Hardware First, for a Smart India!

[Cross Post of Mr Vishwanathan Sahasranamam's Blog  ]

The Smart India Hackathon, an initiative of national and historical significance launched by the MHRD under the aegis of the AICTE, and led by Abhay Jere, India's first ever Chief Innovation Officer of MHRD, has this year seen strong participation from the industry, and the coverage is gaining massive scope and rapid speed with every passing day. Surely this has to be seen as a master stroke by the visionary leaders at MHRD and AICTE to breakaway from the very fragmented approach to Industry-Academia engagement. Now, combine this with ARIIA (Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements), and you can easily see why INNOVATION will soon become a top priority for Higher Technical Institutions in the country. Last year, FORGE was recognised as one of the 10 nodal centres for the Smart Indian Hardware Hackathon - Grand Finale, and you can get a sense of the action and outcomes from this youtube playlist.

For an Incubator's CEO, that's very good news! Imagine the quality of skilled engineers graduating every year from here on in, who have attempted innovation during their technical education, and have tried to put out a working solution for real-world problems using technology as a tool. That's like the government announcing the mandatory helmet rule, when you are a helmet manufacturer!

Making a separate stream for Hardware Hackathon is another winning stroke, given the minimal impact software innovations/products can make in terms of solving the tough challenges that our nation is burdened with. Outside of the very limited scope for delivering digital consumer/enterprise services over a smartphone, we need connected devices, intelligent machines, assistive robots, autonomous vehicles, and automated appliances/systems as the delivery mechanism for cost effective solutions. Only this 'Hardware First' approach can help us deliver innovative solutions to the low-income consumers, remote rural communities, micro-small factories, physically challenged citizens, and financially weaker social sector. Hardware, of course is not enough, and its primary purpose is to serve as the platform from which additional benefits are offered, harnessing the power of software, computing, content, and data to create higher impact at the lowest marginal costs. In FORGE, where we host the HWjunction - a fully integrated hardware product innovation lab, we are diligently building up our capacity and capabilities covering infra, resources, tech operations, experts, supply chain integration etc. to ensure that innovators/startups coming up with hardware product ideas are able to build the Right PRODUCT and also build the Product RIGHT!

A quick glance at the 'hardware' problem statements aggregated from the industry to be thrown open to engineering/science students across the country, shows you how much promise and potential this initiative holds. In terms of the scope of technology domains, one would expect a wide range including IoT, Sensors & Networks, Robotics, UAVs/Drones, AI, EV, XR, Electronics, Fabrication, 3D Printing, Industrial Design, Mechanical Design etc. to be put to use to build solutions for these problems. This gives students bountiful opportunities to learn in a multi-disciplinary context by applying the concepts from diverse disciplines, while co-creating with the user/customer/operator, and under the guidance of experts. Moreover it brings a massive boost to Make In India by creating a very high demand for expanding our domestic manufacturing capacity, leading to multiplier effects to skills, jobs, and incomes.

In FORGE, we have forged forward with a missionary commitment to catalysing hardware enabled product innovations, and to scale up our pre-incubation efforts we have launched the FORGE.FELLOWS program to offer engineering students a curriculum integrated opportunity to enhance their skills and competencies, guided by our mantra 'Innovation for Skills and Employability, leads to Innovation for Entrepreneurship'. The first stage of this Innovation/Startup fellowship program is a 20-week, full-semester course called ProtoSemduring which students are nurtured, guided and transformed into 'Innovation Engineers'. Up to 60 students in 20 teams of 3 students each coming from different engineering/technical/science streams work towards designing, developing and testing an innovative tech enabled solution to solve a real-world problem (we call it the Minimum Usable Prototype to test the technical feasibility and the commercial viability of the product innovation) sponsored by the industry, government, or social sector etc.

I state with pride and solemn sense of purpose that we in FORGE will exploit to its fullest potential the massive platform created and offered through the Smart India Hackathon initiative. Our commitment is that in every cohort of ProtoSem hosted in FORGE.FACTORY, Coimbatore and in other partner locations, we will ensure that student innovators develop tech enabled solutions to solve these problem statements, and thereby help MHRD and AICTE translate their vision to reality. To start with we will engage with the industry and experts to develop the problem statements into exhaustively documented Challenge Briefs uploaded on our SandBox portal, and then to drive forward next steps of ideation, bootcamps, and managed innovation.

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