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TechCase features cases in technology and its management...

Study the following two caselets. Can you use the knowledge you have gained in your education and work, collect some additional information and identify what technology management issues are present in these caselets. Send in your responses to techmotivator@iitm.ac.in

Issue - 4, 3, 2, 1

Issue - 4 Case

a.   Illiterate Bihar villager runs radio station

 “Welcome to Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 – the one stop entertainment solution for all…,” chirps the attractive voice of a radio jockey. A swank new FM channel in New Delhi or Mumbai?  No, it is the innovation of an impoverished Bihar villager that has got people hooked. The radio station, beaming from Mansoorpur village in Bihar’s Muzzafarpur district, has been giving music, local news and views for the last three years. For hundreds in and around the area it is ‘the’ station to tune into rather than national stations. The channel is the brainchild of Raghav Mahto, a 20-something uneducated mechanic who has a penchant for experimenting with old and outdated electronic parts in his village, 70 km from here.

 Mahto’s private radio station has made him a hero in villages within a 12 to 15 km radius. “It was a mere chance, or say a miracle, when during my usual work to repair a radio set, I started a rare experiment one day and was inspired to complete the task. I ended setting up this radio station, which is running and growing in popularity,” Mahto, who has his electronics repair shop at Gudri Bazar near Mansoorpur, said.  His radio station runs like a community radio service providing local news and views.

 “I broadcast melodious Hindi songs, news, information about crimes in the region, programmes to create awareness on AIDS, on polio eradication and on literacy and agriculture,” he said. It also broadcasts news about missing people, functions and festivals free of cost. He has no license to run a private radio station.  “I was not aware till someone informed me last month that it was illegal to run a private radio station. But how can I stop it?  There are hundreds of people who love it more than anything.” The radio programme sounds like that of any other well-known station.

The announcer, speaking in Hindi with a touch of the local dialect and flavour, begins by welcoming the audience to Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1.  Then the anchor, Sambhu, takes off by calling himself “apka dost Sambhu.” After providing the needed information, Sambhu plays Hindi film songs as demanded by listeners. At present, the station is broadcasting for 12 hours a day with the help of an antenna.

(Source:  Indian Express, 25 February 2006)


  1. Suppose you are a judge in a local court.  The Government has ordered shutting down of “Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1” observing that it is operating illegally.  However, a social activist has filed a counter claiming that the service has been of significant use to the public, and that obtaining a license was a mere formality.  The activist has also strongly advocated that the Government must encourage such peoples’ grassroots initiatives.  What would be your judgement?

  2. Is the radio service violating any copyright laws?  If yes, how can it set its operations right in this aspect?

  3. What other uses can such a technology have for local communities?

  4. Suppose you are a consultant, how would you help Raghav Mahto expand his operations and reach?

  5. What are the embedded lessons in this case?

b.   New technology to reduce phone rates in villages

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras, in collaboration with Midas Communications Technologies Ltd, has developed a technology for reducing telephone rates in rural areas.  Midas is currently working on making the technology commercially viable and it is expected to hit the market sometime in June-July this year.

Rene Abraham, chief technical officer of Midas told Express that the company was expecting for the technology a minimum demand of 10 million lines worldwide over the next three and a half years, and five million lines in India within the next two years.

Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT Madras, talking about differential rates for urban and rural areas said, “Suppose an average operator charges between Rs 300 and Rs 350 per subscriber per month for mobile telephones in urban areas and Rs 100 per subscriber in rural areas.  We are developing a technology which will make the rates still lower.”

For mobile telephones to expand in rural areas it is necessary that rural calls are cheaper as the average villager cannot afford the Re 1 per minute call.  Last year’s World Bank report said in India 700 million people were living outside the cities with a per capita income of $200 per person or Rs 9,000 per annum.

Abraham said a mobile with high-end features costs about Rs 10,000, and even a mobile costing Rs 1,500 with voice facility involved high infrastructure cost in rural areas.  In well-to-do homes in the country, about 98 percent data users were using dial-up connections of 56 kilobits per second (kbps), or 256 kbps DSL.  For CDMA and GSM users, data access was negligible.  So what was required in rural areas was a voice service and a wireless technology with a data rate of 256 kbps at a price band that was affordable to the user and was viable for the operator to recoup his investment.

Under Midas’ new technology deploying voice and broadband data in rural areas, basic infrastructure costs and a terminal would add up to Rs 6,500 for the operator per subscriber with the expense being shared between the two.  The add-on would be the GSM micro-base station which would include the laying of an overlay network for providing cellular services.

Abraham said in a village which consisted of around 2,000 people even if 50 people could afford the price point of the GSM service (Rs 200 per user) it would justify the service in the village.  GSM technology would enable local calls to be switched within the village at a low price without expenses incurred on taking it to the town and then bringing it back. In the traditional GSM technology, the infrastructure cost works out to 50 percent of the total cost but in the technology being developed by Midas, infrastructure cost would constitute only 15 to 18 percent of the total cost, said Abraham.  Moreover, the new technology would reduce energy costs and would be power efficient consuming only 6 watts of energy per subscriber.

Abraham sees a large untapped potential for Midas’ new technology in rural areas and says the economy cannot grow unless the latest communication technologies reach the common man.  While the technology is on trial in Chennai, Midas already received an order for it from Bhutan in January this year.  After a short trial, it was deployed and will be completed by May this year.

 (Source:  The New Sunday Express, 16 April 2006)


  1. What are the long-term socio-economic and environmental implications of such technology by means of which we can expect a sharp increase in telephonic communications?

  2. How can big business organizations be encouraged, through appropriate public policy, to support the development, installation and sustainable operation of such telephony systems?  Would this significantly serve the cause of their fulfillment of Corporate Social Responsibility?

  3. What possible extensions can be conceived of in the application of this technology?

  4. What are the embedded lessons in this case?

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Issue - 3 Case

  1. ‘Cat fuel’ fuels anger

A German inventor has angered animal rights activists with his answer to fighting the soaring cost of fuel – dead cats.

Christian Koch, 55, from the eastern county of Saxony, told Bild newspaper that his organic diesel fuel – a home-made blend of garbage, run-over cats, and other ingredients – is a proven alternative to normal consumer diesel. “I drive my normal diesel-powered car with this mixture,” Koch said.  “I have gone 170,000 km. without a problem.” The website of Koch’s firm, ‘Alphakat GMBH’, says his patented ‘KDV 500’ machine can produce what he calls the ‘Bio-diesel’ fuel at about 23 Euro cents a litre, which is about one-fifth the price at petrol stations now. Koch said around 20 dead cats added into the mix could help produce enough fuel to fill up a 50-litre tank. But the president of the German Society for the Protection of Animals, Wolfgang Apel, said using dead cats for fuel was illegal.

“There’s no danger for cats and dogs in Germany because this practice is outlawed in Germany,” Apel told Bild on Wednesday in a story titled ‘Can you really make fuel out of cats?’  “We’re going to keep an eye on this case,” Apel said.

(Source:  Indian Express, 16 September 2005)


1.  If large-scale production of bio-fuel from dead animals is indeed technologically feasible, and economically viable, should the technology be promoted?  Why?

2.  What would be the eco-social implications of tacit or explicit acceptance of such technology?

3.  What legal mechanisms should be evolved to have such technologies and their inputs well within the control of a state?

  1. Clearance for dual-mother embryo: Controversial British experiment raises prospects of babies with two mothers

A team of scientists in Britain were granted official approval on Thursday to create a human embryo using genetic material from two women, raising the prospect of babies with a pair of mothers.

The group from Newcastle University has been given the green light by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the Government-appointed genetics and reproductive technology watchdogs for Britain.  Such science is tightly regulated in the U.K.

The scientists will transfer the pro-nuclei – the components of a human embryo nucleus – made by one man and woman into an unfertilised egg from another woman.  This technique is intended to help prevent mothers from passing on so-called mitochondrial diseases on to their unborn babies, genetic conditions caused by DNA outside the nucleus of a cell, in the mitochondria.  Mitochondria have their own DNA, inherited from only the mother.  If this DNA is faulty, then children can develop major diseases.  Studies in mice showed it was possible to prevent the passing on of mitochondrial disease by moving the nucleus from an egg containing bad mitochondrial DNA to an unaffected one.

The human trial will not see any eggs allowed to develop into babies, but the research nonetheless remains controversial.  Professor John Burn from Newcastle University stressed that the tests would not lead to “designer babies”.  He said: “From a philosophical or medical point of view there is no reason why we should not do this.  I would use the analogy of simply replacing the battery in a pocket radio to explain what we are doing.  You are not altering the radio at all – just giving it a new power source.”

If a baby was born following such a technique, he noted, it would resemble its biological parents rather than the women into whose embryo the nucleus would be transplanted, as characteristics such as hair colour, height and personality come from nucleus DNA.

However, campaigners expressed concern at the project.  “This shows once again that the HFEA does not have any regard for public consultation and the views of the public,” Josephine Quintavalle, from the Comment on Reproductive Ethics group, said.

      (Source:  The Hindu, 10 September 2005)


1.  Do you agree with the “battery” analogy of Professor Burn?  Why?

2.  In this case, how would a modern day King Solomon resolve the issue of two mothers laying claim over a child?Would you like to have implants in your brain?

3.  Are you aware of and willing to share, science fiction stories about brain implants?

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Issue - 2 Case

(a) Housewife cooks an idea to save energy

It was a passing thought, while watching a pot on an earthen oven, that was etched indelibly in Jyothi Ravishankar’s mind. A mother of two children, Jyothi pondered over it for quite some time. The idea was eventually translated into an innovation which got her an award.

In January this year, Jyothi won the ‘Best Innovation Award’ instituted by Ahmedabad-based National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and a personal note of commendation from President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

The innovation, to be patented by NIF, encompasses an inverted U – shaped hollow steel oven and a drum with two openings on extreme ends. The lower opening in the drum is connected to the lower opening of the oven with the help of a pipe and the upper opening of the drum with the upper opening of the oven. The drum is filled with water and a pot full of raw rice is placed on the oven. Once the firewood stacked inside the oven is lit, the innovation making use of simple principles of physics ensures that besides cooked rice there is also a drum full of boiling water. Jyothi, who has sold about 30 pieces of her product to neighbours and relatives, says she found that about 70 percent of heat was lost in a traditional earthen oven. She could devise the product after mulling over how to utilize the lost energy.

