Srishti ’19 Spotlight: Models and Robotics Section
News, 4th March 2019
As Srishti draws near, different sections of the student technical council work earnestly to showcase their notable achievements. We talked to the Models and Robotics Section about their ambitions and expectations from Srishti. Read on to find out about how they plan for Srishti, their motivation behind a project, participation in various competitions, and their very own quadruped robot, ‘Chitrak’.
GG: What importance does Srishti hold for MaRS?
MaRS: Srishti is the only event in the year where we get to showcase our projects and receive appraisal or criticism for our work. Cultural groups have events scattered throughout the calendar and their work is showcased in a multitude of shows. MaRS, on the other hand, only participates in Srishti and thus the event holds immense importance for us. Moreover, with Srishti, we teach the freshers valuable skills, technical and otherwise. People learn to function as part of a team. They also learn technical skill related to robotics and get accustomed to the process of executing a project. By the end of Srishti, freshers generally learn how to start a project on their own. So that’s why Srishti is quite an important event for us.
GG: Is Srishti majorly for the first year students?
MaRS: Yes, freshers are our major workforce for Srishti. They get to learn a lot. The second and third-year students work for the whole year. But for Srishti, we encourage first-year students to participate, as compared to others. They are quite enthusiastic about their projects. When we rolled out the projects, there were too many applications for the same project. We had to float the forms twice and took around 150 interviews each time.
GG: How many projects are you planning to exhibit in Srishti 2019?
MaRS: Currently, we are working on nearly 15-16 projects, but the number of projects exhibited depends on the completion of the projects before Srishti.
GG: What happens to the projects that are not completed in time?
MaRS: We try our best to complete the projects till the night before Srishti. If it works, it’s fine. Otherwise, the team can choose to showcase the developments done until then.
GG: How does a project come into being? How do you conjure an idea, and proceed towards its implementation?
MaRS: It depends on what kind of a project we have, that is, if it is a fun project. 1-2 projects are like pinball and other games. These are games/robots that can attract people and we can learn, and enjoy. So these ideas come by observing something which is fun and interactive, which is what encourages us to take up that project. Sometimes it depends upon the skills which we want to develop within our group members, like the projects of the core team of MaRS which are currently in progress. For example, Chitrak, which is a quadruped robot. It is about the control system, and working of four-legged robots, which are currently under development in universities like MIT and Boston Dynamics. You might have heard of them, they have a very big team. We want to implement that kind of work in our section as well. In India, very few communities working in that field, and we want to start this trend of robotics research in India as well. The second project was a robotic waiter, i.e., RoTF. We wanted to develop a product which can be used in a restaurant. Moreover, we wanted to combine different type of skills, like AI, ML, natural image processing and autonomous navigation as well as electronics. So our core team thinks up many ideas, how they can be implemented, what skills our team currently possesses and what we want to learn, what is the vision associated with the project, and only then is a project finalized.
GG: How long do you prepare for Srishti?
MaRS: Generally three to four months. But most of the work is done in January and February. We start our projects in October or November. Some projects are difficult and need more time, but most of them can be completed in two months.
GG: Do people have to stay back in December?
MaRS: No, mostly not. Most of the team members are generally freshers or sophomores and aren’t willing to stay in December for that. So we generally take up the projects which can be completed in two months.
GG: What are the working hours/ how much do you work daily?
MaRS: We generally work seven to eight hours a day but it varies and depends on the specific project one is working on.
GG: What are the different technologies that you use?
MaRS: Robotics is fairly interdisciplinary. The different areas involved in our projects are electronics, Electrical and Mechanical engineering, Computer science, Image Processing, Machine Learning, Computer Vision etc. The technology used depends on the project, for example in Chitrak we use control system, microprocessor technology, embedded projects, and mechanical enhancements. In ROTF, natural image processing, ML, control systems, and electronic and mechanical technologies are involved.
GG: What kind of skills can a student expect to learn through MaRS? Are these limited to specific skills and do they require prerequisite knowledge?
