Amit Paranjape’s Blog

We need more ISROs, and more government led strategic R&D investments

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on September 26, 2016

Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, the former Chairman of ISRO, spoke at the 5th Foundation Day of Pune International Center in Pune this Saturday. It was an excellent lecture, covering many details around ISRO’s great progress and achievements, and future plans. ISRO has made tremendous strides over the past four decades in R&D led innovation and has succeeded in developing key technologies such as the cryogenic propulsion system. One thing that stood out in my mind during the lecture was the extent of private industry participation in R&D and manufacturing, and the manufacturing ecosystem.

pslv-way-to-launchpad-vab

PSLV (image credit: ISRO)

Dr. Radhakrishnan mentioned that 80% of the value addition of ISRO’s workhorse launcher, the ‘Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle’ (PSLV) comes from private industry. (Note – the PSLV is one of the most reliable space launch platforms in the world, with 34 successful launches in a row – at one of the lowest launch cost per payload weight).

These private industry contributions for building the PSLV come from over 120 large, medium and small companies. ISRO acts as the designer and system integrator, and assembles the final rocket at Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota. I had known about the industry participation, but the 80% number was indeed surprising. It was great to note the private sector’s role in India’s space program. ISRO is thus not only delivering great rockets and satellites technology, but also helping build an aerospace R&D and manufacturing ecosystem in India. This is critical. Over the past 50 years, NASA has played a key role in driving the development of a similar ecosystem in U.S. The advances made in space tech around materials, propulsion, guidance, navigation and other areas have many direct and indirect technology benefits in other sectors. ISRO should follow a similar example.

For the ‘Make in India’ initiative to succeed, we need high quality R&D investments in the public and private sector. R&D investments as a percent of GDP is an important metric and has a good correlation with the overall strength of the economy. South Korea (highest R&D/GDP in the world) is a great example. It invests 4.3% of its GDP in R&D. U.S. invests 2.7% (highest in absolute terms, given their GDP). China invests 2.1%. India invests only 0.85%.

Government led R&D is an important component of the total R&D spending in a country. Let’s look at the U.S. example. Here is a recent tweet by Bill Gates.

bill-gates-tweet-govt-rd

The tweet references a link from U.S. Department of Energy (www.energy.gov), where Bill Gates is drawing attention to this:

“Research and development (R&D) is the unsung hero of American innovation. Government-funded R&D spurs new industries, creates jobs and helps us tackle our greatest challenges. Decades ago, that challenge was the space race; today, it is climate change.”

While we regularly talk about the R&D in private sector U.S. companies such as Google, Apple, etc., what is often ignored is the huge investments made by the U.S. government in this area. NASA and U.S. Department of Defense are excellent examples. Another one is the agency that funds important research in U.S. Universities – NSF (National Science Foundation). Many of today’s great technologies and innovations were built on this R&D Foundation laid by the U.S. government R&D investments. Perhaps the best example of such an innovation is the ‘internet’. Just like U.S., France too has made many strategic R&D investments in areas related to aerospace & defense, energy and computing technologies.

Often government led R&D is also driven by a country’s strategic interests. This is very much applicable to India as well. This is one more important driver for government led R&D investments (and a topic of a separate article).

As discussed earlier, private R&D and manufacturing can build on top of the government led R&D initiatives. Yes, there are examples of wasteful expenditures, especially in the public sector. For one successful ISRO, there are counter examples as well. However, this should not deter the policy makers from allocating more R&D investments in strategic areas. It is important to study what has worked at ISRO, and then to institutionalize these processes in other R&D organizations. (This was one process related question, I wanted to ask Dr. Radhakrishnan yesterday, but we were short on time at the lecture).

ISRO represents one of the best examples (not just in India, but in the world) of effective and efficient R&D. The Mars Orbiter Mission ‘Mangalyaan’ is a great example. ISRO was able to deliver this incredible project for a fraction of the cost (around 10%) of what NASA spent on a similar project.

India’s goal should be create more ISRO like organizations in other areas – R&D driven organizations that develop important strategic and commercial products – and also help build a private R&D and manufacturing ecosystems around them. As a product/technology matures, the role of the private sector can grow. Where possible (in terms of tech capabilities), the private sector can also play an upfront role in collaborating on new technology development.

