NIT Srinagar team wins round 1 of million dollar Hult Prize, the students’ Nobel

January 10, 2021
The winning team being awarded by Director NIT Srinagar Prof. Rakesh Sehgal (Photo: KM/M Dawood)

Srinagar: A team of three students from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, Sunday advanced to the Regionals (India) of the ongoing Hult Prize, a global competition which looks for innovative ideas in business and entrepreneurship worldwide.

Known informally as the Nobel for students, the Hult Prize is a worldwide student competition that challenges university teams to solve the most pressing global issues with viable business ideas. It is supported by HULT International Business School, USA, and United Nations.

This year the theme of the Hult prize is ‘Food for Good’. The competition aims to select one idea from a student-team which will be declared Hult Prize winner for 2021 and will be supported by a SEED capital of $1 million (Rs 7.3 crore).

Selected from a pool of 50, ‘Wheel AI’, the wining team from NIT Srinagar will now participate at India Regionals of the global competition that will held in March or April.

Here at NIT Srinagar, which was licensed by Hult USA to conduct the on-campus event, the students had formed teams that worked on several ideas involving food production, food technology, and food entrepreneurship.

Team discussing their pitches over web conferencing (Photo: KM/M Dawood)

As many as 50 teams presented the ideas on Saturday of which 10 were selected to put across their pitches on Sunday to a jury.

The winning team ‘Wheel AI’ comprised B.Tech students Basar Munim Qari, Faizan Ali Mir, and Ruhail Gilkar who had worked on their pitch for around three weeks.

The winning team being awarded by Director NIT Srinagar Prof. Rakesh Sehgal (Photo: KM/M Dawood)

Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Basar said that ‘Wheel AI’ is a prototype (an early model of a concept or an idea) comprising both software and hardware parts to help identify, increase shelf life of, and transport fruits and vegetables to places facing scarcity using machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

The idea, he said, is to ensure automatic identification and sampling of fruits and vegetables directly from a field, vacuum sealing them to drastically enhance their shelf life, and transporting them to places in India or world which have scarcity of such food items.

“Part of our software model is based on TensorFlow and will help us detect the state any fruit or vegetable, whether it is ripe or unripe,” said Basar.

TensorFlow is an open-source software library used in machine learning.

The other part of Wheel AI’s pitch, Basar said, is colour recognition.

“It is based on RGB model. For example, whether a banana is ripe or unripe will be determined by the colours identified by the software without any human intervention,” he said.

Faizan, the other member of the team, said their idea is to introduce food vehicles which will go directly to the farmers, buy the fruit or vegetables from them using the application that can detect the product’s shelf life, and then vacuum seal it to increase the same.

“For example, a tomato, which had one week shelf life otherwise, can be vacuum sealed, and sent to places where there is scarcity of tomatoes. It is a business model based on artificial intelligence and machine learning and can go a long way in reducing food wastage,” said Faizan.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the total global food production is wasted, costing the world economy about $750 billion.

Globally, India currently ranks seventh in terms of overall food wastage including agricultural produce, poultry and milk. Around 67 million tonnes of food is wasted in India every year which has been valued at around Rs 92,000 crores.

Congratulating the students, Director NIT, Professor Rakesh Sehgal, said despite inclement weather and other operational difficulties, the teams managed to pitch such innovative ideas.

“Some of these ideas can really be put into practice and can help reduce the huge food wastage across the globe,” Prof Sehgal said.

The jury which selected ‘Wheel AI’ included:
1. Bhairavi jani, Chairperson and founder IEF Entrepreneurship Foundation, who is among the 30 most powerful Women in India and is World Economic Forum young global leader.
2. Mohammad Yaseen Reshi, Faculty Hotel Management Institute and Food Innovator.
3. Dr. Abid Sultan, Assistant Professor/Junior Scientist SKUAST-K.
4. Sandeep Chatterjee, Associate Director Deloitte India
5. Akshay Makar, Managing Director CLIMATENZA, Innovator and climate entrepreneur, Forbes 30 under 30 Asia 2019.
6. Nasir Khan, Radio Jockey FM TADKA

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Nisar Dharma

A journalist by chance with over six years of experience in reporting, editing, and curating content. Nisar has dual Masters Degrees in Mass Communication and Journalism, and English Literature. He has covered education, health, politics, and human rights. He likes working for a daily, though occasionally tries his pen in long-form to connect personal narratives with history. Nisar loves reading, and re-reading Orwell.

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