototype this device. “To raise funds, we decided to go with something that was comparatively less costly to build and would also help the community,” says Rehan.
The idea to build this automatic hand sanitiser dispenser was conceived when the duo noticed that the current solution for sanitisation had several problems in itself. “Instead of using the foot to operate the pedal, people sometimes use their fingers to extract the sanitiser liquid. There is also a frequent breakdown of the manual pedals and no control over the flow of sanitiser resulting in unwanted wastage,” says Rehan.
And thus, pooling their strengths together, the duo decided to build a device that would eliminate these problems while being economical. Rehan focused on the electronics aspect ie, building the circuit and assembling all the electronic parts necessary to build the machine, while Hinaz focused on the design aspect of the machine.
The duo took to the internet to plan, study, and gather information about the device especially with regard to the circuitry to be used, as well as conducted market research to identify their target audience and understand consumer needs better. But building a device from scratch came with a number of challenges – each of which the duo tackled head-on. “We started prototyping the dispenser during the lockdown so we faced a lot of problems when it came to procuring raw materials. We had to use everything and anything we could find at home to build the device. When designing the body, we used waste PVC pipes that were in our backyard and a wooden platform as the base,” says Hinaz.
When it came to assembling the electronic parts necessary to build the prototype, the duo realised that while they managed to acquire some parts, other parts had to be fabricated. “We didn’t have a pump so we had to make one. We used bottle caps and a broken toy-car motor to make a pump and after many attempts we were successful,” says Rehan. But then the duo realised that the device wasn’t sturdy. “By now we had exhausted all of our pocket money, so we approached our parents and showed them the prototype. We explained the whole concept to them and they were impressed. My elder brother decided to give us his one-month salary in full to fund us which was a great support to us,” he says.
Using the funds, the duo began working on a stable and stronger metallic exterior for the device with the help of a fabricator. “We also arranged all the necessary electronic parts and after many attempts we successfully made our final product,” he says.
Dubbed as the iSTEP (an abbreviation for Innovative Solutions To Every Problem) automatic hand sanitiser dispenser uses sensor-based smart electronics rendering it completely hands-free. “The name guarantees that we are fully motivated to work towards providing more such solutions in the future and even better ones,” says Hinaz.
And the device they built is the ideal replacement to the commonly used foot-operated sanitiser dispenser as it is fully automatic and does not require physical contact to dispense the sanitiser liquid. Listing the other benefits of the dispenser, they add, it is pocket-friendly, portable, and eliminates wastage of sanitiser liquid. The device is rechargeable and automated and dispenses the precisely two millilitres of alcohol-based hand rub sanitiser from a one-litre PVC tank. It has a strong metallic body and runs on 2500 mAh rechargeable batteries which can provide power for 12 to 13 hours on a single charge. The device is also equipped with inbuilt high voltage, high current and short circuit protection.
But the challenges were far from over and the duo realised that building a product is comparatively much easier then marketing and selling it. “We lost a lot of our customers because we didn’t have a GST number. We approached the Goa Sahakar Bhandar, a government-run essential store in the hope that they would help us out in selling the devices but we were discouraged as they also demanded a GST number which we couldn’t afford at such an early stage of our start up. We tried to explain to them that our turnover was not over 40 lakhs per annum and so we were not eligible for GST,” says Rehan.
“There is no ease of doing business for start ups. We didn’t get any support for marketing and could not register our firm because the online Udyam Registration portal takes too long to load and we were unable to register our firm. And without a registration certificate, we could not avail any government schemes or benefits. Sadly, Goa is ranked 24th in ease of doing business and we have experienced the same during our journey,” he adds.
However, grateful for all they have achieved so far, the duo credits their success to the constant encouragement and motivation from their family throughout their journey.
And the response has been incredible. “We have had customers who suggested a few revisions to the product that we considered and implemented. We have not received any complaint regarding the sanitiser dispenser. In fact, our happy customers have helped us in giving us more business,” he says. Today, the duo has sold around 200 sanitiser dispensers, and has a clientele spanning housing societies, hospital, banks, school, colleges, and supermarkets.
The iSTEP automatic hand sanitiser dispenser comes in two versions: one equipped with a 2500 milliampere-hour (mAh) battery backup and the other without battery backup.
Looking ahead, the pair has a series of innovations in the pipeline, including updating the iSTEP automatic hand sanitiser dispenser to incorporate both hand sanitising and thermal scanning. “This pandemic has rendered the youth jobless and to tackle this challenge, this is our first step towards becoming successful entrepreneurs and encouraging others self-sufficient as well,” they say.