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14-year-old’s invention could clean India’s air

Words by Smiley Team

When people meet Vinisha Umashankar for the first time, they can’t believe she’s only 14 years old. Because, as the inventor of Iron Max, a solar-powered ironing cart, she may have single-handedly resolved a large part of India’s air pollution.

Vinisha lives in Tiruvannamalai, a South Indian city and pilgrimage site famous for its temples. While the city’s architecture attracts tourists from far and wide, what doesn’t impress visitors so much is its air pollution. Among the businesses contributing to this are small ironing stands powered by charcoal.

“Seeing the number of charcoal-fuelled ironing carts in my neighbourhood made me think about the number of ironing carts in India, the amount of charcoal burnt every day and the damage it does to the environment,” Vinisha explains.

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Being a bright, curious and driven individual, Vinisha couldn’t leave this issue unresolved. “So, I researched for a viable solution,” she says, “and I found that using solar power can effectively substitute the use of charcoal to heat an iron box.”

To bring her idea to fruition, Vinisha approached the National Innovation Foundation in Gujarat and applied for the Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam IGNITE Award. 

Thanks to her carefully prepared pitch and documentation she won the award and, with the help of engineers from the National Innovation Foundation, was able to develop her solar ironing cart. “It was a great experience!” she adds.

Clean air and thriving communities

Following her initial success, Vinisha was nominated for the Earthshot Prize, an international contest for initiatives to help protect people and the planet. Discovering that she was named one of the 15 finalists selected from 1,600 nominations, she is hopeful that she can win a prize of £1 million to roll out her carts across the entire country.

“There may be 10 million ironing carts just in India, burning 50 million kilos of charcoal every day,” she says. “The most important benefit of the solar ironing cart is that it eliminates the use of charcoal for ironing clothes. 

“It can save millions of trees from becoming charcoal, which greatly harms the environment, pollutes the land, water and air, reduces the habitats of animals, birds, bees and insects, decreases agriculture productivity, intensifies climate change and magnifies global warming.”

With a free power source and multiple charging points in the cart, Iron Max could help those using the carts to generate more income. Vinisha points out the trickle-down effect this will have on business-holders, helping to improve living standards with better access to health services and education.

Should she win the Earthshot Prize, she says: “I am planning to manufacture the solar ironing cart in India and sell it at an affordable price. I am aiming to export it to Asia, Africa and wherever the sun shines around the year. I will be happy to see vendors using the solar ironing cart with a big smile!”

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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