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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
Civil Engineer & CAD Specialist
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Climacon- a jacket that can keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

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A simple annoyance with putting on layers of clothes to ward off the biting cold of a Massachusetts winter only to take them all off inside heated buildings inspired an Indian alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, to develop a jacket that can keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat. For this innovation, the then-post graduate student of MIT and now founder-CEO of Ahmedabad-based Dhama Innovations, Kranthi Kiran Vistakula has won the Innovator of the Year Award instituted by MIT's Technology Review India. He will receive the honour at a ceremony to be held in Bangalore on March 8.

Vistakula's technology for the jacket, called ClimaCon (short for climate control), relies mainly on the Peltier Effect to maintain the wearer's body temperature between 18 and 40 degrees Celsius, and can work in temperatures ranging from minus-30 degrees to 50 degrees Celsius. The Peltier effect, discovered by Frenchman Jean Charles Peltier in 1836, is a phenomenon in which electricity, when passed through two wires of different metals that are made to touch and form a junction, either heats up or cools down the junction based on which metal wire electricity is passed through.

Using what he terms "simple phenomena" had earned Vistakula—a mechanical engineering graduate from the Jawaharlal Nehru Technology University in Hyderabad and a postgraduate in Mechanical Engineering and Technology Policy Program from MIT—numerous awards during his student days, beginning when the idea was just that: an idea. The prize money from these awards enabled Vistakula to develop the concept of temperature-control apparel.

Coming up with the idea was one thing, but making it not just tangible, but wearable, was another. It took Vistakula more than two years of working in his free time to finally settle on a material that could make the jacket weigh between 600 and 700 grams, roughly as heavy as a pair of jeans. For this, he had to experiment with various lightweight materials that exhibited the Peltier Effect. "We work with aluminium, plastics, rubbers," Vistakula says, crediting the team he set up after returning to India in late 2007—which includes a tailor, two apparel designers and a technician—for achieving the present light-weight jacket.

Dhama Innovations operates out of an office at the National Design Business Incubator, inside the National Institute of Design in Paldi, Ahmedabad. They have also rented a small lab in the city. Vistakula invested Rs 2-5 crore in the company, which also receives financial aid from Reliance's venture capital fund and Mumbai Angel.

On the surface, the ClimaCon jacket looks like the various netted sports apparel you see displayed in major showrooms. The arms of full-sleeve and short-sleeve jackets are fashioned out of fairly regular material to allow free hand movement. The jackets themselves come in two variations—one for cold weather and another for warm weather. For the cold weather version, the jacket comes with another layer of fabric, to be worn over the main one, which acts like a blanket to minimise loss of heat. Comparing it to a blanket, however, would be misleading as the fabric is no thicker than the netted material used for the jacket itself.

The jacket relies on batteries (similar to the ones used in laptops) fitted onto a belt for charge, and comes with a panel the width of a matchbox that allows the wearer, through the touch of a button, to increase or decrease the temperature according to the weather.

A single charge of the battery is good for between five and eight hours of wear-time, and it takes anywhere between 45 minutes and three hours to charge the battery fully, depending on whether you use rapid charge or slow charge. Constant rapid charge will however render a battery-life of about 300-400 recharges, while normal charge will make it last a thousand recharges.

Vistakula claims there is little chance of electricity leak. "If your laptop or cell phone gets wet, it might get stop working but you won't get an electric shock," he says. The embedded wires are all insulated. The battery pack is sufficiently water-proof, Vistakula says, and safe to go out with in heavy rain. The jacket can be washed too—not in a washing machine, but by spraying water on it and brushing off dust and dirt. "The only damage that could happen is the tearing of the fabric, which is really pretty sturdy," he says.

Besides the jacket, Dhama Innovations is using the ClimaCon technology to make other attire—shoes, cyclists' helmets, bands for muscle strains, even a garment for cows, since the yield of a milk-giving animal depends on its body heat, decreasing when it is hot, Vistakula says. The start-up is also planning to apply the technology in controlling the temperature of structures like auditoriums. Air-conditioners are often inefficient and take time to cool the entire structure, especially the floor. But with ClimaCon chips placed on the floor, the cooling (or heating) effect will be closer to the ground.

Among the firm's first clients is the Army Technology Headquarters, which is looking for innovative solutions to keep soldiers comfortable in places with extreme temperatures like Kashmir and Rajasthan. Besides, the Army is also interested in using the technology for cooling down the guiding systems of missile launchers using the technology, which is lightweight, occupies less space and is less noisy compared to the current fans and coolers used for the purpose.

All the applications, other than the jacket, are mostly in the planning stage or at initial stages of development, Vistakula says. The ClimaCon jackets are priced at Rs 40,000 a piece initially, but with economies of scale, he hopes to make them cheaper. "We want to first zero in on one application first and be successful in that, and then we'll just run wild with innovation," Vistakula says.

Courtesy: Adam Halliday / Yahaoo news )
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