“Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies,” sang the Beatles. That was imagination, but this is not. Why motor down a river with a constant droning through otherwise calm air and lose the moment? For YUGA Design, the recipe for an idyllic boat ride had to include the gentle sound of water lapping and a 360-degree view of the waters. Inspired by the Brahminy Kite in russet red and white, the designers visualised a slow moving tourist boat for calm backwaters and lakes — all habitats to sensitive marine ecosystems. The boat runs on energy from the solar panels up to eight hours. Says Gautam of YUGA Design, “Our boat travels at about 5 knots, which is about 9 km/hr. A family of five can have a quiet breakfast or lunch on the boat, travelling and enjoying the beautiful water.”
What drives YUGA
Industrial designers Gautam Madhavan Nair and Jagan Ganapathy started YUGA design in 2009 for design and prototyping. Architect Vinodhini and textile designer, Saravanan joined the duo. Their design firm has focussed on enhancing user experience, designing functional products with better commercial value. In this, they have tasted success several times over five years. They redesigned a product for a client from the medical equipment manufacturing segment; within eight months of launch, their sales went up by 200 per cent. YUGA was part of the R & D team for the “smart cane,” a device used as way finder for the visually challenged user, developed by Dr. Rohan Paul, a young innovator from IIT-Delhi.
Building a boat
Earlier, while at NID, Gautam and Jagan interned at a boatyard in Kerala, studying wooden boat construction. They also worked in Tamil Nadu with people who build fibreglass boats for the fishing community. It was while designing an electric waterbus that they got inspired. “We found a gap in the tourism industry that showed us a need for an eco-sensitive water transport system in India.”
With the guidance of Mahesh Krovvidi of NDBI, the design incubation cell at NID, they made a proposal for a small solar electric hybrid catamaran that could be used for water tourism to the Technopreneur Promotion Program at DSIR, Government of India. They were selected and IIT's ocean engineering department became technical consultants for their project.
Gautam infers: “Our catamaran is a light-weight fibreglass boat with two hulls. Because it uses solar-powered batteries, it hardly makes any noise!”
Why twin hulls?
“They are sleeker and lighter and hence, create less drag than that of a
single or mono hull vessel. It makes for an energy-efficient and stable boat.” There is a spacious deck with seating for five. As Gautam remarks, “It is as simple as the difference between a two- and a four-wheeler.”
What was specifically challenging about the boat design?
“We had to make sure that the boat not only looked attractive but also had to function extremely well. Supporting the solar canopy with just two pillars cantilevered so as to give the traveller an unrestricted view was crucial and designing this was a big challenge. For this, Dr. Anantha Subramanian of IIT-Madras and designer M. P. Manohar, guided us to make the boat functionally stable. We made several model iterations before freezing the design. It was a pure form and function exercise that worked out wonderfully with their inputs.”
The boat, funded by DSIR and YUGA Design, was successfully launched at Muttukadu lake recently. This is an exciting time for the designers. Their design is just patented and already queries are steadily coming in.
What makes their boat special?
“The main reason to go for a boat like ours would be for its return on investment. This boat has an almost nil operating cost due to the solar electric hybrid technology. Second, it does not create pollution of any kind, be it noise or carbon, so maintenance is negligible. It is priced slightly higher than the average motor boat of the same size. But in the long run, it will be profitable in comparison.”