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Five young engineers’ journey of making a smart electric wheelchair in Nepal: Story of Infinity Lab

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After working in a big engineering company with handsome salary for over two years, five young engineers came up with an idea of founding a company on their own and working on their own idea.

With an investment of just Rs. 15,000 each, they started the company on March 15, 2015, naming it Infinity Lab, with infinite dreams.

After the rigorous work for two long years, they have recently launched a smart electric wheelchair named ‘Leopard’ that has been successful to make headlines in major national media.

At a time most of the engineering projects are limited to prototypes only, they were successful to launch an automatic electric wheelchair that a needy person can use with much ease.

Here we present the journey of the passionate youths with dreams to achieve a lot staying here in Nepal itself.

The inception

The five young engineers who left the job to start the company were Suneel Pariyar, Santosh Raj Neupane, Bharat KC, Prajesh Shrestha, and Mensun Lakhemaru, who share a wonderful team spirit.

They come from a brilliant background, and are college toppers, and have won various mechanical and other exhibitions/competitions organized in their colleges, and had joined job immediately after graduating the engineering degree.

Quitting the job, they had started the company to build it as a space for innovation, seeking to solve the problems in local environment.

Concept of making the smart electric wheelchair

After the earthquake of April 25, 2015, they worked on a ‘heritage’ project that aimed to give the information of heritages. “As all the temples and heritages were destroyed, there were nothing for tourists to see and get information. So, we developed prototype of an augmented reality based technology. We also demonstrated the idea in front of the authorities of Nepal government. But, with the change in government, we couldn’t proceed further in lack of the pre-assured assistances, and the project had to be stopped. It couldn’t take a full shape,” shared Pariyar with dissatisfaction.

The earthquake not only destructed the heritage sites and physical infrastructures, but also injured many people and left numerous with lifelong disabilities.

After the devastating quake they conducted an eight-months long research, and sought what they can do to minimize the suffering of people, and ease their life. The research for heritage project and wheelchair were conducted parallelly.

They somehow got to connect with Independent Living Center (CIL), an organization working for the rights of persons with disabilities in Nepal. The organization provided them with financial supports to make the wheelchair, and bring it to this shape.

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Why developing an electric wheelchair when you can import it directly?

The sad reality about imported wheelchair is: they cannot be used that properly in Nepali physical structures, and are not durable in Nepali environment. One electric wheelchair brought to Nepal by CIL at the cost of NRs. 250,000 was dead within three months.

Infinity Lab team had utilized the parts of the dead wheelchair to build the automatic electric wheelchair.

“The feasibility of wheelchairs imported from abroad is very less. They are not made considering the physical infrastructures of Nepal, especially the rough roads. The foreign designs are failure in Nepali roads,” says Neupane. “Additionally, the wheelchairs don’t have smart features that ours have,” he adds.

Infinity Lab has plans to plans to establish itself as a customized wheelchairs maker, as per the requirements of users. “Many of the imported wheelchairs give backpain to the users. ‘Leopard’ is made in such a way that there are no such problems. The wheelchair can be charged within 2-3 hours, and one can ride it 20-25 Km after fully charged. There is also a urine bag in the wheelchair. One can put medicines in the pouch available in the wheelchair. Furthermore, it’s GPS enabled,” shared Pariyar.

Though they have fitted joystick in the wheelchair for the users to control it as of now, they are even making it such advanced they are fitting electrooculographic guidance on it, i.e. wheelchairs can be controlled by eye.

Two years of challenging journey

“Recalling those beginning days, and challenges give us goosebumps. I’m amazed how we came to this position this early,” shares Neupane about the startup journey. “We used to get frustrated many times. There was almost no earning, instead we had put our money for research works,” added Pariyar.

As they had to sustain first, they also worked on other various projects that generated income for the company. They used to install security systems in homes, and used to invest the earnings from such works for research works. They worked on the wheelchair project parallelly. “We used to invest the saved money for research, and making of wheelchair,” shared Neupane.

Official launch of the wheelchair

Infinity Lab officially launched the smart electric wheelchair on Monday, September 4, in presence of Finance State Minister Uday Shamsher Rana, Comedian duo Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya, members of parliament, and various other dignified personalities.

They feel that getting this level of support from people of that stature is an achievement in itself.

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The future

In the future, they want to be able to commercially produce the vehicles. They want to set up a factory to process and manufacture the automatic electrical wheelchairs.

“We not only want to build a product and do a business, but change the environment,” says Suneel Pariyar, adding profit won’t be their sole motive.

“We hope to see people’s concept changed to look at differently abled people. We want to see the physical structures being disabled-friendly,” says Neupane. They hope to see more aware society.

They want to see the life of differently abled people easier. And, they have brought out the campaign ‘Mobility for All’.

To the emerging entrepreneurs:

“Before you start, you need to make sure that you have a proper working team. Build a team with people from variety of skill-sets. And, you need to have good regular communication among the team-members, and have proper work division. You need to be clear about your work and plans. Gathering some work-experience before you start your own company is advised so that you know the office culture,” says the passionate team of Infinity Lab.

Startups for a better Nepal!

Presentation: Basanta Kumar Dhakal