Robotics Scale Widens in India

Indian robotics companies are optimistic despite the global economic meltdown.

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Recently, Apollo Hospital group has installed the world’s most advanced CyberKnife robotic radio surgery system at the cancer specialty centre in Chennai, India. Though there are about 160 such CyberKnife systems in use around the globe, the one at Chennai is the most advanced, according to John Rodenbeck Adler, professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at the Stanford University Medical Center.

Though the entire implementation cost was more than $20 million, Apollo decided to go ahead with the project, representing the new-found enthusiasm for robotics in India.

From the Chandrayaan I project for sending robots to moon, to biomedical engineering and the auto industry, India has been using robotics on a wide scale. In an increasingly technology-driven country, robotics have fast assumed significance not only for industrial applications, but also in various day-to-day human activities.

One palpable theme at a recent Robotics and Automation Conference organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was that there is a lot of scope for the use of robotics to perform tasks that pose risks to human beings.
Deep Kapuria. chairman and managing director, Hi-Tech Gears Ltd, said in his welcome address, “Industrial automation in India opens up huge potential for robotics. Though robotics in India is in a nascent stage, this industry has huge potential to cater to the needs of versatile tasks required for various industries. Even the use of thinking and decision-making robotics is not far away.”

Gandhi on robots

Mel Siegel, a professor at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, said that robotics can replace human beings in several hazardous and monotonous jobs that undermine human dignity. Siegel identified manufacturing, agriculture and service industries as the three major industries that can deploy robotics. He recollected the words of Mahatma Gandhi, that robots are welcome as long as they help human beings to be more productive and creative, but they should not make human beings their slaves.

Innovation coupled with consolidated research and development in robotic technology has catapulted India’s scientific position to a level equal with other advanced countries in recent years, said Doordarshan Deputy Director General F. Sheheryar.

At the recently held Robocon-2009, a three-day national robotic contest, Sheheryar pointed out that increasing participation of colleges has paved the way for competition and emergence of superior robotic technology. And the technologies, developed in India, are not lagging behind, when compared to the innovations in developed countries, or, for that matter, globally, he said.

The participation of more than 55 premier engineering institutes in the contest speaks volumes about the awareness and importance of robotics as a subject among engineering undergraduates.

According to the Maharashtra Academy of Engineers and Education Research (MAEER)-Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) founder and executive president Dr. Vishwanath Karad, Indian biomedical engineering and the auto industry are using robotics on a wide scale. However, with innovation and advanced research, the use of robotics has spread to other sectors as well, he said.

Thinking robots

It has been learned that the Center for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics, Ministry of Defense, is working on robotic systems with cognitive skills. There is a need to equip Robots with such skills so that they learn from their environments and decide appropriate tasks. In the future, robots will perform as a group, or swarm, informed sources said.

“There is so much of scientific information available on robotics and the need of the hour is to apply this knowledge to specific applications and tasks. We have to go for robotics in assembly production environments, as they reduce production life cycle costs very effectively,” said B. R. Satyan, Director, Central Manufacturing Technology Institute (CMTI). He added that CMTI has a role to play in the interface zone.

Analysts claim that the Indian manufacturing industry has been growing at an average rate of 10 percent to 12 percent per year, and the country is becoming a major hub for the production of robots. The global market for robots is projected to rise by an average of 4.2 percent, while in India, the industry is expected to grow at a rate 2.5 times that of the global average.

About the author

Uday Lal Pai, udaylalpai@gmail.com, is a freelance journalist based in India.

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