India, a land once known only for elephants and snake charmers, has made great strides in the field of robotics. Robots are being employed on the domestic front, in industries, and also in the defense services. Quite naturally, this widespread adoption is bound to create career opportunities never seen in the last decade or so.
What does it take for someone who aspires to make a mark in this field? How is robotics being used in the Indian scenario? What are the specific skills required to excel and what is the future of robotics? Read on to find out.
Is India on the brink of a robotics revolution?
Aakash Sinha, CEO and Founder of Omnipresent Robot Tech, feels that India is on the cusp of a buildup of next-level technology led by robotics. His optimism is a result of witnessing the growth of mobile subscribers that has surpassed the 1 billion mark. Robotics is entering homes, a fact corroborated by the availability of robots that help with household chores such as vacuuming and cleaning.
Nirmal Gadde, Jedi Trooper of Systems Engineering of Team Indus, the only Indian entity vying for the Google Lunar X prize, already thinks that robotics is creating a revolution in certain fields like automotive, electrical and the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), primarily by automating the manufacturing process. He feels, however, that there is a lot to be done in the public domain.
The good news is that there is a lot of research being conducted in other areas that are intricately involved in the day-to-day lives of common people. Many start-ups are involved in fueling the growth of robotics in India proving to be the vehicles for the robotic revolution in its truest sense.
Current state of robotics in India
Abheek Bose, Founder and Managing Director of Robots Alive, estimates the number of industrial robots in India to be in the range of 2,000-2,500. This number is considerably low owing to the fact that the cost of ownership is relatively high.
The silver lining is that there are ongoing efforts to lower the cost resulting in the number shooting up to 15,000 to 20,000 a year. The major adaptors of robotics are large scale manufacturing units, automobile industries and oil refineries. Major players in ecommerce are using robots to lower costs by automating warehousing and logistical needs.
The adoption of robotics in the domestic sector has its share of challenges — affordability and the typically complex structures of Indian homes. However, Sinha feels that this scenario will undergo a sea-change and it would not be surprising to see at least one robot being used in every household in the near future.
Far more promising is the adoption of robots in industry, with drones already being used in oil refineries, agriculture, and aerial inspection of manufacturing plants. Robots are also being used to inspect civil structures, bridges, steel plants, refineries etc.
India’s defense sector has also warmed to the idea of inducting a robotic force into their fold. Currently there are robotic bomb disposal squads, and there is a mandate in place stating that one-third of the armed forces should be comprised of robots in the next decade.
UAVs are being used in gathering intelligence data, surveillance and reconnaissance. The future might see wars in which robots of one country fight those of another with negligible human presence.
Gadde is excited about the usage of robotics in space and nuclear research. He opines that the first wave of robotics in India was dominated by start-ups that were involved in imparting knowledge about the subject and selling components to college students and hobbyists. The ongoing wave is that of application-based robots primarily in the UAV field.
Robots vs. Humans
The advantages of using robots over humans can be categorized under four headings:
- Deterministic Production — Employing robots in the manufacturing process leads to consistency in the number of finished products in a day. A robot can perform the same monotonous tasks for long hours with high precision leading to benefits in terms of scalability and cost efficiency.
- Deterministic Quality — The finished products manufactured by robots are very likely to be of a superior quality when compared to those produced by manual labor. The output also tends to be uniform in nature, a clear plus when compared to manual production that may have workers with different skills and behavioral traits leading to inconsistencies.
- Operational Safety — Robots are used in environments that may be hazardous to the health and safety of humans. Areas that vary in terms of temperature or are geographically inaccessible by humans are perfect examples of where robots play a crucial role.
- Quicker go-to market — In a highly competitive scenario, time to market is absolutely essential for any organization. Robotic production ensures quick turnaround from the time of manufacturing a product to it hitting the store shelves.
Future of robotics in India
According to the International Federation of Robotics, the sale of robots in India peaked to around 2,100 in 2014.
Though they continue to be used in large industrial plants, the coming years look promising for small and medium sized manufacturers to adopt robots in a big way. Medical, healthcare, entertainment, media, agriculture, dairy, and rural industries are other fields that are expected to adopt robotics extensively.
Debashis Das, CEO of Milagrow Business and Knowledge Solutions, a company that holds a large share of the consumer robots market in India, pegs the production of robots targeted at the household sector to be around 10,000 pieces annually. Currently this is a small number given the fact that there is availability of cheap labor for household chores. However, this is set to change in the coming years.
