For many villagers in rural areas of India, personal banking comes at a high cost. In addition to the expense of traveling to the nearest branch, often in distant cities, they must often forego a day’s work
Vortex Engineering, a start-up incubated at Chennai’s Indian Institute of Technology, has come up with a solution that not only saves rural Indians the day’s hassle but cuts down on energy use. Combining solar panels with innovative mechanical design requiring far less power, Vortex’s ATMs are capable of running on about 10 percent of the energy used by conventional machines. And because the low-power design produces very little heat of its own, the “Gramateller” — “gram” is Hindi for “village” — functions as well in the heat of a Rajasthani June as in the snowy winters of the hill station Nanital. To date, 450 Gramatellers have been installed, most in small towns between 30 and 60 kilometers from bank headquarters. Vortex marketing manager, Sabarinath Nair, estimates that 10,000 more are slated to be in place within the next two years, with international expansion — Bangladesh, Madagascar, Nepal, and Djibouti — already underway. Vortex notes that Gramateller is opening business opportunities for banks where there had previously been none, while also saving practices by reducing costs for rural Indians and permitting them to take out only the cash they need immediately. And it is doing it all while running entirely on solar power.