Showing posts sorted by relevance for query technology. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query technology. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spurring the market for high-tech home health care

By M H Ahssan
A daunting array of financial and operational barriers is holding back growth. What can be done?
On the surface, technology-enabled home health care should be thriving in the United States. The country’s aging population and the transformation of acute illnesses such as heart failure into chronic diseases mean that the number of patients is growing. In addition, new medical-technology devices could help keep patients at home rather than in costly institutions, such as assisted-living facilities or nursing homes—leading to potentially big savings for the health care system.

Instead, the full potential of the technology-enabled home health care market remains to be tapped. In the United States, home care accounts for about 3 percent ($68 billion a year) of national health spending. The market is increasing by about 9 percent annually,1 solid but hardly booming growth, especially since labor (mainly nurses and aides) accounts for about two-thirds2 of the expenditure and home-monitoring technology represents a small fraction of it. What’s holding the market back? We observe a daunting array of financial and operational barriers, including the misalignment of incentives between payers and providers, the need to demonstrate a strong clinical value proposition, and the problem of designing attractive, easy-to-use products that facilitate adoption by patients.
Technology holds a central role in expanding the market for home health care. Historically, most of its infrastructure and equipment consisted of durable medical products: walkers, wheelchairs, wall rungs, safety rugs, and the like. That infrastructure enabled basic home care but could not substitute for the more sophisticated capabilities of specialized care settings, such as on-call nursing in long-term-care facilities. In recent years, however, new home care technologies—Internet-enabled home monitors, apps for mobile health, and telemedicine—are bringing aspects of advanced care into patients’ homes. These technologies are finding a place in all parts of the globe.
Expanded technology-enabled home care offers a promising pathway to bend the cost curve for ever-growing health care expenditures. Independent of the economic benefit, the moral value of enabling older members of society to live in grace and dignity in their own homes, with a ripple effect on their caregivers, is arguably the most important—if unquantifiable—benefit of home care. It will move ahead, however, only if stakeholders develop more equitable reimbursement models that create greater incentives to participate in the technology-enabled home health market. In addition, medical-device makers must focus on technologies that are easier to use, have a real impact on patients’ conditions, and make it possible to measure results.
An understanding of these issues is important for all stakeholders: medical-device manufacturers, insurers, doctors, hospitals, and government regulators seeking to optimize investments in home health care. With the market growing, and expansion opportunities available both domestically and internationally, this is a promising time to be in the business of home care technology.
Where technology-enabled home care can help
The goal of technology-enabled home care—the delivery of health diagnostics or therapeutics in a patient’s home—is to prevent or reduce the need for institutional care, alleviating the financial and emotional burden upon society and individuals. Its central thesis is that some chronic illnesses can be treated through monitoring and interventions in a patient’s home rather than in higher-cost institutional settings.

Of course, the 65-and-over age segment forms the bulk of the home care population and fuels the market’s growth. These men and women experience care primarily in four settings: their homes, assisted-living facilities, acute-care facilities (hospitals), and long-term-care institutions, such as nursing homes or skilled-nursing facilities. Clinical or economic factors propel patients from one care setting to another. The shift from homes to assisted-living facilities is typically driven by a gradual decline in cognition or physical capacity, from homes or assisted-living facilities to acute-care facilities by events such as fractures or heart attacks, and from homes, assisted-living facilities, or acute-care institutions to long-term-care institutions by movement across a financial or clinical breaking point (for example, bankruptcy or a diagnosis of dementia or other chronic illness).

