Sometime in 2016, over a cup of tea, Airbus India engineers Pradipta Kishore Sahoo and Soham Narayan Patel discussed how long-haul travel by air in economy class was arduous. From their personal experience of travelling from Bengaluru to Europe, where flying time is in the region of about nine hours, they concluded that after three hours in a flight one starts feeling all kinds of bodily pains. Simply put, economy class isn’t fit for sleeping.
Slowly, their teatime conversation shifted to developing an ergonomic economy class seat that would help reduce passenger discomfort. They designed it and sent their idea to Airbus BizLab India, the domestic business accelerator unit of the Euro 64 billion aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
Launched in January 2016, the Bengaluru-based Airbus BizLab India offers startups a six-month accelerator programme through which they get access to free office space, dedicated coaches, and get connected to external mentors and experts from within Airbus to help them with industry know-how. Globally, Airbus BizLab has accelerated 72 startups and 54 internal projects.
Sahoo and Patel’s sketches of an ergonomic economy-class seat was welcomed by Airbus BizLab India and they were enlisted into the six-month accelerator programme. However, the certification of an aircraft seat takes at least two years. “So we pivoted our idea from modifying a seat to designing a comfort kit, which a traveler can carry as hand luggage,” recalls Patel.
By the end of August this year, the two Airbus India engineers will launch their first comfort kit called napEazy. It’s a travel pillow that flyers can use to sleep in different postures during long-haul air travel. Weighing about 700 grams, napEazy, which boasts of memory foam, will be launched globally on crowdfunding platforms KickStarter and IndieGoGo for pre-orders and then across other e-commerce platforms.
“International air travel is growing. So is the market for products that ease the pain of long-haul flights,” says Patel, CEO and co-founder of UUO Innovation Pvt Ltd. “napEazy is ergonomic and offers a unique resting and sleeping experience,” Patel says, adding that the addressable market for the product is worth $51 million. “The best part is, its usage doesn’t end at air-travel and it can be used while traveling in car, coach or train.” The product is awaiting patent approval in India and overseas.
Interestingly, Airbus India assisted Sahoo and Patel to spin off into an independent company in which both engineers are equal shareholders; Airbus India isn’t an equity partner. “The opportunity and guidance provided by Airbus to develop this product is invaluable,” adds Patel.
According to Airbus India, this is the first time in the Indian aerospace sector that an internal team has been encouraged by the parent company to spin off as an autonomous organisation. “Airbus always seeks to foster innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Suraj Chettri, head of human resources, Airbus India and South Asia. Airbus India, he adds, “has some of the most brilliant engineers on the planet and we are proud that we could support two of our employees to become full time entrepreneurs with a thoughtful product.”
Even before their first product hits the market, the engineering duo are thinking big. “Post the launch of napEasy we will start development on a few more products. Our vision is to be a leader in the travel comfort segment,” says Patel.