Published: 27th December 2018
This planetarium on wheels is bringing space down to Earth for South India's rural kids
A planetarium on wheels — that's not something you hear too often, is it? We talk to the team behind this initiative that's bringing space down to Earth for South India's rural kids
Last week, the government school children of Tumakuru District in Karnataka walked out of their classrooms to see a brightly-coloured van parked in their campus. Within minutes, components like projectors, two inflatable domes, and a solar-powered UPS were unloaded from the van that was painted with images of astronauts, planets and stars. Intrigued? The kids sure were! So, what surprise did the van bring? A quick tour of space and the universe. Funded by Bengaluru-based start-up Varnaaz Technologies, this digital mobile planetarium — aptly named Tare Zameen Par — is designed to introduce school children from a rural background to the cosmos. This initiative is the brainchild of Dinesh Badagandi, who was a small town boy who went abroad to work for reputed companies.
Having served the corporate sector for over 20 years, he wanted to give back to society through the skills and knowledge he had amassed. "I was born and brought up in Bijapur, Karnataka. I know that there is a huge difference between rural and urban students in terms of exposure. Due to the lack of equipment and infrastructure in government schools, students only learn about space and the universe theoretically. They don't get to experience it. So, I dedicated this project to such students," says Dinesh, talking about why he started this initiative. So, now that we know the 'why', let's find out about the 'how'.
Bringing Universe closer: Tare Zameen par planetarium can hold 45-50 children
Dinesh and his 20-member team have spent over a year researching to make the experience unique. He even travelled to China to get the inflatable domes, so that students can feel like they're sitting inside a sphere. "The path to shape this project has not been easy for us. We researched all about planetariums to make ours as good as the real deal. It was during this time that the Government of Karnataka was organising the Elevate programme where they would fund 100 of the best start-ups. I presented there and won a grant of ₹30 lakh, and with that, we built the first mobile planetarium. We used the domes to create a 360-degree theatre setting where we projected 3D digital images complete with surround sound. Combining animation with real-time imagery, students will be able to see, up close, every little detail of the sky above them," explains Dinesh.
Aside from the domes from China, they also procured content from an organisation in the US. They partnered with a company called Evans and Sutherland that specialises in providing video content for digital planetariums. "The video content that this company provides comes in 8K resolution. Since we play the content on our screen that is sphere shaped, the video has to be clear in terms of sound and video. To suit the Indian rural audience, we have converted the video script into different languages like Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Marathi, so that children everywhere can understand it," says Dinesh. Despite being a mobile planetarium, space and universe-related content isn't all that is screened. Other programmes related to oceans, human organs, wildlife and much more are also screened. "Whenever we approach a school, we provide the list of programmes for students to choose from. This way, we help them explore career opportunities and we aren't far from the day when rural India chooses to produce great scientists," he says.
The video content played in this planetarium aligns with State, CBSE and NCERT syllabus All the programmes they offer are approved by the Department of State Education Research and Training
Tare Zameen Par has six mobile planetariums. While five are dedicated to government schools and colleges at the taluk and district level, only one van is dedicated to private institutions. In order to keep track of the vans, they have also developed an app. "The app is accessible to our team members, school staff and some officials in the Education Department. The app shows us where the planetarium is travelling to on any particular day. I even personally receive an alert on my phone if the driver has increased speed. Then I can call him or lock the vehicle remotely if need be," concludes Dinesh, explaining all that their app can do.