The Optimist Citizen
Insta Masks

Chennai couple installs vending machines that give out affordable masks for all

The ‘Insta Mask’ is a vending machine cranks out neatly packed masks at an affordable price. The machine is designed to be put up in public places to improve the accessibility of face masks.

The unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases during the second wave has hit India badly. Experts have advised people to wear double masks and maintain social distancing. Recently, a Chennai couple has come forward with an innovative solution that provides masks instantly.¬†Krishna Priyadarshini and Vijayaragavan, innovators of Insta Mask, installed the machine at the Koyambedu bus terminus. Since December, the machine has pressed out nearly 40,000 masks which is a massive feat for the first generation entrepreneurs. “We always wanted to do something for society. With these large volume compact machines, we intend to revolutionise the culture of face masks and make the commoners wear them.” says Krishna. During the lockdown, they worked remotely on developing the prototype for the machine. After running a successful pilot project at a hospital in August 2020, they set it up at the bus terminus. Since then, the couple has been on the ground. Explaining their model to the citizens and receiving their feedback.

The couple aims to take Insta Mask to every corner of India and encourage more people to mask up. “Amid rising cases and growing uncertainty for the third wave, it is important to take precautions prior,” Krishna said. She explained, “We always wanted to do something for society. With these large volume compact machines, we are aiming to revolutionise the culture of face masks and make the commoners wear them.” The user-friendly Insta Mask can store around 500 masks. One drops a Rs 5 coin and gets a neatly packed mask with ease.

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Krishna shared how the couple was working on vending machine technology for two years before the pandemic hit. Under their startup, Instagood Technologies, the couple created a prototype for vending coconut water from fresh coconuts. It received support from the government under the TN EDII IVP project. However, the pandemic brought their project to a standstill. It was then they brainstormed to make good use of the existing prototype. After some tweaking and developments, the couple came up with the vending machine for face masks. Krishna left her job in an IT company last August to work full-time on the project. Her husband, Vijayaragavan, works as a research fellow at IIT Madras. The young couple has patented the design for Insta Mask and sold about six machines to the vendors.

Initially, they faced some difficulties to bring awareness to their product. Some people thought of the machine as a thermal scanner. Later, the couple put up creatives and did the artwork on the machine to make it attractive and understandable for common men. They ran awareness campaigns to educate people on the necessity of wearing masks. Krishna recalls, “I used to go to the terminus and observe people using Insta Mask. Once I went up to a lady and asked about her experience. She said that it’s an effective machine. Totally hassle-free. This made me very happy,” Krishna adds.

“The solution is viable because even after the need for office masks disappears, we can tweak the machine for other products, including sanitary napkins,” Krishna shared. It is a low-maintenance machine that is convenient to use and works on inclusive technology. Anybody can use it easily. She explained that the manufacturing cost for the masks comes at Rs 3.5. So, they can make a profit of Rs 1.5 on each piece. The couple plans to set up these vending machines in different parts of the country. “The CSR funding or the government would help us in speeding up the process,” Krishna added.

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