The most important value offered by technology-enabled home care is preventing or delaying the shift of patients to acute- or long-term-care settings. Technologies used in home care cannot address all the potential factors underlying such shifts—for example, trauma from a car accident lies beyond their reach. The medical conditions that can be addressed successfully by technology-enabled home care meet three criteria:
  • They are chronic—persisting for years rather than days or months.
  • They can be prevented or addressed by protocols—repeatable and standardized step-by-step instructions executed by nonphysicians.
  • They are nonintensive—there is no requirement for round-the-clock attention or human monitoring.
Diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and fracture prevention3 are high-prevalence medical conditions that satisfy these criteria. They are important disease targets for current and future technological advances in home care.
Choosing the right business model
To date, technology-enabled home care in the United States has succeeded in only a few settings: most notably, integrated payers and providers such as Kaiser Permanente (through its KP OnCall subsidiary) and US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers (through the VA’s Care Coordination/Home Telehealth program). There is increasing evidence of the value of such programs. A 2008 study of Telehealth found that hospital admissions dropped by close to one-fifth, while its cost was up to two orders of magnitude lower than that of alternatives.
Given the potential savings, why do home care technologies have such low penetration? We find that eight key success factors, falling into three categories, must be satisfied simultaneously for a model to be commercially viable. Entrants into the home care technology market should cast a critical eye upon their offerings to verify that all eight success factors have been satisfied. Failure to meet even one can cripple an otherwise-promising business model.
Financial factors
1. Alignment between payers and providers. Episodic hospitalization reimbursements for congestive-heart-failure patients, for example, are misaligned with hospital-based technology-enabled home care programs: every patient successfully kept at home means less revenue for a hospital. A critical reason for the success of integrated payer–providers (such as the VA) in technology-enabled home care is their capitated reimbursement models—by patient per year, so each patient who avoids hospitalization represents a boost to the bottom line.
Stakeholders, particularly payers and providers, must cooperate to ensure that incentives for relevant technologies are aligned. That means either creating new reimbursement models, such as direct payments for the use of home care technologies, or adapting existing models, such as bundled reimbursements that cover a comprehensive set of clinical activities across care settings.
2. Remunerative. A home care technology’s return on investment must be clear to patients and, where different, to purchasers. Personal-health-record software aimed at individual patients, for example, remains unpopular because each user must enter a great deal of information manually in return for ambiguous benefits. On the other hand, at-home glucometers, which measure the concentration of blood sugar, have succeeded because the value to patients is simple, clear, and immediate.
Effectiveness factors
3. Having significant impact. A home care technology must affect a patient’s clinical course of care; conversely, if it merely provides information that cannot change the course of disease progression or treatment, its value is negligible. Monitoring the weight of a patient with congestive heart failure, for example, effectively alerts clinicians to an imminent worsening of that condition. The at-home interpretation of new chest pain experienced by recovering heart attack patients is not useful, because the appropriate course of action is to go to the hospital—no matter what.

4. Actionable. Merely observing or flagging an event is not enough; a home care technology must be accompanied by some way to take action—through a device, a nurse, or the patient—when an intervention is required. A nursing intervention prompted by alarming weight gain in a congestive-heart-failure patient is an effective action; displaying a stand-alone Web page with a chart of recent weight gain by a patient, leaving it up to him or her whether and how to do anything, is an ineffective one.

5. Timely. The home care technology must be sufficiently rapid and reliable to be useful in guiding decisions or initiating interventions. An always-on accelerometer, for instance, quickly detects a fall. A daily automated phone call to check on a patient at home to see if a fall occurred does not.
6. Closed loop. A technology must contain a “closed feedback loop” to measure progress against goals and to verify whether effective actions or treatments actually occurred. Without such a loop, a technology’s value cannot be proved, measured, or optimized. A technology that enters a patient’s after-treatment physical-activity levels directly into a provider’s electronic medical records through a wearable device has a closed feedback loop. A technology that enters a patient’s physical-activity levels into a stand-alone system requiring a separate provider login has an open one. Without seamless processes, feedback data may be overlooked or ignored. To fulfill a closed loop, a home care technology must be tightly coupled with processes and tools to ensure that measurements reach their intended recipients in a timely and easily viewed way.