 

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‘वसंत व्याख्यानमाला’ (Vasant Vyakhyanmala- Spring Lecture Series) – A Great 142 Year Tradition

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on April 19, 2016

The 142nd edition of  the month long ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (Spring Lecture Series),starts April 21 at Tilak Smarak Mandir. This lecture series was originally started by Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade in 1875.

I had written an article about this great 142 year tradition few years back, and I am reproducing a version of that below. I have also included the schedule for this year’s lecture series (click on the images at the end of this article). Do try to attend as many lectures as you can! Do note, many of the lectures are in Marathi (a few are in English). Also, do share this schedule via social media. Please use the hash tag: #VasantVyakhyanmala or #वसंतव्याख्यानमाला in your tweets.

This year’s schedule covers a series of topics including politics, governance, history, infrastructure, music, literature, healthcare and many more. Good line up of speakers this year with a variety of different experience. These include politicians, historians, doctors, researchers, artists and others.

Some of the interesting speakers to look forward, over the month: Manohar Parrikar, Prithviraj Chavan, Prakash Javadekar, Dr. Vikas Amte, Prakash Ambedkar, Kunal Kumar (Pune Commissioner), Dr. Uday Kulkarni, Mahesh Kale and many more.

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(blog-post from 2012 about Vasant Vyakhyanmala)

In recent years, TED and TEDx events are getting quite popular. They do a great job of presenting ideas from various experts and thought leaders. The first TED India event was very well received and many TEDx events have been held in various cities in India over the past year.

But did you know that an event similar in concept, but covering a broader range of topics, has been going on in Pune for 136 years! The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ (translation: ‘Spring Lecture Series’) was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics to the people. In those days, newspapers were in their infancy (Kesari had not yet started) and live lectures were the most effective medium for knowledge transfer.

Since the 18th century Peshwa era, Pune has always been a center of knowledge and education. Post the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, Pune city witnessed a tough period lasting for a few decades. The city’s economy was in shambles. Many scholars and learned experts left the city. Things started to improve towards the later half of the 19th century, under visionary leaders such as Justice Ranade (and later on Lokmanya Tilak).

Ranade, Tilak and other leaders of that period clearly saw the value of ‘Information’. The citizens had to be educated and informed. The Vasant Vyankhyanmala initiative was born out of the need to disseminate information and create awareness. Justice Ranade delivered the first lecture in 1875 in English. Over the years though, most lectures have been delivered in Marathi. Through its rich 137 year history, there have been very rare occasions, where the series had to be cancelled. For many years,  the Vasant Vyankhyanmala was held at Hirabag and Belbag. It has been held at its present venue – Tilak Smarak Mandir, for many decades. Today, this series covers wide ranging topics such as Culture, Arts, Economics, Science, Health, Governance, History, etc.

While I have followed this lecture series over the years through media coverage, this was my first year attending it.  The event format and the organization was very good. The only negative in my view was the number of attendees (probably less than 500). In the pre-independence era, 1000s attended these lectures. Today, there are many other media sources for getting information, but an informative and thought-provoking live lecture is still a very powerful source. If you are in Pune, you should definitely try and attend at least some of these lectures, over the next 3 weeks. The lectures are virtually free to attend (Single lecture ticket costs Rs 5 and the season ticket is Rs 100).

There is a need to get the word out regarding Vasant Vyakhyanmala. More media publicity and social media presence will definitely help. I do hope that in the next few years, this great tradition that started in 1875 will continue to thrive, and reach much bigger audience.

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VV2016-1 (1)VV2016-1 (3)

Why the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail (HSR) corridor should be extended to Panvel-Pune

Posted in Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 12, 2015

Pune – Mumbai is one of the busiest urban corridors in the country. It connects two metro regions with populations of over 6 million and 20 million, respectively. Today, the commuters rely on the expressway and the train corridor. The traffic on this corridor is expected to grow significantly in the coming decade. There are already plans in place to expand the expressway from 6 to 8 lanes, and to improve the Bhor Ghat section via an alternate road alignment.

