In India, vendors travel around with iron boxes full of hot coals which they use to iron clothes. Vinisha Umashankar noticed that six of these vendors were present in her town of Tiruvannamalai, when she was 12 years old. Concerned about the environmental effect of burning charcoal, the young lady went to work designing an innovative solution: a solar-powered ironing cart attached to a bicycle. Now at age 15, her idea has blossomed into a full prototype and she’s gained worldwide recognition for her powerful advocacy for solutions to the climate crisis.
Umashankar became interested in science from a young age, after she was given an encyclopedia as a gift. At age eight, she learned of the climate crisis. This ignited her concern for the planet which drove her to come up with a clean-energy solution to the ironing vendors in India. In 2019, the then-tween spent months researching college-level physics to learn about solar panels. She sketched a design for a bicycle car with solar panels to power a steam iron. Her design received recognition at the National Innovation Foundation, which assigned engineers to help her create the cart, known as the Iron-Max.
The cart stores sunshine in a battery for cloudy days. Five hours of sunshine provide enough energy for six hours of ironing. The bike also has a cellphone charging port so the vendor can earn extra income by charging for a charge. The Iron-Max eliminates the matter and greenhouse gases released by the traditional coal carts. The invention has been honored globally. Umashankar was one of 15 finalists at the first-ever Earthshot Prize. Although she did not win the prize, she was the youngest finalist in the “Clean Our Air” category. She also won last year's Children's Climate Prize.
She has since supplemented these accomplishments with a powerful five-minute speech at COP26, the UN's climate summit which has been making headlines of late. Leaders from around the world have gathered to discuss the impending disaster and how concerted action may help avoid an uninhabitable world. Umashankar said in her speech, “You are deciding whether or not we will have a chance to live in a habitable world…You are deciding whether or not we are worth fighting for, worth supporting, and worth caring [for].”
This powerful statement from a young climate activist and scientist carries with it the sentiments of many young people who are watching world leaders wring their hands and refrain from urgent action. It's their world and their futures that are at stake.
“All of us should understand that environmental issues are real and can't be fixed at a later date,” says Umashankar. “There is no stop button. There is no magic fix.” Young innovators like Umashankar are leading the way to a better world.
A teen from India designed an innovative solution to coal-powered ironing carts—a solar powered vehicle which vendors can use to peddle their services.
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Vinisha Umashankar's invention has received global recognition. She recently spoke at COP26 and encouraged leaders not to underestimate or avoid the climate crisis we are all facing.
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