Accessibility factors
7. Usable. Technologies must be available and understandable to the right users at the right place and time; poor user interfaces or immobile physical locations can doom business models. A wireless blood pressure cuff at home is easily usable, for example; a fixed blood pressure kiosk in a retail pharmacy is significantly less so. Further, if a technology has been tested only with tailored populations or under special conditions (such as clinical trials) it is important to verify that it will be scalable to larger populations and real-world conditions.
8. Repeatable. A technology must be used frequently—typically, at least daily—over the course of a chronic disease. Infrequently used technologies do not generate good habits among home care consumers and are eventually forgotten or ignored. The daily measurement of body weight on an electronic scale by congestive-heart-failure patients is repeatable. On the other hand, a device that performs an annual eye exam for diabetic patients works too intermittently to be compelling for home use.
What the future holds
The environment for home care technology is likely to change in the coming years. Greater adoption has two key drivers.
Health care reform
At a time of general fiscal stress and specific concern about billing fraud, public or private payers are unlikely to increase funding or coverage for home care. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, for example, will pare a cumulative $39.7 billion from federal home-health-care reimbursements over the next decade.6 Payers are more likely to pursue various forms of capitation (payment per person rather than, say, per service) and shared-risk models, in an attempt to give providers an incentive to subsidize home care technologies and services.

Misalignment between buyers and beneficiaries is an important brake on the penetration of home care technologies. They are likely to benefit if reform efforts successfully accelerate the alignment of incentives—for example, through the creation of Accountable Care Organizations (groups of coordinated health care providers) or bundled payments between payers and providers.7 Indeed, the spread of home care technology has an especially strong potential to accelerate under such a scenario because care pathways that rely on skilled labor—pharmacists, nurses, and doctors—are most vulnerable to labor shortages and to eventual augmentation by technology-driven approaches.
Increasing the evidence base
As multiple technology-enabled home care pilots, at public and private organizations alike, have rolled out over the past decade, data accumulated on both sides of the ledger for clinical value and returns on investment. In some cases, technology-enabled home care pilots have produced compelling successes; in others, they have done less well.

Fraud remains a looming concern in home care; the US Government Accountability Office reported “estimated improper payments for Medicare of almost $48 billion for fiscal year 2010,” including expenditures for home oxygen and other home health claims.8 To qualify for coverage from payers or to generate incentives within insurance for individuals, home care technologies may also offer new avenues to address home care fraud, in addition to improving patients’ health and quality of life and saving money.
We see substantial growth potential in technology-enabled home health care. An aging population and an increasing chronic-disease burden point to a large and growing market. But home care stakeholders must get the reimbursement models right and ensure that the technologies coming to market truly make a difference for patients and the bottom line alike.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Housekeeping Tech: Old Trade, New Tricks

Housekeeping is considered as the backbone of the hotel industry. The latest technological advancements has brought about a change in this department’s work system. SANJAY PATHAK finds out how modern technology is playing an important role.

Housekeeping services in a hotel is entrusted with maintaining a hygienic and clean environment. A decade ago, staff were involved in completing the paper work after their assigned job. Room checklist, lost and found, discrepancy report, vacant, dirty and occupied cabin list etc, were mandatory and was noted down manually.

Housekeeping department has large number of staff working right from the Executive Housekeeper (EHK) to housemen. Right from the EHK to housemen, everyone was responsible to finish their respective paper work. Most of the vacant space in the department was occupied by these paper sheet in the folder and were maintained for future references.

As time passed by, technology came into existence and the workload of paper and manual job was cut down to minimium but not completely. However, technology has improved the work efficiency and eliminated most of the time consuming work in the housekeeping department. With development in technology, the work pattern changed a lot in the housekeeping department, which resulted in reduction of manpower and time.


Prior housekeeping processes

Housekeeping job always being a physical work but at the same time it was also a clerical job for the housekeepers. Housekeeping department has large number of staff working right from the EHK to housemen. The supervisor used to note down all the occupied, vacant, dirty rooms of the day and send it to the EHK and the front office. This was done three times a day i.e. in the morning, afternoon and night. Supervisors were responsible for the inventory of the linen. A work list or maintenance slip was prepared for engineering departments for all maintenance work. The housekeeping staff had to undertake these things everyday. The above work was done manually on paper and used to consume a lot of time.

