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View from India: Reaching for the Moon

TeamIndus, a Bangalore-based private company, is the only Indian entrant vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, the international competition to land a private spacecraft on the moon. The competition aims to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.

“We plan to launch the spacecraft on December 28 2017 and it is scheduled to land on the moon on January 27 2018. We have a well-defined moon task ahead. It is intended to take high-definition images and a video of the moon and send it back to Earth,” said Rahul Narayan, fleet commander, TeamIndus, speaking at the Carnegie India Global Technology Summit.

TeamIndus is working hard on the spacecraft Lander Rover. “The spinoff technology outside space is navigation, lander systems, spacecraft and a system-level thinking for system integrators. Post launch, we plan to position ourselves as a full-fledged aerospace company,” Narayan explained. Industry opportunities beyond the lunar mission include the design and prototyping of spacecraft.

Besides these forthcoming opportunities, TeamIndus has thrown open a science experiment titled Lab2Moon, wherein students are encouraged to design a project that would help build sustainable life on the Moon.

To win the Google Lunar X-Prize, the privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the Moon that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth. If Lander Rover were to win the competition - the $30 million bounty that is the Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP) - it would make aerospace history, becoming the world’s first privately-funded organisation to achieve the feat.

The Global Technology Summit showcased other interesting highlights, particularly with reference to policy making decisions of the government in order to create an ecosystem for economic progress. Less visible parts of the country will be brought into mainstream development with policy initiatives to promote innovative thinking.

A case in point is the government’s efforts to establish Northeast India as startup destination. The Government of India (GoI) is open to establishing a venture capital fund to promote startups in the North-Eastern states. If policy is passed to that effect, the economic condition and employment situation of North-East India will improve. The region has already given rise to NE8x, which is Northeast India’s first exclusive startup accelerator.

“Incubators and entrepreneurial startups will work when the industry, academia and enablers come together. Besides policy initiatives and funding efforts from the GoI, it’s essential that the state governments should bring in measures for ease of doing business, backed by infrastructure, education and skill-building programmes. Wherever possible, a stakeholder approach needs to be adopted at a policy level,” explained Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, Chairman & CEO, IKP Knowledge Park, which works closely with various state governments.

Policy accelerates adoption, for which policy makers and technologists should collaborate at the initial stage of any project.

“When a Policy is announced, it enables technocrats to put on their thinking caps. Subsequently, it creates markets. Typical examples would be LED lighting and solar power,” said Nivruti Rai, vice president in platform engineering group, Intel, adding, “Policy, innovation and society should come together for the betterment of our lives. For the next-gen, we need technology that thinks and interacts with the human body particularly in the case of surgeries where robots and digital picture intervention can help predict and analyze the medical condition.”

Other breakthrough technologies include the application of weather data in military capabilities.

Smart Cities is the term coined to define a city where everything is connected. Smart is pervasive and inclusive. The well-defined purpose aims to bring less privileged sections of society into its fold and help increase their per capita income. Simply put, the objective is to make life better and improve the living standards of the poor.

“The future belongs to the connected smart world, which will be driven by technology. In the next 35 years, 497 million people from rural India will move to urban India, where many of our cities are already congested,” said Kamal Bali, managing director, Volvo.

In view of this mass migration, the carbon footprint of vehicles needs to be reduced. Biofuel needs to be tapped as it is carbon-neutral. While locked-in vehicles and autonomous vehicles are among fuel-saving options, Smart Mobility is a vision of GoI. “It saves lives and reduces accidents. This is an opportunity for start-ups to develop prototypes that gives scope for validation and ensures active safety while driving. Communication between cars should be possible,” reasoned Ravi Puvvala, founder and CEO, Savari Tech.

Connected Homes is another segment of the Smart Factor. It’s imperative because it increases security and lowers costs and requires sensor networks and computing. A fixed broadband communication is required to make it happen. Nevertheless, the hardware and software within the box needs to be secure.

Energy is also a dimension. Changing lifestyles has resulted in an increase of energy consuming devices. “Smartness in the grid is important, it’s necessary to develop smaller power supply solutions in small towns and cascade it upwards into cities,” said Vikram Gandotra, general manager for marketing and strategy, Siemens Ltd. This creates opportunities for investments in renewable power.

Harmonised protocols and digitised solutions should converge to solve challenges related to the creation of smart cities or promoting economically backward belts.

“Digitisation and urbanisation will drive growth. Yet we need technology that will offer sustainable solutions, is economically viable and tangible, socially inclusive and is environment friendly. A government policy is required to hold everything together to make smart cities and all other visions work,” concluded Bali.

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