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Meet Coby Unger, Who Turned An Autorickshaw Into A Design Lab

He gives 'Make in India' a whole new meaning.

30/08/2016 9:27 AM IST | Updated 31/08/2016 10:20 AM IST
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Inspired by similar spaces in the West, Maker's Asylum bills itself as a "community space" for "hardware entrepreneurs," "problem solvers," and "hobbyists".

The entrepreneurs can "prototype their ideas" using its "easy access to tools, technology and talent." The problem solvers can "bump ideas with other like and unlike-minded folks who share
[their] passion." And, the hobbyists can use the place simply "to play".

"Don't let those ideas die on the drawing board," its website exhorts. "Make it real." Situated in Mumbai and Delhi right now, Maker's Asylum, is a space that promotes free, collaborative thinking and the making of new things.

When you walk into Maker's Asylum in Mumbai you see amazing stuff all around, including machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters and woodworking tools.

You might spot, standing in the middle of it all, a geeky looking foreigner who along with those around him is concentrating hard on solving some problem. He looks like he is in his comfort zone, at peace even.

I met Coby Unger last week and he came across as a chilled-out guy who just wants to solve problems. Unger has worked on projects that have caught people's attention, such as the modular prosthetic arm, efficient village cooking stoves, and a tool storage system for construction sites.

While we were sipping coffee, he took us downstairs to show us the Maker Auto, which he has designed. It is a modified small cargo-carrier that is now a fully functional creativity lab, a kind of mini Maker Asylum on wheels, meant for conducting workshops on public art, design thinking, collaborative hacking and making new things.

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The plan is to take the mobile lab on the road. "We are starting our tour of Maharashtra very soon," Unger said. "We are just in the process of sorting out some permissions. Every stop will have a loose mission statement. For instance, we plan to go a startup called Fresher's foundry and work with fresh graduates on industrial problems."

The auto was designed with the help of Autodesk software, with the aim of fitting as many tools as possible without hampering mobility. "The side compartment has 4 tables which can be drawn out and set up at any place," Unger said. "Under the tables, there are drawers which will carry tools such as drills, saws, screwdrivers, spanners and more. We will have an event around a theme. So the tools would change accordingly." The back of the auto is a "digital manufacturing area," equipped with a small 3D printer, a laser cutter, and a laptop computer.

He wanted to design something unique to India. "And what better than an autorickshaw to promote creativity," he said. "We thought of converting the traditional autorickshaw into something but the small size was a hindrance to that. So we decided that we'd take a small cargo carrier and make an auto rickshaw out of it."

Coby Unger

Besides the Maker Auto, Unger has also helped design a prosthetic super arm. For this project, he worked with Aiden, a child with a prosthetic arm who had an idea for a modular arm. Unger helped turn the idea into reality.

"I met Aiden in a camp where kids were designing different kinds of prosthetic arms for themselves," Unger said. "Aiden was disappointed with the result. So we decided that we would work on something which would grow with him. Most of these arms are needed to be changed almost every year with the kid's growth. We wanted the arm to grow with him and be of more use."

First, with the aid of 3D printers and Autodesk design software, they created the base of the
arm. Then they worked on different modules that could be attached to the base, depending on the kind of function they desired the arm to perform. So, the modules include a fork, a lego builder, a drum stick, and a video game controller. Unger added with a touch of pride that Aiden is now in a band, and creates new modules himself, based on his own ideas and wishes.

Before moving to Mumbai, Unger was working in Pondicherry. There, he collaborated with an organisation called Prakriti to create a more efficient cooking stove.

"The challenge there was to identify the problem with the traditional stoves," he explained. "You can't really go and ask the villagers what is wrong with the old ones. Since they have been using those stoves from years they find nothing wrong there."

"But they are not very efficient" he added. "And also the smoke coming out of it harms the eyes. So we created the stoves with better energy and waste management. We had to convince the people to try them out. But, once they used the stoves, they were on-board with the idea."

Pradeep Nair, Managing Director of Autodesk for India and the SAARC nations, is supportive and appreciative of what Unger and the Maker Asylum community is doing.

"We, at Autodesk are helping the Make community in India, turn ideas into reality, and make the journey from conceptualizing to creating tangible products," he said. "Maker's Auto is a great example of how we can use design thinking to drive innovation at the grassroots level."

You can check out Coby Unger's work on his website.

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