'Students pursuing robotics have good job prospects'

Nagpur: Blockbuster ‘Robot’ starring superstar Rajinikant and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had enthralled all with its lighting speed and acrobatics. Though it was just a movie, such robots are very much a possibility, perhaps as early as the next decade. Senior faculty from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) Pramod Padole and lecturer Shital Chiddarwar, experts in ‘Robotics’ field, believe that robots with artificial intelligence (AI), as shown in the movie are possible only due to robotics, a fast emerging field. AI is extensively used in the space technology.

VNIT own students are already working on a robot which can be operated through a remote and perform small tasks like bringing milk packets or newspapers. With city taking a big leap in robotics education and research with the proposed ‘Oberoi centre for excellence’ at Nagpur University and Asea Brown Boveri’s (ABB) research centre at VNIT, robots with artificial intelligence can probably be manufactured in the city.

In an interview with TOI, the two experts spoke at length on this fast-emerging but relatively unknown sector. Excerpts …

Q. What is robotics all about?

A. It’s a multidisciplinary field comprising three core branches of engineering – mechanical, electronics and computer science. Primarily, it’s a part of mechanical branch or, you can say, an extension of mechanisms. The actual body of a robot involves, mechanical engineering, making of its centralized circuit requires electronics engineering, while programming its movements needs computer science. Broadly, robotics is divided into — industrial and mobile.

Q. What are possibilities of robots with artificial intelligence?

A. Humanoid robots with artificial intelligence are very much possible. At VNIT we’re trying to such robots which can replicate our movements by recognizing our faces and gestures. Our students have created snake robots and a unique one called ‘Butler Bot’ which is fitted with a camera and an arm. It could be operated from a laptop, Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth, and can bring a pen from other rooms on your instructions. It’s surely of the help of old persons, who find it difficult to move and also useful in hotels. We’re yet to file any patent, as we want to further improve its working and make it all-terrain robot.

Q. What kind of students could pursue this field?

A. Basically, they need an engineering degree in mechanical, electronics or computer science, as these three majorly contributes to it. Those from other background would find it tough to learn the subject. However, only those having good grasp over mathematics can excel in robotics, as they need to do thousands of calculations to reach accuracy.

Q. How robotics applications are used in industrial products?

A. In several ways. Our students have developed an application for spray painting that can ensure uniform thickness. It can also be used in assembly operation in manufacturing units. The robotics applications can be effectively used in hazardous and repetitive work where there is a threat to humans.

Q. What about job prospects?

A. Very promising and students can land job even in city. Manufacturing units recruit students with specialization in robotics. Such students are in huge demand all over. Robots are increasingly being used for performing complicated medical surgeries sciences. But many students from VNIT prefer to complete their post graduation from abroad where they can land decent jobs with multinational automobile makers. They are also in demand in research and automation fields.

Q. Has VNIT been working in this field since a long time?

A. The first robotics group was constituted in 1995 after which small robots are procured for studies. But the actual work began 2012 where we bought new equipment and also procured a new robot from ABB for research lab. About 25-30 BTech students are studying this elective subject while 5-10 MTech students have opted for it. A couple of students have made it as topic for their PhD. We’re working on several research projects related to the field, including that of CAD/CAM. In last three years, we’ve filed two patents and presented several papers. Our students run an ‘innovation lab’ at Mechanical Department which is being funded by the VNIT alumni and is open for all.

Q. What courses are you planning in the new robotics centre?

A. We’re soon inking a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ABB where postgraduate courses like MTech would be offered. We will ask ABB, which has a vast expertise and experience in this field, to allow our students and faculties to work on live projects. We will also like to work on big industrial projects through this research centre. We will approach companies for their projects that will be completed at the centre.

Q. How many colleges in the country offer specialized courses in robotics?

A. Perhaps not a single one. All robotics programmes are offered in combination with other subjects like CAD/CAM. IITs and Indian Institute of Science are pioneers in this field in the country.

Q. Why has India lagged behind?

A. It’s still at nascent stage and requires huge push from the school and college levels to actually get awareness. It’s a technology of future, but funding is a real problem in our country. The countries like the US and Japan are at forefront in using this technology due to their small population and shortage of manpower. But here, there is excess manpower. We are funded by Department of Science and technology (DST), but this area needs lot of funds for research activities.

Q. What is the difference between the robotics centres in NU and VNIT?

A. At VNIT, research on application of robotics will be carried out. This will be only for MTech and PhD students. At the NU centre, students can pursue various diploma courses in robotics. On completion, they can pursed advanced studies at VNIT. The NU centre will act like a stepping stone for students to do higher studies or research in VNIT.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/followceleb.cms?alias=VNIT,Shital Chiddarwar,Robotics,Pramod Padole,Indian Institute of Science

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