Prof. Arun Giriyapur, head – automation and robotics, BVB College of Engineering and Technology, adds, “Students can now create the final product. They can measure length of wires, position of components and heat dissipation to create optimal products via the 3D printer.”
This allows for T-shaped skill development in the students. Giriyapur explains, “We have teams consisting students from various streams collaborating on projects to increase their exposure to different engineering segments.”
There is an interest towards mechatronics in students for graduation. It combines traits from most engineering streams to develop a new species of engineers. “Students are developing interest in mechatronics on a scale larger than ever before,” says Compella.
Shah adds, “Manufacturing plant monitoring using a Wi-Fi camera along with a development board can help in remote applications.” This move to mechatronics has been in large due to the various equipment that make learning easier. Giriyapur says, “We are further bringing in some more equipment that could help students develop their skills.”
New era of labs
While simulation based labs are set up based on a mathematical base, there are also experiment based labs where experiments are conducted and students get to have a feel of the data. Third type is the remote lab, where an actual lab is made available to users through any device connected through the Internet, iPhone, Android or a PC.
Essentially a laboratory controlled over the Internet, remote labs are designed exclusively for learning and monitoring any experiment integrated into the college lab. Electrono Solutions is one firm providing this solution in India.
On the virtual lab side is the desi Sakshat Virtual Labs started by Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD). The team states on the website that the objective of this lab is to perform virtual experiments in basic electronics and yet have a close-to-real-life experience. The tool is designed such that students will get a feel of the real lab as its equipment, components and behaviour is mimicked by the system.
The virtual lab set up at NIT Surathkal is aptly named SOLVE—an acronym for Students Online Lab for Virtual Experimentation. NIT Surathkal alone has 70,000 users from all over the world at its virtual website (solve.nitk.ac.in), including a few thousand from Pakistan.
Various areas covered by these virtual labs include field-programmable gate arrays, basic electronics and others. For instance, IIT Delhi has a virtual wireless lab that gives students an actual experiment to learn from and keep modifying the antennae available to check propagation testing.
M-learning solutions ranging from Edula for basic aptitude learning to Eduvance for electronics hardware development, among others, are now helping students to efficiently utilise the time spent on their phones by increasing their skills. These solutions consist of a simple application that can be installed on a smartphone, and learning happens on the go.
Is there such a thing as too many tools
“Engineering is supposed to solve problems,” says Brijesh. A person who considers a challenge can smartly develop problem-solving skills. While it is granted that smart solutions make learning easier, is it sufficient to develop the required core skills for an engineer?
While some colleges are just getting on the bandwagon of bringing in development boards, others are trying to wean students off the development boards once the initial project is done, so that they develop more core engineering skills by building their own solutions from scratch. Iyer adds that tools like development boards tend to attract students to the wonders of engineering on one side, while on the other point them towards developing proficiency in software rather than base hardware.
A proper mix and match of both seems to be the best formula. Students are first taught how to rapidly prototype working projects using tools, and as the next step learn how to build projects from scratch.
Dr Joshi recalls his student days with, “We used to have a designated class just to learn how to work with lab equipment.” Such additions in schedule of students can also help overcome the calculator-oscilloscope jump.
Saurabh Durgapal is working as technology journalist at EFY
Dilin Anand is a senior assistant editor at EFY.