Student teams working on various technical projects ranging from underwater vehicles to electric cars face a variety of problems. From people treating technical projects just as a “resume-building exercise” to the perpetual funding problem in such projects, the sustainability of these teams has become questionable in the long run. Currently, the tech scene at IITB is dotted with a number of student groups working towards answering tough problem statements of competitions across the globe. The success of these groups lies in creating very robust mechanisms to ensure their viability in the future. One of the key dilemmas faced by these teams is to create a group of dedicated people ready to go the extra mile and not just treat it as yet-another-tech-competition. Another aspect which many teams crucially lack is the generation of knowledge and delivering innovation rather than imitating concepts implemented by other well established teams. There are many fronts on which questions have to be answered, not only by these teams but also by the student community and the institute.
The Pratham Story
Lessons can be learnt from the Student Satellite Project. Aptly named ‘Pratham’, the satellite under construction at the Aerospace Department is intended to be the first-ever satellite in India successfully built and tested by students. The team is a very able, and more importantly, motivated one, and despite having faced workforce turnover issues, the project has been recording exemplary performance. Now in its testing phase, Pratham has tasted success elsewhere too.
Team Pratham has published 12 research papers, presented them at various conferences and contributed to research journals. Pratham also enjoys a global presence and has deployed groundstations in 12 universities across the world. Besides, ISRO, MHRD, DST, Accord and other agencies have invested heavily in resources and raw material. With a budget exceeding Rs.1 crore, Pratham has undoubtedly set standards for the other student-driven tech projects of IITB to reach.
Generation of intellectual property has often been actively encouraged and supported by IIT Bombay, and Pratham is a standing tribute to the same. In addition, Pratham also has the appropriate national and international partners that have helped it evolve. What sets Pratham apart is their reliance on learning and knowledge base generation, and not media glamour which is only a secondary add-on for them.
Originality is of primary importance in student-driven projects. This may assist them in procuring support and financial backing as the case of the student satellite project. Student teams can take a leaf out of the success story discussed and attach a higher importance to ‘doing new stuff’.