According to Meghana Tendulkar, Executive Housekeeper, Hotel Marine Plaza, “Previously there were a lot of things in the hotel, which were done manually, right from the room status to guest request. Supervisors used to check the room, come down, fill up the register and call up the front office or send a note stating which rooms were clear for business. Even the guest request was a time consuming process as it used to be directed from room maid to supervisor or desk and then again through the same channel to complete the request. The only way one could know that the request is completed was the guest request book at the desk.”


Echoing with the above statement, Rekha Mehta, Director Housekeeping, Intercontinental Marine Drive said, “Earlier we assigned one person to do all the paper work. He had to come down or call the desk to update the maintenance job or for any other work . Lost and found procedure was time consuming and sometimes there used to be discrepancy in room reports sent to the front office. There were no means of communication apart from the phone line at the desk and guest request used to take time to complete.”

Present Scenario
Today, technological evolution being the mantra globally, most of the hotels in the world have installed and applied various applications and software systems. This helped hotelier and also the staff to learn, understand and aware of the latest technology. Today, there are various technology solution company providing the application and services to the hotel industry in India.

“Housekeeping, though a core operational department for any hotel, has not seen many changes, as far as technology is concerned. A few PMS (property management systems) just brush through a small portion of the entire accommodations operations but do not provide a comprehensive solution to the host of activities. The technology at present is limited to majorly just two activities i.e. PMS - caters to the room status coordination between front desk and housekeeping and maintenance related coordination between engineering and housekeeping,” Manish Jain, Director, Kazzam- housekeeping solution company, said.

230911_cs_3.jpgDevelopments in the industry - Benefits of technology
Since the inception of technology in the housekeeping department, work has become easier. “Previously, the housekeeping department was considered responsible only for maintaining basic cleanliness and upkeep of the property. Not much emphasis was laid on analysis-reports, software, training of staff related to the latest happening in field of housekeeping. However, in the last five years, trends have definitely changed with more focus on creativity, innovations, training, use of the latest equipments and technologies and software with new processes and standard operating procedure in place, said Mandeep Aasht, Executive Housekeeper, Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre, Agra.

According to Prem Samuel, Executive House Keeper, Vivanta by Taj, MG Road Bangalore, “Technology is being upgraded every single day and the housekeeping department has seen a sea of change when it comes to technology. Technology helps us in simplifying our work and brings more efficiency to the system. For example, personal digital assistant’s are being used by the supervisors to clear rooms, to get all the information and preferences of the guests and to update the same. In case the guest is checking in for the first time, preferences are taken from the Internet and social websites. Computers reduces the number of papers used thus reducing the impact on the environment. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) are being used in linen to track pilferage. Automatic chemical diluting machines are being used to get the right dilution thereby reducing wastage and increasing efficiency.”

Multiple Uses
PMS, iPads, smartphones, maintenance related coordination, inventory tracking system, RFID (a chip, created by linen technology tracking, are being sewn into anything made of cloth inside a hotel room where a sensor will go off to alert the hotel immediately while taking it) is an example of how technology has been applied in the housekeeping department.

Amlan Ghose, Managing Director, Prologic First informed, “We have offered features to update room status from guest room phones (Today, we enable the same through High Television also known as HITV). We were the first international vendors to introduce features for lost and found tracking and loaned items control. We were also the first to allow maintenance requests to be logged and monitored through the housekeeping software. Today, we offer guest response management system that registers all guest requests, assigns it to staff over mobile text messaging, monitors completion, escalates service delays and records cost of service failures.”

solomon_james.jpgAnother company which has been active in making housekeeping solution is IDS Softwares. Solomon James, Vice President, IDS Networks Group said, “The housekeeping department has always looked for, and in most cases adopted comprehensive technology solutions that enhance their overall efficiency, for example, iPads and smartphones with specific housekeeping applications on it, kiosk-based stations at floors and text message modules to address guest grievances rapidly. Numerous functions such as room cleaning, lost and found, housekeeping supplies and inventory, accessing the mini bar using telephones and other common housekeeping functions have been automated using smart applications. We at IDS NEXT constantly engage in research and involve our customers in the process to develop better software offerings especially targeted at addressing their pin-points.”

