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Engineering design: IIT-Madras five-year dual-degree course to challenge the status quo

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Economic Times |By Krithika Krishnamurthy, ET Bureau | 27 Jul, 2015

BENGALURU: Despite the many engineering colleges that India boasts of, talented engineers who can really build things are a scarce commodity. But a five-year dual-degree course introduced by IIT-Madras is slowly changing and challenging the status quo. Called Engineering Design, the course aims to ingrain basic engineering concepts much beyond the duration of the course. As a result of this decade-long experiment, the graduates are making successful forays into difficult areas like biomedicine, automotives and medical technology. “We wanted to bring engineering close to practice. Traditionally , there is a lot more theory than domain knowledge, that’s not always good,” said R Krishna Kumar, professor , department of engineering design at IIT-Madras. Kumar said over the past few years, he has seen several graduates in a batch opting to set up their own ventures. For instance, there is Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain of Ather Energy , who took a leap to build India’s first smart electric scooter. Alumni Chinmay Deodhar is building minimally invasive surgical tools, while Kartik Mehta is building the country’s first sanitary napkin making machine. For a country that has seen a large number of startups in the software space, IITMadras is filling a crucial gap by training students with skill sets required to build hardware products. But more importantly, the course is allowing engineers to think beyond the obvious, potentially serving as a blueprint for other colleges.

“By the time we started Ather , we just knew where to look for what. We had built vehicles several times over from scratch,” said Tarun Mehta, CEO of Ather , whose firm raised Rs 75 crore from Tiger Global recently . When the department opened shop for applications in 2005, Chinmay Deodhar’s well wishers advised him against opting for it.
“But the curriculum design was too good to refuse,” said the 28-yearold Deodhar . And for a valid reason: besides concepts of mechanical and electronics engineering, the course included a smattering of a foreign language and legal know-how. More importantly , they were also taught to appreciate various forms of art: from clay modeling, to studying prehistoric, Egyptian and Islamic art, among others. The decision probably served Deodhar well, as he now heads Croleon Innovation Labs, which is building tools to perform minimally invasive surgeries. The three-year-old firm’s latest product is expected to reduce the incision size in surgeries to half a millimeter from 5 mm. While several IITs in India have a design course in their curriculum, few colleges have set up a separate department, IITGuwahati being one of them. Since students are required to come up with a project every year for five years, there is a very large component of hands on learning. Balaji Teegala recalled his course on Vehicle Dynamics, which he expected would have a lot of mathematical modeling to deal within the four walls of the classroom.Instead, the professor put a car in front of them, attached with simulators, allowing them to experiment with different controls to understand what effect it had on dynamics.

“Most of the work revolved around thinking about and coming up with new innovative things. As a student, I always thought, what is it that will create a wow-factor?” said Teegala, who is developing an electronic labour monitoring tool for expecting mothers as cofounder of Brun Healthcare. Buoyed by the success, Krishna Kumar has decided to flip around the entire model of the course: Practicals first, to spark curiosity , followed by theory . “Instead of teaching them machine tools, we allow them to play and experiment with it. So, the next time they read, they will not lose interest,” said Krishna Kumar . The course has also been able to arrest the brain drain to a certain extent as well. “The best part is, almost everyone of us have stayed back in India. Very few have gone out of the country to study or work,” said Deodha. – Courtesy


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