Kerala will implement a curriculum that is in tune with the times and guarantees employment and promotes entrepreneurship, Chief Minister Pinarayi said on Saturday.

“We need to equip students with the resources that enable them to meet the global challenges of the new age. For that, they must get learning facilities of international standards and academic assignments of futuristic use,” he noted after inaugurating a super and mini version of fab labs, besides a startup incubator.

At the function in the Government Polytechnic here, the Chief Minister cut the ribbon of the Mini Fab lab, adding to a state-wide network of 20 such establishments that develop technical prototyping platforms for design fabrication technology.

The Super Fab Lab he opened with a remote will function at the Integrated Startup Complex (ISC) of the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) at Kalamassery in Kochi.  It is the world’s first such facility to function outside the US and is operated in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It will give India’s hardware industry a huge leap by allowing researchers, innovators and developers to do things beyond the purview of the state’s existing fab labs.

Vijayan pointed out that the startup ecosystem is making giant strides across continents. “Here in Kerala as well, we are making a great progress in the field of electronic hardware,” he added at the function presided over by state Water Resources Minister K Krishnankutty.

The CM observed that Kerala’s youth brim with brilliant ideas in technology. “The new fab labs will enable them to enter the next stage of scientific creativity. The Mini Fab Lab and the Startup Incubator in Palakkad will be of use to NRI investors who return to the state with the technical expertise and experience they gained abroad. “

Minister Krishnankutty, taking a cue from the Chief Minister, said ‘precision farming’ can be one of the new subjects that can be introduced into the syllabus on technology. “Along with expertise in job, there should also be a variety in the trade,” he noted.

M Sivasankar, Principal Secretary, Electronics & IT, said the state is striving to ensure that Fab Labs, in the next ten years, enable anyone to do one’s own work independently. “We are looking for new scope of requirement in the field, and ensure necessary investment and work force,” he added.

The Fab Lab in Palakkad is special, considering that it is Kerala’s first to function beyond the jurisdiction of an engineering college or a university, Sivasankar revealed.

Neil Gershenfeld, who is director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, said Kerala has been a “pioneer from the first two fab labs” in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. “Now a Super Fab Lab, where you can make next to anything,” he said in a video message screened at the function. The state-of-art facility enables the state to produce the machines locally, for access throughout Kerala for people to produce what they consume. “It can be for business, for education, and almost anything.”

The other speakers were V K Sreekandan, MP, Panchayat President Santhakumari K, District Collector D Balamurali, Superintendent of Police M Mahesh Kumar, Dr K P Indira Devi, Director of Technical Education, and M Chandrakumar, Principal of the Govt Polytechnic, besides members of civic bodies.

The KSUM Super Fab Lab, 20 km north of Kochi, has state-of-the-art machines worth more than Rs 7 crore in an area of 10,000 square feet. Kerala today has two electronic fab labs, functioning at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The Super Fab Lab at Kochi is set to make ISC one of the country’s most sought-after investment hubs, coming as it is after electronics hardware incubator Maker Village and its biotech counterpart Bio-Nest.

For KSUM, its collaboration with MIT also allows Kerala’s hardware startups to use the Super Fab Lab and work with researchers of MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms on an MTM (Machine That Make) project. It explores the possibility of using machines in a fab lab to create machines for its own use. In essence, it creates a pathway to desktop manufacturing.

The first experiment in this direction has been successfully completed at the Fab Lab in Thiruvananthapuram with the creation of a 3-axis CNC machine. KSUM is positioned to lead the transition of MTM project from research projects in the lab to fully functioning units in the field. In doing so, Kerala becomes the epicentre for technology startups around machine design and manufacturing besides support the creation of digital fabrication labs across India.

Besides being hardware innovation centers, Kerala’s existing Fab Labs have become a platform for students, faculty and entrepreneurs in the state to learn the ropes of digital fabrication. These fab labs also provide innovators the capability to rapidly prototype their ideas and create bespoke solutions. Two of the most notable startups who made use of Fab Lab facilities are GenRobotics, which created a sewage cleaning robot named Bandicoot, and EyeRov that created the country’s first underwater robotic drone (EyeRov Tuna).

Currently, a standard community fab lab includes a laser-cutter, a sign-cutter, a high-resolution NC milling machine, a large wood-router and a suite of electronic components as well as programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping.

To this, the super lab adds a set of highly-specialised machines that can do small to mid-volume manufacturing and can also be used for prototyping with a variety of materials including metals, composites and carbon fibres, besides testing, design and fabrication equipment and materials that cover length scales spanning from microns to meters in fabrication size.

By Manoj

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