Visit to Vigyan Ashram, Pabal (पाबळ)

Baji J. Ram Rao
18:00 Thu. 14-Mar-2013

Visited Vigyan Ashram at Pabal on Thu. 14th March 2013.


Pabal (pop. 10,000) is a village in Shirur taluka of Pune district of the state of Maharashtra, India.
It is just under 40 km NE of Pune City and 128km from Mumbai.
Pabal gets under 500 mm of rainfall in a year -- classified as drought prone.

Vigyan Ashram (विज्ञान आश्रम)

Vigyan Ashram [ GPS: Location: 18.832586N, 74.058939E ] was conceived of, as a rural, technical, vocational school -- a system of education, relevant to rural needs.
Dr. Shrinath Sheshgiri Kalbag (1928-2003) started Vigyan Ashram in 1983. It is a center of Indian Institute Of Education (IIE) Pune.

Imparting hands-on engineering education, Vigyan Ashram develops sustainable technologies.
It trains village-school dropouts, to become entrepreneurs, support their local community and develop it, instead of migrating to the metropolises.


Diploma in Basic Rural Technology -(DBRT)
Introduction to Basic Technology -(IBT)

Sample projects and gadgets innovated at Vigyan Ashram, Pabal

BoPEEI chakra pedal-power generator.
The Mechbull - "mechanical bull"
Solar-powered egg incubator
Hand-held attendance device
Rice husk gas burner
Ambient temperature dryer
Oleoresin extraction plant.
Bouncing cradle for 3-6 mo. old infants
Leaf Wetness Duration Sensory System (LWDSS).

People met

Fab lab

What is a Fab lab?
Fab labs in India
Equipment at the Fab Lab

Roland CAMM-1 Servo GX-24 desktop vinyl cutter
Roland MODELA MDX-20 3D Scanning and Milling Machine
Epilog carbon-dioxide laser engraving and cutting system
MTM Snap Desktop CNC Milling Machine
Tektronix TDS1002 and TDS2002
Dayton 6" variable speed bench grinder
DeWALT DW788 20" Variable-Speed Scroll Saw
Stations for embedded microprocessor and digital electronics design, assembly, and testing
Activa InstaMold instant flexible temporary molding compound


Diploma in Basic Rural Technology -(DBRT)
(non-formal for school dropouts)

Vigyan Ashram's DBRT is a one year residential plus one-year apprenticeship program. VA call it their flagship program.

dbrt poster

Apprenticeship is in a vocation chosen by the student -- ideally in a small enterprise.

The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) recognizes this hands-on course.

Sponsors who fund the program include,

Vigyan Ashram continues to update the curriculum through need-based drivers.
The program imparts multiple skills covering:

  1. Engineering (अभियांत्रिकी)- (Welding and fabrication, Civil construction and masonry, Basic Carpentry, Engineering Drawing & Costing)
  2. Energy & Environment (ऊर्जा-पर्यावरण)- (Electrical engg., Motor rewinding, Survey techniques, Solar / Biogas power, etc.)
  3. Home & Health (गृह-आरोग्य) (Sewing and Knitting, Food processing, Soil pH and NPK nutrient analysis)
  4. Agriculture & Animal Husbandry (शेती-पशुपालन ) ( Polytunnel, Poultry farming, Goat farming, Dairy, Nursery techniques)

Pawan Bhaise teaching in Fab Lab
Pawan Bhaise makes a point, teaching a batch of DBRT students

Pawan Bhaise teaching
Pawan Bhaise explains to a batch of DBRT students

The program also teaches skills in Computing, Meditation, Sports, incl. Adventure-sports.

Students work in each of these sections for 3 months. They will work along with instructors to deliver various services to the village.

Most of the VA campus is built through student project work. Students have built low-cost ferrocement geodesic domes as houses that also happen to be earthquake-proof.

low-cost ferrocement geodesic dome-houses
Small orange ferrocement geodesic was the first one attempted

Entry qualification: 8th std. minimum and a willingness to work hands-on.
The program benefits those who want to start their own business in a rural area.
Languages of instruction: Marathi, Hindi and English.
Batch size: 20-24. Roughly two such batches each year, train and become apprentices in industry or small enterprises.

