Funding Issues of Technical Activities
The Story of Technovation
When Pushkar Limaye had decided to undertake the book keeping bot project, he couldn’t have imagined that he would not be reimbursed for his efforts. After working on the project for close to an year and completing what he set out to achieve, he found the Technovation management inept in handling the project. In the end, not only did he have to pay for most out of his own pocket, but also had to undergo a lot of trauma. Fortunately for Pushkar, he received support from faculty and which enabled him to publish his work in reputed journals.
Pushkar’s case highlights the apathy towards Technovation shown by the STAB team in the past. But, it also reflects the potential which Technovation possesses and the heights to which it can reach. Technovation was initially started with the idea of running student driven projects under the STAB umbrella. The possibility of having IP generation out of Technovation projects is an added incentive for students. But currently, Technovation has not been envisioned as such an initiative. If a student now wishes to take his product into the market, SINE- IIT Bombay supports his/her enterprise.
Technovation currently faces challenges on multiple counts which it has faced since its inception, two years back. This is evident from the very few successful projects. In Technovation projects, initial cost of the components is reasonably large for the teams to expect a fairly speedy reimbursement. The current system of reimbursement involves project reviews and a feedback system to gauge whether a team is on the right track before it gets reimbursed. But, the project reviews in the past were far and wide apart which kept a large amount of money of any team in balance, yet to be reimbursed.
Currently, Technovation is funded by SAC and partly from the Dean R&D’s budget. The bills which are forwarded by the teams pass through a stringent check which ensures transparency in them. The current STAB team is trying to make sure that this procedure is made as smooth for the teams as possible with a lesser waiting time for the cash to arrive.
Apart from this, Technovation projects, being student driven, also face motivation issues with a high attrition rate in the teams. These teams also face technical challenges which require not just mentoring but also faculty support. The current STAB team acknowledges these deficiencies in the present scene and is working towards rectifying it. Addressing these challenges is the only permanent way to ensure that interested students are not deterred from taking up technical projects in the institute.
Views of current Technovation Manager
“Learning from past 2 years’ of experience, the structure of the whole program has been revised to take care of deficiencies. An easily accessible rulebook/document/constitution was framed this year to provide students and faculty a reference point. Students are allowed to float their own projects and selected after an interview so that there is an inherent drive towards completion. A monthly review system has been put in place to create a collaborative peer group of like minded innovators, which would serve dual purpose of troubleshooting hurdles and review based reimbursement. This program has an inherently high activation energy and all it needs now is a great tug to set the ball rolling. In the long run it would surely add another dimension of student driven innovation at IIT Bombay.”
IITB Racing, UMIC@IITB, AUV-IITB
Teams from the institute have been participating in various technical competitions like Robocon, Baja-SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), Formula SAE, AUVSI (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Systems International) Robosub, ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Students Design Competition, IGVC (Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition). More than 100 students put their time and effort into the designing and manufacturing of the machines which are then put to test against other machines from teams around the world. In 6 cases out of 7, teams have won accolades and made the Institute proud.
But, the story is not this small and rosy. From buying the first motor, till getting the vehicle back from the competition, huge amount of cash is spent. Components have to be bought and fabricated; the logistics of travelling have to be thought upon. If we look at the break up of the expenditure involved, cost of transportation comes out to be more than cost of buying and machining of the parts. Teams travel overseas by air, along with the vehicle. Machining takes up another huge chunk of money chiefly because of unavailability of easy access to the labs. Most of the labs close by 6pm, and to use the labs prior to 6 pm, one needs permissions from the faculty and the lab in-charges. To avoid all the hassle, students choose to fabricate machine parts from outside the institute. Time and money are spent on transporting as well as fabricating the parts.
Institute through IRCC (under Dean R&D) provides funds to help the student teams cover cost of building and transporting the machine, but usually it is not enough, and teams look for industry sponsorships, both in kind as well as cash. When Dean R&D, Prof. Rangan Banerjee was asked which projects and competitions qualify to come under the funding umbrella, he answered that all one needs is a group of students enthusiastic about innovating and a faculty backing the project. As long as the students are enthusiastic about the project, and as long as they are learning by improving and being challenged, they’ll be funded by the institute.
To address the infrastructure woes faced by these teams, plans of a Student Innovation Lab are in the pipeline. This lab will house all the machinery involved in fabrication along with trainers to guide the students in using the machines. A committee is being set up to look into the project, and implementation is likely to begin from the next tenure. Until then, the regulations on the usage of the current labs are to be relaxed for these teams.
All these shortcomings do not hinder the innovation going around in product development in these small labs. In the words of AUVSI Captain, Sneh Vaswani, “The budget of our project is usually 1/5th that of the teams coming from other countries. As a result the innovations are an outcome of ‘maximum output in least resources’”.