Former IIT Mandi Director writes While Software and MBA are common routes after BTech a super choice is innovative engineering

Former IIT Mandi Director Writes: While Software and MBA are Common Routes After BTech, a Super Choice is Innovative Engineering

From the phone you hold in your hand to the historic Chandrayaan 3 that blasted off from Sriharikota last month — much of our life is a feat of engineering.

Engineering brings great value to society and makes our lives easier. We cannot imagine life without electricity, the Internet, and smartphones. Soon, electric vehicles will supplant petrol and diesel vehicles, becoming a part of our lives. All of these examples use technology in innovative and creative ways.

As a young student, you can also become a part of the next technological revolution that transforms society by becoming innovative engineers.

Innovative engineers identify problems in everyday life and use technology to deliver solutions. Their power lies in thinking out-of-the-box. The majority of students who graduate with a Bachelor of Technology or Bachelor of Engineering (BE or BTech) degree in India are not trained to be innovative engineers. Many of them take up routine jobs or leave engineering altogether.

The lucky few get jobs in companies that build products. They end up learning innovation and real-world skills through several years on the job.

In a nutshell, engineering consists of four steps.

First, identify a need of society. Second, design a solution using technology. Third, implement the solution. Finally, deliver it to customers and ensure their satisfaction.

Let us take some examples.

Third year engineering students at the Government College of Engineering, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu decided to tackle the unpleasantness of wearing a bike in summer.

They designed a helmet with a Peltier module that uses electricity to cool the inside of the helmet. As the first customers, they used the helmet while riding their bikes. All of these students are innovative engineers in their own right.

Four final year students at IIT Mandi identified that a solar panel installation in a house required tedious and costly manual inspection of the roof.

They went on to design a novel automated process using image processing of satellite images. When they graduated, they started their own company called The Solar Labs. Four years later, their startup was bought by a leading solar panel manufacturer for a large sum.

Now, the important question: How do you become an innovative engineer?

The good news is that you can also become an innovative engineer during your BTech. In BTech, you will study many science and technology subjects that are an important part of good engineering.

Equally important is to gain technical common sense through practical experience. In countries that lead in producing technology products, such as the US and Germany, young boys and girls tinker with gadgets from a young age.

However, most Indians grow up without this experience. You can make up for this during your BTech.

Your college may have technical clubs where you work with technology in a practical manner. These include programming clubs, automotive clubs, among others.

When you participate in these clubs, be sure that your gadget is useful to some customers. They should use it and give you feedback.

Programmes such as LEAP from IIT Madras provide students the opportunity to conceive, design and implement useful products during BTech. A team of LEAP students from the Government Engineering College from Idukki in Kerala decided to make a robotic feeder for persons with disability. They designed a sleek robotic arm that scoops up a spoonful of food from a bowl and raises it to the lips of the user. It has proximity sensors to control its movement.

To become a good innovative engineer, start practising today. The core mantra: Identify, Design, Implement, Deliver.

You might ask why some subjects like Chemistry exist in your BTech curriculum. You might say they are irrelevant to your aspirations. Technology changes rapidly. Until 2000, for example, only a few academic geeks were interested in Machine Learning (ML). No one could get a job in that field.

However, today ML is the hot field. In five or 10 or 20 years, it might not be. Chemistry may well be the most lucrative field!

ML utilises advanced statistical models on large amounts of data to gain intelligence about problems ranging from global warming to sports. Good ML is 10 per cent statistics, modeling and coding – which many people learn. The missing 90 per cent is domain expertise. Most ML “experts” know the 10% but are ignorant of the 90 per cent.

So, by learning core domains during your BTech, you can become sought after as an ML expert who knows the full 100 per cent.

The next big question: Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots make engineering redundant?

AI/ML learns by experience. It looks for patterns in a large amount of training data collected from the real-world. Given a new situation, it matches this with some learnt pattern. Thus, AI/ML is well suited to problems for which a large amounts of data is already available.

So, when it comes to cutting-edge research, there are many areas that are not amenable to AI/ML. One example is Chandrayaan 3 where there is no training data. The success of the project is critically dependent on innovative human engineers.

Courtesy : The Indian Express

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