The multidisciplinary field of robotics is not receiving the attention it should in India, according to Prahlad Vadakkepat, associate professor at the National University of Singapore, who is a leading scientist in the field.
In an interview through e-mail, Dr. Vadakkepat said the existing scenario in the country was not favourable for the growth of the field. “The facilities necessary for the development of robotic systems are very much lacking in most of the educational institutions. Higher education (in the field of robotics) is neglected leading to lack of expertise in specialised areas like embedded systems, vision, Artificial Intelligence, sensor fusion, system integration, advanced control and mechanical design. What Indian education fails to offer is opportunities to acquire more practical knowledge. Moreover, our students have less number of electives in their final years of engineering studies. Efforts should be there to make students aware of the latest developments in the engineering world. I believe having more practical classes and periodical industrial visits would help a lot. In addition, the required components are not easy to procure in India as most of them will have to be imported. There is a need to create a better conducive environment for procuring the components and the sub-systems,” he said.
A staunch advocate of the application of robot systems for improving living standards, Dr. Vadakkepat elaborates on the scope of robotics. “There are many jobs (dirty, dangerous or dull), which humans would rather leave to robots and have a dignified exit. There are many fronts where robotics and automation can play role in our daily lives. There are several consumer robots, for entertainment or to perform certain domestic tasks like floor cleaning. Daily floor cleaning is a boring affair and it is becoming increasingly difficult to get man power. It is in this context that floor cleaning robots like are a boon for households. Likewise, human beings deserve better living conditions on various areas including roadways, waterways, parks, common facilities and public places, where robotics and automation can be utilised. Being an agrarian society, our nation has opportunities in automating agricultural-related activities. Coconut and betel nut plucking are difficult tasks and where man power is lacking. Similar situations exist in various agricultural fields for better yields and crop collection. Moreover, in addition to medical and biological sectors, the personal and service robotics segment will receive increasing attention in the coming decades,” he said.
Dr. Vadakkepat, however, expressed optimism that growth of robotics was slowly, but steadily, gaining momentum in the country through various initiatives mainly from the youth. “I have been travelling across India for the last several years delivering talks and showcasing various robots developed at the National University of Singapore. Most of these trips were due to the initiative of students. Robotics is taking centre stage in most of the technical festivals in India. This is a welcome trend. The 15th FIRA Robot World Cup and Congress (FIRA 2010) held at Bangalore 2010 pitched the grounds well for a new era of robotics in India. It is also noteworthy that the National Robo Congress is being held at the Mar Athanasius College of Engineering in Kothamangalam, Kerala.”
He added that there were attempts at various levels to create a good eco-system to draw attention towards automation and robotics. The CII National Committee on Robotics by the Confederation of Indian Industry is positioned well to facilitate attention towards the field, he said.