Introduction to Basic Technology -(IBT)
(formal for high school children)

Vigyan Ashram's IBT program is implemented in schools from class 8 to Class 10.

As of March 2013, this prevocational program runs in 111 schools in Maharashtra and is spilling over to 3 schools in Goa, Karnataka, Chattisgarh. It has helped over 12,000 students.

The IBT program is spread over 27 districts.
Hemendra Kothari foundation supports introduction of IBT program in the Pench and Tadoba tiger reserves.
UNICEF in Chhattisgarh has funded the IBT program in five schools in the Bijapur district. This includes 1 month intensive training program for tribal youth at Pabal. 33 youth from Bijapur and 24 youth from Dantewada dist., Chhattisgarh, were trained at Pabal.

The government of Maharashtra recognizes it as a pre-vocational (V-1) program and conducts the end exam.

School students do various work activities in Engineering, Energy+Environment, Agriculture+Animal husbandry and Food processing.

Technology Transfer through Schools
Energy and Environment
Agriculture and
Animal Husbandry
Food Processing
Civil construction, Low cost housing, Ferrocement, Bamboo treatment, Ventilation, Plumbing, Toilets, Fabrication, Various agricultural implements and tools, Pedal power. Solar cooker, LED lighting, Biogas, Smokeless stove, Earthing, Inverter, Computer applications, Soakpit, Watershed, Check dam construction, Plain table survey, GPS Drip irrigation, Sprinklers, Vermicomposting, Vermiwash, Humidity chamber, aAQUA Portal, Nursery technique, Azolla culture, Weather SMS, Seedling Tray, Vaccination, Poultry, Age estimation, Rice cultivation, Crop using System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Mulching, Silage Feed, concentrate for animals, Pest control, Soil testing and analysis. Solar drying, Food preservation, Drying of vegetables, Medicinal plant cultivation, Mosquito control (Guppy fish breeding), making and selling phenyl and liquid soap, Healthy diet, Soya milk, Water quality testing, Blood testing, Soil testing,

Work activities selected are in line with the curricular Science, Math and Social sciences subjects. The state education dept. recognized the IBT after it was initially tested in three schools around Pabal for 3 years.

Organizations, such as, Lend-a-hand-India, Suzlon, UNICEF and Govt. of Chhattisgarh and Bayer crop science, fund the program.

Among IBT's program objectives:

IBT Operational Modalities


Sample projects and gadgets innovated at Vigyan Ashram, Pabal

BoPEEI chakra pedal-power generator.
10-12 minutes of pedaling, provides light for 4-10 hours, depending on model. Meant for off-grid villages.

BoPEEI poster

Co-created by insights from Vigyam Ashram, Pabal. BoPEEI stands for Bottom of Pyramid Energy & Environmental Innovations. MSRP Rs. 7,000.

Open-source, FabLab-grown, user-extensible, long-range point-to-point and mesh hybrid-wireless broadband transmission infrastructure.
It uses common materials and off-the-shelf electronics to communicate wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several km.
FabFi is based on the simple idea that: a network of simple, intelligent, interconnected devices can create reliable networks in unstable environments.

WiFi booster antenna

With this inexpensive framework, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity,
sharing wireless internet from a central provider across a town or city.
This enables them access to online educational, medical, and other resources.

Originally developed by FabLab Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Designed for high performance across multiple hops.

Jalalabad has 45 remote 11½ Mbit/s FabFi nodes, with the longest link spanning 6 km, between the FabLab and a water tower at the public hospital in Jalalabad.
The FabFi system provides direct wireless access to client devices to run a community-scale wifi ISP.
The system is extensible by anyone without central permission, simply by adding a node and pointing it in the right direction.

Despite its cobbled-together aesthetic, Fabfi has proven incredibly reliable in Jalalabad's harsh 54°C summers with regular sandstorms.

In Kenya, there are communities where mobile connectivity is the only means of access. Here, FabFi provides a network of 50 remote nodes, deployed across three sites -- the longest link being 3½ km. They have a 6-hop data-throughput across 2½ km at over 30Mbps. The system provides WiFi direct to end-users and integrates user accounting and management.

The Mechbull - "mechanical bull"
This is a mini-tractor designed by a 15-year-old student of Vigyan Ashram. It is smaller and more affordable than conventional tractors. The inventor has set up his own workshop making and selling his Mechbull, which is in great demand.