‘In school we were told that cold water which has a heavy density settles at the bottom,’ she explains while mopping her hand dry after having washed the ‘masala paste’ prepared in a grinding stone. Jyothi, a graduate from SDM Law College, says the innovation using this principle ensures a constant cycle of cold water from the drum to the oven and hot water from the oven to the drum. Displaying a model at her house in Amdal village near Madanthyar, 60 km. from Mangalore, she says the government should promote her product, priced Rs. 1600, in all villages. ‘It saves fuel meant to boil water and also ensures a healthy cooking,’ she says.

She has plans to improvise on the product by making it smokeless. Having had a tough time with welders to get the steel hollow oven in the right frame, she now longs for a workshop where she and her husband Ravishankar could work on their innovation and distribute the products to needy villagers.

[Ref.: Housewife cooks an idea to save energy, The New Indian Express, March 8, 2005]


1.  What are the factors that induce people to innovate on existing technologies?

2.  Are women more innovative than men, especially in the case of household technologies?

3.  How should we increase our innovativeness on a mass – scale?

(b) Brain implant reads man’s thoughts

A severely paralysed man has become the first person to be fitted with a brain implant that allows him to control everyday objects by thought alone. Matthew Nagle (25), was left paralysed from the neck down after a knife attack in 2001. He uses a wheelchair and is unable to breathe without a respirator, and doctors say he has no chance of regaining the use of his limbs. But following an operation at New England Sinai Hospital in Massachusetts, Mr. Nagle has become the first patient in a controversial trial of brain implants which could help disabled people to be more independent by tapping into their brain waves. 

During the three – hour operation, electrodes were attached to the surface of Mr. Nagle’s brain. They were positioned just above the sensory motor cortex, where the neural signals for controlling arm and hand movement are produced. Surgeons completed the operation by fitting a metal socket to Mr. Nagle’s head so he could be hooked up to a computer. The scientists, lead by Professor John Donoghue, a world expert in neurotechnology at Brown University in Rhode Island, used a computer to decipher the brain waves picked up by the implant. By using software linked to devices around the room, Mr. Nagle has since been able to think his TV on and off, change channel and alter the volume. 

‘Eventually, we want him to be able to use it to control the lights, his phone and other devices,’ said Prof. Donoghue.

[Reference: Brain implant reads man’s thoughts, The Hindu, April 1, 2005]


1.  Is this caselet a milestone in mind-reading?

2.  Would you like to have implants in your brain?

3.  Are you aware of and willing to share, science fiction stories about brain implants?

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Issue - 1 Case

(a) Shelving the anti-ship, anti-missile Trishul programme

The Government of India has decided to shelve the anti-ship, anti-missile Trishul programme almost 20 years after conceiving it. The programme will now be showcased as a technology demonstrator and would form part of the indigenous missile history of our country. The main stumbling blocks in Trishul’s path to perfection were the snags in its guidance and hydraulics systems. As a result, the missile, a command-to-sight guidance system, was deviating from its course, eventually crashing into the sea. The snag on this quick reaction missile used to surface immediately after it converted its flight form broad bandwidth to narrow bandwidth for zooming in on incoming targets. It could not manoeuver the waves and failed to reach the target.

But the Defence Research and Development Organization still believes that it is not a waste. “Trishul is being progressed as a technology demonstrator. While a number of complex technologies and sea-skimming capability have been established, the missile still needs to be proved for all its capabilities. These technologies will be useful in futuristic missile projects,” officials said.

(b) Cutting corners at NASA

Mark Hernandez (name changed) said it took him just a couple of weeks to learn to cut corners in his new job at the NASA plant in New Orleans. His task was to apply insulating foam to the 15-storey external fuel tanks built by Lockheed that help power NASA’s space shuttles. A senior worker soon showed him how to mix the foam’s base chemicals in a cup and brush the mixture over scratches or gouges in the insulation without reporting the repair, Mr. Hernandez said.

From 1981, when he started at the Michoud Assembly Facility, to 1999, when he quit because of disputes with managers, Mr. Hernandez repaired small defects in the insulation hundreds of times without filling out the required paperwork. The practice was so common among employees pressed to work quickly, he said, that it had a name – unauthorized rework! Some supervisors even encouraged it, he said.

“I’m guilty of it” Mr. Hernandez (40) said in an interview. “I never justified it saying it was the right thing to do. I wanted to get the job done.” After the shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas on February 1, 2003 attention quickly focused on whether a piece of hardened insulating foam that had fallen off the external tank at lift-off on January 16, might have caused the damage that ultimately killed the seven astronauts aboard.

In interviews, Mr. Hernandez and five other former and current employees described a work environment where short-cuts were occasionally taken because of pressure to meet production deadlines or to please upper management.

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