How IIT Bombay is popularizing robotics in India through its flagship initiative, e-Yantra

By Prabhakar Deshpande

We all get excited seeing robots in movies etc. Often the presumption is that robots are science fiction stuff. Very rarely do we realize that robotics is an application of technology and should be taught and experimented with, at least in engineering colleges. However engineering college students are not exposed to robotics adequately.

A project, e-Yantra, at IIT Bombay is set to change that, by enabling ecosystem at colleges for encouraging hands-on student projects in Embedded systems and Robotics. The project e-Yantra is   funded by the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT),  Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Government of India.

Ecosystem creation through e-Yantra happens through the various initiatives of the project such as:

1. e-Yantra Robotics Competition (eYRC)
2. e-Yantra Lab Setup Initiative (eLSI)
3. e-Yantra Symposium (eYS)
4. e-Yantra Ideas Competition (eYIC)
5. e-Yantra Resource Development Center (eYRDC)

The idea for e-Yantra started when the faculty at IIT Bombay teaching Embedded Systems through distance education found it difficult to get concepts across because students did not have a Robotics lab. And Robots were too expensive. Hence an educational robot was designed in house and a Project Based Learning (PBL) methodology was developed to help students implement an application on the robot in a step-by-step manner, guiding them through the various steps in the project implementation life cycle.

The e-Yantra Robotics Competition, open to all science and engineering college students, requires team of  four students to solve a real world problem using Robots. Teams selected for participation are given a Robotic kit with all accessories. They are also given video tutorials that explain the basic concepts in Embedded systems and Microcontroller programming. Finally they are given a Rule Book that abstracts a real world problem into a game, which they have to solve and implement on the Robot.

The following statistics gives an idea of the reach of this annually held competition. In 2014, 3107 teams, each having 4 students (12,423 students) registered. Of this, 361 teams comprising of 1444 students were selected for participation to solve 6 “themes” which were abstractions of problems in the “Urban Services” domain. And 33 teams with 132 students were selected for participating in the Finals of the competition held at IIT Bombay. 8 teams (32 students), placed first in the competition spent 6 weeks as interns at the e-Yantra lab.

e-Yantra Lab Setup Initiative (eLSI) provides guidance in setting up Robotics labs at colleges and trains a team of 4 teachers from each college. The eLSI does this through a three pronged approach.

The first component of the e-Yantra Lab Setup initiative trains teachers through a two-day workshop on basic concepts in Embedded systems and Micro-controller programming, conducted at a coordinating college termed Nodal Center (NC), in different regions of the country. At the end of the workshop teacher team from each participating college is given a robotic kit to participate in an extended training program called Task Based Training (TBT).

The second component is Task Based Training (TBT) where teachers implement various tasks using the robot over a period of three months. Each team implements different exercises on the robot to help them become experts in handling the robot and be mentors for their students. Discussion forums and helpdesk services are provided to guide the teachers.

The third component is help and assistance to each participating college in setting up a robotics lab, so that by the time teachers are trained, the colleges are ready with the lab for the teachers to get students involved through projects.

While the e-Yantra Robotics Competition trains students, the e-Yantra Lab Setup Initiative gets colleges and teachers ready to enable practical Robotics education.

The e-Yantra Symposium, held annually at IIT Bombay, brings together colleges who have set up e-Yantra labs for discussions and seminars on how to turn these labs into innovation hubs. The Symposium also provides a platform for showcasing projects executed in e-Yantra labs at these colleges. The e-Yantra Symposium enables discussion with all stakeholders on future plans of e-Yantra with e-Yantra ‘family’ of colleges.

The e-Yantra Ideas Competition solicits ideas from teams from eLSI family of colleges to encourage innovative projects and sustained use of Robotics labs set up through eLSI. Selected projects are demonstrated at the Project Exhibition during the e-Yantra Symposium.

The e-Yantra Resource Development Center (eYRDC) is another initiative that helps sustain the activities in the e-Yantra labs at the colleges. Lesson plans for teachers to incorporate lab experiments for topics from their curriculum, using the robots and accessories from their e-Yantra labs, are designed. In addition to the lesson plans, teachers can access other resources such as video tutorials, manuals, and articles through a portal created for them.

Professsor Kavi Arya, IIT Bombay is the Principal Investigator for the e-Yantra project. He says, “The e-Yantra, project born out of IIT-Bombay Computer Science teaching practice, uses a homegrown robot to train students and teachers in ‘Project Based Learning.’ It enthuses students through a National e-Yantra Robotics Competition (eYRC) which has been growing exponentially over the past 3 years. The current edition of the competition, eYRC-2015, will be launched on August 1, 2015. It also grows an ecosystem by setting up infrastructure and training teachers in colleges through the e-Yantra Lab Setup Initiative (eLSI). Having been enthusiastically received by states around the country with its 102 labs established in 2014, it targets a total of 500 labs as centers of innovation to encourage interdisciplinary skills and hands on training in the next 2 years.”

Dr. Saraswathi Krithivasan, IIT Bombay is a senior project manager for the e-Yantra project. She says “All e-Yantra initiatives are focused on creating a sustaining impact to enhance the learning experiences of students in colleges across the country through hands on experiments, using the robotic kits distributed to them through the various initiatives of the project. Creating sustainable ecosystems at the colleges such that students are made to think, ‘play’ with the robots, and execute projects is the main achievement of the project. In order to do this in a scalable manner, e-Yantra simultaneously enables a college to create the required lab infrastructure and provides training to a team of four teachers from the college using a Project Based Learning methodology.”
– Prabhakar Deshpande is an IT consultant based in Mumbai

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