The opening up of various job opportunities in the retail, ecommerce and hospitality sectors is bound to create a dearth of cheap labor. This is where robotics can come to the rescue by performing menial and monotonous tasks hitherto done manually.
River cleaning: Sinha feels that this is one area where India, in spite of significant effort, has not had much success, The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has shown a keen interest in using robots to clean up rivers. Currently pilot projects at the river Ganga and Yamuna are showing promising results.
Eldercare: Given that the medical advancements in India have increased life expectancy, it is estimated that in the next decade 12.4 percent of our population will be elderly. This is one sector that may see a tremendous growth in the usage of robotics.
Construction: Bridges, dams and other such structures are difficult to inspect and maintain. Robots can be very helpful in detecting cracks and suggesting the need for repairs which if left to manual intervention may lead to a chance of error that could prove fatal.
Role of IT in robotics
IT is at the heart of robotics considering it’s a multidisciplinary field. Before getting into the details, the concept of a robotic paradigm needs to be understood. In robotics, it refers to a mental model of how a robot operates describing the relationship between the three primitives of robotics: sense, plan (or think) and act.
There is a fourth aspect to this which is connectivity, and technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) and cloud computing play a significant role. Bose believes IT is what connects the dots in robotics. Robots equipped with cloud connectivity and IoT capabilities can add significant value to end users via remote diagnostics and preventive maintenance.
Further, with the advent of AI-equipped robotic systems, a lot of value-add can be expected in the medical and healthcare sectors.
Skills required to enter the field of robotics
Robotics requires various skill-sets such as design skills in software architecture; understanding of real time systems, cloud systems, and inter-device communications. Knowledge of programming languages and simulation is also important.
For a career in robotics, one most possesses skills that map to at least one of the primitives of robotics – sense, plan/think, act and connect.
Those who are keen on the sense aspect need to have skills of computer vision and its theories in addition to machine learning. Skills associated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its related algorithms are required to analyse the data collected after a robot has completed sensing its environment. The third aspect related to acting, requires skills in kinetics, schematics, mechanical engineering etc.
Finally for connectivity, skills required are the standard IT related ones — knowledge of programming languages, communication protocols, networking and understanding cloud systems.
For someone wishing to become a roboticist, knowledge of computer programming languages is a prerequisite. While there are thousands of programming languages in the world, we will focus on the top 5 that are most popular.
C/C++: These programming languages are what may be considered standard in robotics. C++ Institute and Pearson VUE offer the following certification programs:
- C++ Certified Associate Programmer (CPA) – measures proficiency in coding tasks related to the basics of programming in C++.
- C++ Certified Professional Programmer (CPP) – a professional certificate that tests the ability in accomplishing coding tasks related to the more advanced C++ topics such as templates and the Standard Template Library.
- C Programming Language Certified Associate (CLA) – a professional certificate that measures proficiency in accomplishing coding tasks related to the basics of programming in C, including the most common library functions and the usage of the pre-processor.
- C Certified Professional Programmer (CLP) – a professional certificate that is used to ascertain one’s capability to accomplish coding and design tasks related to advanced topics of C, advanced programming techniques, including the library functions and the usage of the pre-processor.
Python: Considering that the ecosystem for Python is yet to mature, there are not many organized certification courses available. However the popular MOOC site Coursera has an online Specialization program created by the University of Michigan:
- Learn to Program and Analyze Data with Python — Introduce fundamental programming concepts using the Python programming language. It also includes a project, that uses the technologies learned throughout the Specialization to design and create applications for data retrieval, processing, and visualization.
Java: Java finds favour in robotics given the fact that the same code can be reused in various machines. This flexibility is primarily due to the Java Virtual Machine. Oracle offers the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP), Java SE 7 Programmer certification, apt for those who possess a strong foundation in the Java Programming language and also proven skill in creating Java technology programs.
C#/.NET: C#/.NET is one among the popular robotics programming languages because of the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, which uses it as its primary language. Microsoft offers a Programming in C# certification that measures proficiency in managing program flow, creating and using types, debugging applications and implementing security and implementing data access.
MATLAB: MATLAB is very useful in analyzing data, implementing control systems and producing advanced graphs. It also has a very popular Robotics Toolbox. MathWorks offers two levels of certification:
- MathWorks Certified MATLAB Associate and
- MathWorks Certified MATLAB Professional
Now is indeed a good time for those wishing to enter the field of robotics as it is likely to create a boom similar to the one that has been created by IT in the past few decades. Growth opportunities and jobs are likely to grow at a steady pace. Robotics in India is undoubtedly on the path to becoming one of the most sought after careers options in the future.