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Aug 28, 2013

e-Yantra Robotics Competition 2013 at IIT Bombay

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Prof. Kavi Arya and Prof. Krithi Ramamritham at the launch of e-Yantra 2013
Prof. Kavi Arya and Prof. Krithi Ramamritham at the launch of e-Yantra 2013
Mumbai: With the Indian economy in tatters on country’s 66th birth anniversary, growth seems to be in trouble. On one hand, the Rupee has lost its sheen and continues to dive down South at a scary pace; on the other hand, the vegetable prices are effortlessly soaring up North. Alarm bells haven’t stopped ringing for quite a while. While the policy makers may fight debate endlessly and show a fuzziness that is difficult to comprehend, much less appreciate, the need to focus on the relevance of the issue of hunger has never been more urgent than it is today.

World over, Urban Farming has been slowly gathering momentum. Closer to home, our rapidly urbanizing population of over 1.2 billion give us challenges in both food production and distribution. For instance, onions, a staple in Indian diets, have touched Rs. 80 a kilo. How can an average urban family afford vegetables in this situation? Can engineers help solve problems by encouraging Urban Farming?

e-Yantra an MHRD sponsored project under the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT), every year chooses relevant and visible problems that need immediate attention and solution as its theme for its national robotics competition. Young engineering students from across the country use robotics as a tool to find solutions to these problems. Last year it looked at poor road conditions and potholes. This year, keeping the current scenario in mind, e-Yantra 2013 will bring these talented, engineering youths of the country to use robotics to develop indigenous solutions in the field of Urban Agriculture. The objective of the competition is to bring awareness to problems in the Agriculture domain by assigning themes that involve processes in this domain.

Winners of last year's e-Yanra 2012 now interning at the e-Yantra lab at IIT Bombay
Winners of last year's e-Yanra 2012 now interning at the e-Yantra lab at IIT Bombay
Four themes suggested as exemplars of important stages in the agriculture production life cycle are:
  • Seeding
  • Fertilizing
  • Weeding
  • Harvesting
Student teams from around the country will work on prototypes of robots such as the seed-sowing robot, fertilizing robot, weeding robot, and harvesting robot.

The aim of the competition this year is to bring awareness to students about the many problems that a farmer faces and how technology may be used to provide solutions to these problems. In the process of creating the prototypes, students learn concepts of Embedded systems, Micro-controller programming and hone their communication skills.

“It has been shown that covered cultivation (greenhouses) can double or triple the yield of vegetables - even allowing us to grow veggies off-season. (cultivation in controlled environments have shown increased yields of produce) When we want to maximise yield in such environments, automation helps us tend the environment and improve yields. For instance, many of the processes in strawberry cultivation abroad, including harvesting of ripe fruit, are automated. Typically this technology is at the early innovation stage in developing countries and it is expensive. There is perhaps a lot that Indian ingenuity might bring to this important domain in future.” said Prof Kavi Arya.

Accordingly, engineering students from across the country will be encouraged to adapt given robots, to tackle four aspects of “covered agriculture”, including seeding, weeding, fertilising and harvesting. Each group of students will program an existing robotic platform to address each of these aspects during a 12-week duration.

“In a growing economy, cheap skilled labour is a myth. Transporting vegetables over long distances amid rising cost of diesel is another cause behind rising costs of vegetables. The time is ripe for urban farming, high-intensity cultivation and for automation to help bring down the cost of food in our cities. If we can grow vegetables locally using automation, it will help bring (cheaper and fresher produce to your kitchen and your tables) and lower costs to a large extent. We hope that engineering students, once stimulated in this manner, will begin to address the larger problems and be the source of innovative technology that the country needs to produce high quality, low cost produce to feed its rapidly growing population” he added.

Prof. Krithi Ramamritham said, ‘The progress of our nation lies in producing high quality (employable) engineers with the education and adequate exposure to technology and the appropriate skill set at a young age to think innovatively and develop indigenous cost-effective solutions. I am sure that the confidence boost provided by participating in the e-Yantra competition will empower young engineers to step forward to address the challenging problems that we face everyday."

For further information, please contact: Atul Malikram atul@atulmalikram.in


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