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In Tuticorin, an Atal Tinkering Lab housed in an all-girls school helps spawn a farmer-friendly solar-powered irrigation system

A 14-year-old class 10 student, K Jeevitha Bethu Lakshmi, is the star pupil at her school, the Subbiah Vidyalayam in the Tuticorin district, in Tamil Nadu. She and two schoolmates were chosen, by the over 80-year-old school, to discuss their school project with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The three girls, on Wednesday, spoke to Modi about an automatic irrigation system powered by solar panels. Jeevitha told the PM that they have developed a prototype that worked flawlessly in the school's lab - one of 171 Atal Tinkering Labs set up across schools in the southern state.

“Our school has not received such attention before,” principal MS Santhiny Kawsel told Firstpost. "We have won awards for elocution, sports but not for an innovative project. Now we have!"

Subbiah Vidyalayam is an all-girls school with over 1,000 students. At the school's Atal Tinkering Lab, set up with Central government-support, students from classes 6 -12 experiment with ideas. Jeevitha and her classmates came up with an idea to build a solar-powered automatic irrigation system, which they put together with help from their teachers, Ananthi and Priyadarshini.

 In Tuticorin, an Atal Tinkering Lab housed in an all-girls school helps spawn a farmer-friendly solar-powered irrigation system

(left to right) M S Santhiny Kawsel, prinicipal; Jeevitha Bethulakshmi and Ananthi, of the Subbiah Vidyalayam girls school, Tuticorin. PIc courtesy: Subbiah Vidyalayam

In Tuticorin, farmers spend a lot of time trying to ascertain if their farmland holds enough moisture to aid their crops. Typically, farmers have to visit the fields to check moisture levels. If there isn’t enough moisture, they turn on diesel-powered irrigation pumps to water the fields. “Often, farmers forget to switch off the motor and there is considerable water wastage,” said Jeevitha. That, and a problem of frequent power outages, spawned the development of the solar-powered automatic irrigation system.

“We made a soil sensor using Arduino. The sensor detects moisture levels in the soil. If the moisture level has depleted, the sensor triggers an irrigation pump that waters the patch for as long as needed. As the entire system is automated, the farmer doesn't have to worry about turning off the pump,” she said, adding that it would be useful for the farmers in remote locations.


Atal Tinkering Labs in a nutshell

Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATLs), under the aegis of the government's Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), aims to 'cultivate one million children in India as Neoteric innovators.' 2,441 labs have been setup across schools nationwide. The government provides each ATL a grant-in-aid that includes a one-time establishment fee of Rs 10 lakh, and then covers operational expenses to the tune of  Rs 10 lakh for a maximum period of five years.

The ATL website says each lab is kitted with state-of-the-art equipment like 3D printers, robotics & electronics development tools, IoT & sensors, among other things.

Intel supported Jeevitha

Jeevitha's project was developed in a month’s time with mentoring from Intel and the NITI Aayog. The product is being fine-tuned and, with help from Intel and the planning body, will hit the go-to market stage by August.

"It was a proud moment for me," said Jeevitha who wants to continue working on the project even though she is in the crucial juncture of her final year in school, in class 10. The school has pinned its hopes on her considering she is 'very good' at academics, said Kawsel.

Catch 'em young

Subbiah Vidyalayam, which houses a 1,500 sq ft ATL, participated in the Atal Tinkering Marathon. The school figured among the top 100, from 600 entries. The school's project -- the soil sensor -- made it to the top 30.

"We helped the students to make alterations to the project," says Ananthi. "We were surprised to see our school in the top 30," she added.

Jeevitha has been asked to take her project to a 15-day boot camp, to be held outside Tamil Nadu. But she may not be able to. "Most parents are hesitant to send their kids to another state. Also, class 10 students will be taking the state board exams. Parents don't want them to miss classes," Ananthi said.

Subbiah Vidyalayam still hasn't celebrated Jeevitha's victory. Kawsel said they couldn't do much as the school's management is travelling. "Once they are back, there will be celebrations," she added.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2018 19:22:41 IST