MaRS: It depends on person to person what he or she wants to learn. If he is interested in many fields, he can do anything. It is an open group. Students from any branch can take a project in Srishti. If they want, they can do either mechanical or electronics related work or even both.
GG: How do you help the students who lack the required skills but are willing to work on a project?
MaRS: We conduct 4 to 5 workshops where we teach them some basic skills and after assessing their aptitude, technical knowledge, and their willingness to learn, following which mentors are assigned to them. Each project has four mentors: two from the second year, one from the third year and one from the fourth year. Mentors are always inclined to offer counsel to anyone seeking guidance.
GG: What is the end goal for a project? What makes you settle that a project is finished?
MaRS: Goals are very project-specific. For a recreational project like a pinball machine, or musical fountain, getting them to work is the goal. If it’s a research project, we crave the best output and keep pushing the boundaries. Moreover, we intend to publish a patent or a research paper out of it, where we often confront competition. One of our projects, ‘Ergonomic Crutches’ turned out to be a novel idea, and we are filing a patent. Also, for RoTF, by the time the project will be considered complete, we hope to successfully develop it into a feasible product and be ready for sale to startups.
GG: In recent times, MaRS has participated in various competitions. Would you like to share some notable achievements?
MaRS: In the Inter-IIT tech meet this time, where IIT Roorkee won the first prize, MaRS achieved the second position for ergonomic crutches. This is the same project that we are filing a patent for. Another major achievement was winning the first prize in NSSC – National Space Science Competition, held in IIT Kharagpur this year, in association with ISRO. It was a competition oriented towards space technology. We presented an all-terrain robot which can pick up and place things.
GG: What are your future plans?
MaRS: It usually depends on the projects that we start for the first time for Srishti. We jump on the prospects of taking each of our projects to the next level. For instance, RoTF was a minor project in last Srishti. But now we have taken it to a much more extensive level. So, we identify the projects we already like, put it in the research theme, and then it can be carried out for the whole year.
GG: Tell us about one of your successful projects.
MaRS: One of the projects that we are working on is Chitrak; the quadruped robot. We wanted to build this robot because it has many applications all over. What inspired the design of this project was how humans and animals walk and perform the intended tasks. It required quite a lot of research, so we started working on it by July 2018. We studied a lot of relevant literature and research papers. And as its design and working were all new to us, we had to start from scratch. After that, we created a prototype. Incidentally, it was the same prototype which was exhibited in the Inter-IIT Tech Meet. Now we are working on improving the prototype and hopefully, we will improve it significantly this time.
GG: For this particular project, what was the process that went into implementing it and what technologies are you using?
MaRS: The principal innovation in this project was its mechanical design. Generally, robots are wheeled, but this one is a four-legged robot inspired by the walking mechanism of animals. It needs a different mechanical base for the same. We did our research and ran some simulations on various software packages like Solidworks and MATLAB, following which we designed the framework. The electronics team then worked out its walking mechanism using simulations and then we created a prototype.
GG: What motivates you towards this idea?
MaRS: We wanted to work on a project that would be useful somewhere, and this project seems quite handy in the defence sector, for DRDO or the Army. Also as the terrain is quite uneven in many construction sites, wheeled robots and vehicles are unable to traverse there. So most people have to carry the load on their backs. Using this product, we hope to reduce the manual labour required at such sites. Thus, one motivation was its usefulness to people. Another factor is that the area of research is still in its infancy. Teams like MIT Boston dynamics are currently working on the same project and they the pioneers in the field. In India, legged locomotion isn’t a very popular field, so we want to start the trend in our IIT and serve as an inspiration for other technical institutions of the country.
GG: When are you going to patent the design of the robot?
MaRS: We are still working on the design, and it hasn’t been finalized yet. If it is competent enough, then we would publish a paper related to its control system and navigation and also try to patent the design. But it is a long term plan because research takes a lot of time so we are expecting that in about two to three years, we would have developed a good product that can be filed for a patent.
Catch up with MaRS at their booth this Srishti for more updates on their many exciting projects, from 9th-10th March.