1024px-JR_East_Shinkansen_lineup_at_Niigata_Depot_201210(Shinkansen (Bullet Trains), Japan. Image Credit: Wikipedia)

However, given the future growth in this area (Pune metro region may cross 10 million by 2030!), an alternative high speed rail corridor is also critical. The present rail corridor is restricted to 110 km/h (..and to a much slower limit in the Bhor Ghat section), and more importantly has a severe traffic congestion, thanks to the Mumbai suburban rail traffic. The Deccan Queen took less time to travel between Mumbai-Pune in 1930s (when launched), than today!

 

In addition to catering to the inter-city traffic, the high speed rail corridor can also support the new Navi Mumbai Airport in Kharghar (Panvel). The HSR corridor from Pune-Panvel-Kurla will support rapid access for Pune and Mumbai travellers to reach this airport (reducing the need for the new airport in Pune, which has been in a limbo for a long time). It will be possible to travel from Pune to Panvel (120 km) in under 45 min, and from Kurla, Central Mumbai to Panvel (30 km) in under 15 min.  This will enable a great access to the new international airport from both cities.

 

I understand that the Pune-Panvel HSR corridor will be a bit more expensive and challenging given the mountainous Bhor Ghat section…but these challenges have been addressed in many other places in the world. More tunnelling will be required. One advantage of tunnelling is that, it may reduce some land acquisition issues.

 

The Ahmadabad-Mumbai HSR corridor entails a huge investment of 100,000 crores. For a small fraction (less than 25%?) of this investment, the corridor can also support excellent high speed connectivity between:

 

Pune – Navi Mumbai (Airport)

Mumbai – Navi Mumbai (Airport)

Pune – Ahmadabad

 

I hope the concerned authorities (Maharashtra Government, Central Government, Railways and others) consider this HSR corridor as a top priority and start work in this direction. Also, Pune, Mumbai industry and commerce bodies need to lobby for this aggressively.

A Visit To GE India’s John F. Welch Technology Center – Watching Innovation In Action

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on September 6, 2015

I visited the John F. Welch Technology Center of GE in Bangalore this weekend. They were celebrating the center’s 15th anniversary with a ‘Tech Mela’. Solutions from the various business units at GE were showcased. I have admired GE as a company, and their previous legendary chairman Jack Welch (I would highly recommend reading Jack Welch’s books about his management philosophy). This visit was a good opportunity for me the get a better understanding of their work.

The center (also referred to as GE ITC: GE India Technology Center) has over 5,000 R&D professionals working across healthcare, aircraft engines, transportation, energy and other GE verticals. This is the largest multi-disciplinary R&D center of GE in the world and more than 50% of the employees here have Masters or PhD degrees.  The GE ITC is involved in supporting GE globally, as well as focusing on local/regional solutions for India and the emerging market.

Good discussion with Munesh Makhija (Head of GE, ITC)

Good discussion with Munesh Makhija (Head of GE, ITC)

I got a chance to interact with the head of GE ITC, Munesh Makhija (Managing Director, GE India Technology Centre Chief Technology Officer, GE South Asia). Here is a video of our interesting discussion (https://www.facebook.com/ge.tech.india/videos/vb.480156825343034/1075515979140446/?type=2&theater). It was good to hear about the overall focus and vision for the center, as well as their day to day activities and challenges. Hiring top talent is a challenge for every company and GE ITC is no different. Today, many top engineers want to work in software (and in startups), and this is a big hiring challenge. Along with their presence in Bangalore and Hyderabad, GE ITC is also trying to tap into the advanced manufacturing talent in Pune where they have a brand new state-of-the-art multi-modal manufacturing plant (inaugurated earlier this year). I suggested to Munesh that GE should seriously consider expanding their R&D activities in Pune. Pune is the biggest center for manufacturing in India and hosts many advanced manufacturing capabilities across large and SME companies, including a large talent pool.

Healthcare is one of the biggest groups at the GE ITC and is involved in developing solutions across imaging, maternal health, critical care, surgery and other areas. Solutions for the global market, as well as India/Emerging Market are developed here. We got an overview of these solutions from Shyam Rajan, CTO, GE Healthcare India.

A new latest PET/MRI scanner was on display (IMAGE). This scanner can simultaneously carry out the PET and MRI scans of a patient. A low-cost, award winning CT scanner was also showcased, specifically targeted for the developing markets, where cost and space are big issues.

