What’s happening in engineering labs?
PUNEET ADJUSTING blades of a wmini helicopter; below is his creation, a micro helicopter which can fly inside buildings
PUNEET Singh is fascinated by everything that flies. In school, he always busied himself by making paper aircrafts, rockets using rubber bands, matchsticks. He also formed a small group of aerospace enthusiasts who regularly discussed about new technologies. Gradually, he translated his vague trials into real experiments at Helicopter Lab, IIT-Kanpur. And today, he feels proud about his creation of real-life autonomous micro co-axial rotor helicopter which can fly inside buildings and transmit live videos. It can even be used for defence operations against terrorists.
“Anything that escapes the constricting pull of the earth and shapes its own path in the sky excites me,” shares Puneet Singh of Final year, B.Tech-M.Tech dual Aerospace Engineering at IIT-Kanpur. It took three years to develop the model; he experimented with various blades to suit the best size of the helicopter. To build a small vehicle doesn’t mean you take a big vehicle and shrink it. At miniature scale, the physics is very different. So his major contribution in this model was to understand physics.
Like Puneet, typically all engineering students go through a host of laboratory experiments across disciplines. Every engineering discipline encompasses subject-specific labs. At BIT Mesra’s Electrical Communication Engineering dept., one discovers fibre optics communication microwave lab, VLSI design lab, intelligent instrumentation lab, antenna lab, circuit simulation lab, wireless networking lab & DSP lab where students are given rigorous practical sessions. “Before students indulge in experimental projects, each faculty trains students on how to handle sophisticated equipment. We constantly motivate them to come up with innovative ideas,” says S,K. Ghorai, HOD, ECE, BIT Mesra. And at VIT, Dr Anand Samuel, Pro-VC feels, “Labs teach students to analyse, synthesize, evaluate. Our focus is on the concept of learning by doing.”
Prof. Ranjan Bose,
So what’s the essence of engineering? It’s all about technological fix, an attempt to solve a problem. And laboratories are the space to exploit theoretical technical knowledge. It solves teething issues hovering around respective discipline. “Lab experiments reveal the real potential of technical students,” shares Prof. Joycee Mekie, Electrical Engineering Department, IIT-Gandhinagar.
Recently at VIT, Gautam Merwan, a B.Tech, third year Mechanical Engineering student made a wash bike – a washing machine connected to cycle. What prompted him to invent? “A common problem all residential students face is washing clothes. I thought we should make a green solution for it - A cheap washing machine which will not use electricity instead use cycle gears for operation,” he shares. It’s an innovative solution for both fitness and washing.
A normal washing machine uses 50 gallons of water per cycle and this low cost machine will use just 15-20 gallons of water. He feels, “My project must benefit society in a larger way.” Another student from the same batch created automated all-terrain mini vehicle which can climb on mountains and slopes helping automobile industry in a great way.
GAUTAM PEDALLING cycle to operate washing machine at VIT University
Shashank Naphade, a final year Electrical Engineering student at IIT Gandhinagar created an autonomous self-navigating robot by interfacing proximity sensors and motors with microcontroller. The first mode is the one in which robot would navigate in the floor randomly without hitting any obstacles. Thus the robot can also come back to its starting position. It also has a feature of detecting human beings in the radius of 5 metres around it. In case someone is trapped inside a building or mine, this robot can help in rescue operation.
And at IIT Delhi’s Textile Engineering Department, you will find students making bullet-proof jackets which can be worn by soldiers for nuclear attacks, windproof/heat-proof jackets for extreme weather. Bipin Kumar, a PhD student from the same departmentdeveloped a model which can predict the pressure of crepe bandages used by patients in hospitals. “Alongside making 50 types of bandages, I developed a prototype which can predict the changes in air pressure as per the motion of body,” he reveals.
Real versus virtual labs
Interestingly, the expansion of Internet has brought changes in the methodology of teaching and communication within the academic world. So besides real labs a new trend of virtual labs has come into existence. In order to aid those students having lack of sophisticated lab resources and good teachers, IITs with select institutes promoted the concept of virtual labs – it stresses remote Internet- based experimentation. Things which can be simulated have the possibility for experiment under virtual lab through video animation or actually triggering the equipment. All you need to do is switch on a screen, press the button and the equipment will start working. You are not physically present but the actual experiment is on.
SARIKA SINGH is engrossed in the process of creating bullet-proof fabric at textile Department, IIT-D
“The flexibility quotient is higher in virtual labs. Students have the luxury to make mistakes and access the lab at any odd hour. It is entirely student-centered which permits them to learn at their own pace,” says Prof. Ranjan Bose, Virtual Lab, Project Coordinator, IIT-Delhi. He emphasises a paradigm shift, “The model is developed by IIT but it is really not for IITs. For the first time ever, IIT facilities have crossed boundaries to integrate with the larger segment of students.” Simulation-based Virtual Labs are scalable and can cater to a large number of simultaneous users. Log on to www.vlab.co.in to access virtual labs.
What really contradicts the feature of virtual lab is that not all experiments are amenable to virtualization. If there is a simple pendulum experiment, you cannot do it in virtual lab. You just swing it and do experiment in its own place. Most engineering subject experts have mixed opinions on virtual labs.
Prof. Joycee feels, “Having a virtual lab is good. But it cannot completely replace a real lab, which helps students know real errors, a joyride in itself.” The real-time experiments are much fresher in memories. The retention of concepts will be good if they go for in depth, hands-on laboratory work. Both types of labs have pluses and minuses. So need of the hour is for all engineering students to get a good exposure of both real as well as virtual laboratories.
SHASHANK POSING in front of his autonomous self-navigating robot
Mundane to innovative
Today, the complexity of experimental project has grown immensely which makes laboratory work much rigorous. But the total outcome of laboratory findings in engineering institutes shows that only few follow the demands of the market needs or upgrade existing models for better performance. Dr Samuel feels, “The status of labs in many institutes is not encouraging. Many institutes still lack proper equipments and give minimal individual attention to students. Our focus must be to prepare students for 2020 marketplace.”
Dr Samuel’s intension is echoed by Prof. Ghorai, “Without conventional and advanced laboratories, it is tough to understand the real philosophy of engineering.” Engineering institutes must take tougher route to transform the mindset for mundane experiments and adopt a learning environment which is absolutely innovative driven. “Our constant challenge is to make invisible visible for student. Through labs, we encourage them to think beyond limits,” concludes Mekie.
Institutes engagedin virtual labs