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Brake Through

Dhakka Brakes improves cycle rickshaw pullers’ work and safety standards.


By nature, entrepreneurs are a curious bunch, doggedly determined to find a solution when presented with a challenge. As is the case of Sanjeev Arjun Gaur, who through his start-up, Dhakka Brakes, has invented a regenerative brake system designed to reduce the effort needed to operate a cycle rick-shaw. It stores the momentum of the rickshaw while braking and pushes the vehicle forward upon release of the brakes.

 

Problem and solution
The idea came about one day when Gaur’s car broke down and he had to take a cycle rickshaw through New Delhi’s crowded streets. He observed how often the cycle rickshaw puller needed to brake on congested roads and the tremendous amount of physical energy it took to restart after that. Gaur noticed the pullers went to great lengths to avoid braking.

Cycle rickshaw pullers have to often manually pull or walk the vehicle on congested roads after braking, which could be as frequent as every two minutes over a three- to four-kilometer stretch. Gaur spoke to many cycle rickshaw pullers and determined that it takes four to five times their energy and physical strength to restart the vehicle.

“It struck me that I could design a braking device with a spring that conserves the rickshaw’s energy, normally wasted during braking, to propel the rickshaw forward during restart,” recalls Gaur.

And he did. But, it took him seven years and six iterations to come up with this final cost-effective device. By replacing a bearing with a sprocket, he reduced the device cost by Rs. 500, for a total cost of Rs. 2,500 per device. Gaur also modified the design to reduce the sound and weight of the device. “The first prototype was around 22 kilograms and made a huge sound upon restarting, which we worked to change again and again—six times over a period of seven years. It took so much time to make the mechanical device right.” He thought of giving up due to the huge, self-borne cost. “I wondered if I should go further, as it was affecting my bread-and-butter work of fabricating products and exhibition stalls for advertising. But somehow, I kept at it. And now, we have a device that is practical and just seven kilograms in weight.”

The mechanical braking system uses a spring wound on the Dhakka Brakes device fitted to the rear axle. “Since cycle rickshaws presently use front-wheel brakes, the vehicles are unsafe and prone to overturning. Installation of the Dhakka Brakes makes the vehicles safer, as braking is done in the rear, which bears most of the weight,” explains Gaur.

 

Guidance and support
Dhakka Brakes is supported by the Nexus Incubator start-up hub at the American Center New Delhi, a collaboration with the IC2 Institute of The University of Texas at Austin.

Gaur participated in a 10-week training program by Nexus, which helped him with, “opening quite a lot of doors, gaining amazing knowledge and making contacts with manufacturers, distributors and micro-finance companies.” He was gratified for the support offered to him for “applying a good idea, as well as for the affirmation that ‘it can be done.’ ” The training also provided Gaur information on how to market his product and make it profitable.

The start-up has been awarded a grant of Rs. 10 lakhs by the Millennium Alliance, a platform to support innovators with services like seed funding and incubation, under the aegis of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Technology Development Board and other partners.

Thanks to this funding, Dhakka Brakes is poised to manufacture, install and test its devices on 100 cycle rickshaws in New Delhi.

 

Road ahead
After installation and testing of his regenerative brake system through the grant, Gaur looks forward to starting the manufacturing and assembly of the product. He plans to produce more than 500 units, initially, for distribution in New Delhi. “The NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] we are in touch with want to buy products from us and give to rickshaw pullers who are associated with them,” he says. In the long run, Gaur hopes to expand Dhakka Brakes to markets across the country.

 

Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.