PET/MRI scanner

PET/MRI scanner

Portable (Tablet) Ultrasound

Portable (Tablet) Ultrasound

Evolution of the Jet Engine

Evolution of the Jet Engine

GE Jet Engines

GE Jet Engines

Some of the other technology areas on display included:

Transportation – Diesel Locomotives, Fleet Management, Marine Engines

Energy – Oil & Gas, Wind Power

Gas Turbine Power Generation, Electricity Distribution, Smart Grids

Aircraft Engines
It is very interesting to note the diverse engineering and technology areas that GE is involved in. They are addressing the core problems in energy, transportation and healthcare. It was good visiting these various solution areas and learning more about the solutions and tech challenges involved. The kinds of problems being addressed include machine design, modeling & simulation, advanced materials, hi-tech manufacturing, data analytics, big-data, software programming, signal/image processing, structural design, electronics control systems, and many more.

I would have liked to see more of the aircraft engine technology on display. Unfortunately (I guess due to IP/competitive restrictions) couldn’t see a lot in this area.
I also got a chance to interact with Sukla Chandra General Manager, GE Global Research, Bangalore Director-Legal, Patents & Analytics Centre of Excellence. Patents are a big focus area for GE, and Sukla’s team is responsible for providing strategic IP support to GE Global Research and several other GE businesses. In addition the patents center, Sukla also co-leads the GE Women’s Network Initiatives for India.  The patents legacy of GE goes all the way back to the founder, Thomas Edison (who is credited with more than 1000 patents).

Top GE Inventors - includes Thomas Edison (1000+ patents

Top GE Inventors – includes Thomas Edison (1000+ patents

As part of the Tech Mela Event, GE released an info-graphic on their work in India (good summary): http://www.slideshare.net/GE_India/ge-reiterates-its-commitment-to-design-make-in-india-52449008

Pune needs more traffic cops!

Posted in Cars, Current Affairs, Pune by Amit Paranjape on May 18, 2015

Pune traffic mess worsens every day. Road infrastructure is woefully inadequate for 3+ million vehicles. But what exacerbates this further is the massive traffic indiscipline. And this traffic indiscipline/anarchy is growing everyday.

One key reason for indiscipline is the lack of enforcement. There is no fear in the minds of signal/one-way violators that they will get caught. Visitors to Pune from other metros in India, routinely describe the traffic lawlessness on the streets here as much worse than their home towns.

Many will be surprised to know – Pune has more vehicles than Mumbai! (Most of these being two-wheelers, which actually worsen the traffic indiscipline issues…).

The traffic in Mumbai is a lot more homogeneous (4/6 wheelers), while that in Pune is a lot more heterogeneous & chaotic (2/3/4/6 wheelers). 80+% of Pune’s vehicles are 2-wheelers, and due to their small size and flexible maneuverability, they are often the biggest offenders when it comes to traffic violations. Narrow roads in Pune also add to the problems.

Like in all other infrastructure and development areas, Pune has woefully inadequate traffic police strength for the 3+ million vehicles (AND growing at 1,000+/day!). Note, Mumbai has 3x (or more) traffic police personnel as that of Pune. (I am researching exact numbers… also trying to find benchmarks with other cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai…Any pointers would be appreciated!).

Instead of constantly blaming Pune traffic (I do too…) we should also lobby the authorities for additional enforcement capacity. The Pune Police have made these demands about additional strength at multiple points of time.  The citizens of Pune need to lobby their elected representatives at all levels regarding this demand.
And yes, structural changes are needed in penalties (increasing fine amounts) and driver licensing tests…but those are medium and long term measures. Long term measures should obviously also focus on better public transit (and reduction in private vehicles…). But, short term for Pune, additional traffic police manpower is absolutely essential. Also, immediate deployment of camera based enforcement is critical. Wherever technology can help in better enforcement, it has to be actively used. Enforcement needs to done not only at signals but at random spots along the roads. Traffic violators should worry about getting ‘caught’ anywhere, and at anytime. Discipline culture will take a long time to build… it starts with fear of law: If you break a traffic law…you will get CAUGHT and FINED!

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