Solar-powered egg incubator

egg incubator

Hand-held attendance device

handheld attendance device

Rice husk gas burner

Direct combustion of rice husk produces large quantities of smoke. This makes Gasification necessary.
Rice husk is gasified using this top-lit updraft gasifier. When this rice husk gas combusts, it produces a blue flame.
Also the rice-husk ash makes a good soil enrichment.

rice-husk gas burner

Ambient temperature dryer
. This was the first process-step for the Oleoresin extractor.

Oleoresin extraction plant.

Bouncing cradle for 3-6 mo. old infants
Uses the springiness of thin rebars for bouncing action.
When the baby kicks, the seat responds with a gentle up-and-down springy motion. This may satisfy the baby's desire for movement, and also help develop the muscles necessary to begin to crawl.

Leaf Wetness Duration Sensory System (LWDSS).
Dew formation for elongated periods is bad for some fruits. Leaf wetness duration can help predict the time of disease.
The circuit senses dew & records the corresponding duration.
Uses a semiconductor sensor. Has customizable sensitivity.
Software development in C specific to Atmel AVR microcontroller.

Fab academy..
Vigyan Ashram host a ‘Fab Academy’ -- a course at Pabal for running the fab lab. Students are taught how to benefit from the machines.

People met

Fab lab

Vigyan Ashram hosts the first Fab Lab ever in India, and one of approximately 120 fab labs worldwide.
Of the fab labs, 36 are in USA, 11 in the Netherlands, 8 in France, 6 ea. in Germany and Spain and 5 ea. in India and South Africa.

What is a Fab lab?

A fab lab or fabrication laboratory is a micro-scale workshop, which lets one fabricate a mechanical or electronic system prototype using digital technologies. It is equipped with a collection of flexible computer-controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials. The aim is to be able to make "almost anything", including tech-enabled one-off gadgets generally thought to require mass production machinery.

Fab labs can empower individuals to build smart devices, tailored to local or personal needs, in ways not necessarily practical nor economical for mass production.

Fab labs around the world use their common capabilities in very different ways.


July 2002 saw the first international fab lab at the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, in Cartago, Costa Rica.
There, undergrads mentor local high-school students, build tools for local educational, community development and economic challenges.

The fab lab at the Vigyan Ashram, Pabal opened in August 2002.
It has focused on developing agricultural instrumentation. They have tested milk for quality and safety, and tuned diesel engines to run more efficiently, particularly with local biofuels.
Vigyan Ashram has integrated the Fab Lab into its curricula.

Another fab lab, in Bithoor, UP, (operated in cooperation with IIT, Kanpur) targets 3-D scanning and printing for
rural artisans, such as producing the wooden blocks used in Chikan embroidery by women's cooperatives.

In June 2003, the 2nd international fab lab was established in Solvik Gård near Tromsø, Norway far above the Arctic Circle. In cooperation with Norway's Telenor and Finland’s UPM-Kymmene, that lab develops wireless networks and animal radio collars to aid nomadic herding.

Key characteristics for a fab lab:

Public access.
A fab lab must be open to the public for free or in-kind service/barter at least part of the time each week.
Support and subscribe to the fab lab charter:

Must share a common set of tools and processes.
The critical machines and materials are in this list:

and there's a list of open source software and freeware used available online as well (embedded in fab academy modules) here:

The idea is that all the labs can share knowledge, designs, and collaborate across international borders.

Must participate in the larger, global fab lab network,
that is, you can't isolate yourself.
This is about being part of a global, knowlege-sharing community through the videoconference, attending the annual fab lab meeting, and otherwise collaborating and partnering with other labs in the network on workshops, challenges or projects.

Participating in Fab Academies is yet another way to connect with the global network community.

Fab labs in India:

After 10 years of school education, village youngsters migrate to cities in search of jobs, helpless that they can't find enough work at home and with severely compromised self-confidence. Bereft of creativity and even of independent thinking itself 80% fail.
The present educational system separates Work from Knowledge ~Anil Sadgopal.

Dr. Shrinath Kalbag started Vigyan Ashram in Pabal in 1983. Technical literacy and scientific temper through school education.

Equipment at the Fab Lab

Among equipment at the MIT Fab lab in Pabal are: