Kochi: Toddy tapping may soon become hi-tech with the introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence, but still retaining the simplicity of the traditional process. Charles Vijay Varghese, Founder-CEO, NAVA Design & Innovation, who ditched a cushy job abroad to start his own company in Kerala, is behind this smart device which has made the feat possible.
“There was a Neera boom in Kerala following the government initiatives to promote the brew. But soon Neera production initiative in Kerala suffered a setback due to shortage of tapping workers. That’s when I decided to put on my thinking hat to find a solution to the problem,” said Charles who hails from Aluva. The electrical engineer who graduated in 2005 worked abroad for nearly 10 years before returning to Kerala to set up the company.
An expo organised on the sidelines of Hardtech ’19 saw the two-and-a-half-year-old startup displaying the device, Sapper, which would make toddy tapping easier and devoid of the risk of replacing man with machine. Sapper invented by NAVA Design & Innovation, was formally launched by Aruna Sundararajan IAS, Secretary, Telecom, Government of India at the inaugural session of Hardtech '19 held at KINFRA Hi-Tech Park at Kalamassery.
A six-member team led by Charles has been working on the product since 2016. The team studied and researched in detail about the working principle and viability of the system before designing Sapper’s robotic mechanism. NAVA Design & Innovation obtained the required patents and registered NAVA Design & Innovation in 2016 itself. The team initially developed the prototype of the robotic system without much help from anyone. NAVA Design & Innovation was incubated in Maker Village in July 2017. The team created the proof of concept of the system using bootstrap fund. “Subsequently, the company won grant from Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) in 2018,” he recalled. Having launched the working prototype at Hardtech ’19, the company will commence the work to finish a minimum viable product and pilot project soon.
Here’s How Sapper Works
The electricity-operated robotic machine fitted on top of the coconut tree slices and taps coconut inflorescence thrice a day at pre-programmed timings. The Neera sap from the tree is then transferred to a refrigerated tank which stores it without adding preservatives. Sapper improves the efficiency of toddy tapping by 72 times, according to Charles. “Tapping toddy from coconut trees is a three-month cycle that requires manual climbing of the palm three times a day. That is a total of 270 times!” he said. The functioning of this electro-mechanical device for toddy extraction is based on a technology that facilitates cutting, beating and collection of the beverage.”
Realising the market potential of Neera as a fast-moving consumer product, Charles has obtained patent to develop the product in 12 coconut-growing countries in the world. “We have not done any marketing in any of these countries. However, investors from some countries have approached us and expressed their interest in the technology,” he says. Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand are among the countries which the company has identified as prospective markets.