Building Knowledge Repositories Through R&D : Prof Krithi Ramamritham, Educomp, India

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Prof Krithi Ramamritham
Dean R&D, Industrial Research & Consultancy Centre (IRCC), IIT Mumbai

“IITs build the knowledge skills of students and we hope to empower a larger pool of people with these skills to take on new challenges of technology”

What role has ICT been playing at IIT Mumbai?

At our institution, ICT is used in two application areas of administrative functioning and as a research tool in R&D activities. Infact, majority of our administrative work has become paperless, which ensures its smooth functioning. We use IT in our internal management of research, finances, academics, management of grades, students registration, etc. The applications used are home-grown, comprising off-the-shelf open software, and we add some local customisation to it. 

Please elaborate on the various research projects currently on in the field of ICT at IIT Mumbai.

When you look at emerging nations like India, you see a research gap between needs and the available technology. We have tried to bridge this gap in collaboration with the industry and academia. IIT Mumbai was one of the first labs of Media Lab Asia. We started functioning as part of Media Lab Asia five years ago and continue to develop ICT based solutions for developing countries. We have had several success stories and the most exciting of them is AQUA (Almost All Questions Answered), which has been active for the past 3-4 years with the support of World Bank. Through AQUA, we answer queries of farmers in rural areas on crops, weather pattern, etc.

For those areas in India which do not have Internet connectivity, we have mobile-enabled and voicemail services on forecasts that gives real-time forecasts, including crop specific disease alerts.

We have also done extensive work in the area of ICT for education, such as teaching the children of nomadic tribes through laptops using content created locally in villages; creating content in Marathi for schools in Maharashtra thus enabling them to use  IT for education delivery. We were also behind the creation of a portal called Shiksha, which is a repository of educative content.

What are your plans for R&D efforts at the institute in the coming years?

We have a Developmental Informatics Lab where we work on technologies for development, carrying out customisations. We are developing a portal ‘Eklavya’ for mentoring engineering students and teachers to reap the benefit of IIT faculty expertise. We are waiting for government funding to take it to the next level. We are also working on an IT curriculum for primary education and have come out with a book for classes 1-5. We are in the process of implementing the integrated applications of IIT technologies at block level, called the Rahata Block Development Programme. The idea is to deploy technologies to empower people and make them self-sustaining in resources and finances and help them build entrepreneurship.

The centre has proposed establishment of new IITs under the mentoring of existing ones. Which new IIT centers are being supported by IIT Mumbai?

We are currently mentoring two new IITs at Gandhinagar, Gujarat and Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Our faculty visits these institutes and conducts lectures. In due course of time we hope to put in place a dedicated staff for teaching and administration at these places. Expanding IIT faculty is difficult so we have to make the best use of resources at hand. Hence, with the help of our distance education programme, which has the facility to transmit live lectures along with a question and answer session, we broadcast our courses live on EDUSAT.

IITs build the knowledge skills of students and we hope to empower a larger pool of people with these skills to take on new challenges of technology.

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