Overall Impact
The housekeeping department has always been criticised but usually has the least customer interaction. Now, it is fast becoming the most significant department with the management of rooms being high on the priority list.

Liz Moores, Director of Product, Quadriga Worldwide Ltd, UK said, “The industry has definitely made use of the new technology available to increase efficiency and standardise operations. Overall, hotels are using innovative technology within guest rooms to promote hotel facilities and drive revenue opportunities, in short, provide a better service and connect with the customer. Staff retention has also become a driving force in the adoption of new technology. Increased communication between housekeeping staff help to add value. The multiple language feature in technology also enables management to help staff understand fully what is expected in terms of room maintenance and stock control.”

“The largest expense on a hotel’s balance sheet is manpower, out of which 40 per cent is due to housekeeping. Hotels are now looking for solutions that enable them to optimise manpower through innovative means, which is why technology is vital to the housekeeping department,” added Jones.

With a similar view, Jain said, “Housekeeping is responsible for all-important first impressions (cleanliness, upkeep and maintenance). A successful team can influence the profit margins of the hotel than any other department. It is humanly impossible to keep a track of various activities and to remember how many rooms in a 400-room hotel need a room painting or out of 100-plus team members who is most weak in bed making. The worst comes when a housekepeer leaves and a new one joins with no clue of where the department is headed. So, the need to have technology assist in planning the departments progress synergised with the hotels vision is top priority.”

230911_cs_4.jpgFuture Technology
No one can predict the future and no one can say what could be the future in technology in coming years. However, there are individuals who are working and want to develop or want something with some more productivity, which can be useful to the housekeeping department in the near future.

According to Moores, “As innovations in the consumer electronics world evolve, this trend will undoubtedly influence what guests will come to expect during their stay. Travellers will be demanding access to more Internet-based content through the in-room television, acting as a digital concierge to access information. Internet applications on TV sets and 3D viewing and this will further influence consumer choices and the ability for the hotel to deliver the ‘complete experience.”

“The future technology for hospitality would be better sleep management system, innovative service designs for quicker and efficient service,” added Samuel.

However, India is fast catching up with the latest technology and in some areas are better than what the others can offer. It is time, which will decide the excellence of technology in India.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Can Technology Help Solve India’s Education Problems?

In the mid-1980s, semiconductor manufacturer Texas Instruments (TI) spotted India’s potential as a hub for research and development, and heralded a wave of tech multinationals moving into India. A few years ago, it expanded its operations in the country and stared looking at India also as a market for its semiconductor products.

Now, the company has taken a further step: Globally, TI has been in the education technology space for more than two decades, and a few weeks ago, it brought this to India. TI sees India not only as a strong market for its education technology solutions, but also believes that these can help the country to address the constraints it faces in the education sector.

TI has tied up with Indian firm CORE Education and Technologies, which focuses on content creation and teacher education to offer an integrated solution called STEMpower. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) This includes laptops for teachers, networked handheld devices for students, software and content. “Some of the recent reforms in the education sector in India, like the focus on continuous and comprehensive evaluation and formative assessments, have interested TI in bringing our classroom training technology solutions here,’’ says Jagan Chelliah, director of sales and marketing, education technology at TI India. He adds: “Our intention is to refine [these solutions] over time to address the specific needs of the India market.”

During a press event, Sanjeev Mansotra, chairman and global CEO, CORE said: “STEM is about more than just education. It is about our economic future. The viable jobs of the 21st century will require high degrees of STEM literacy, and if our communities don’t have a STEM-literate workforce, those jobs can and will go elsewhere.”

Another technology multinational which recently introduced a new initiative in the Indian education sector is chip-maker Intel. In collaboration with the Karnataka government in September, Intel announced the launch of Computers On Wheels, an e-learning pilot program, in five districts across the state. It is based on the Intel Learning Series and includes infrastructure, hardware, software, content, training and support. The program is designed to deliver one-on-one e-learning in classrooms that is matched to local needs. “Advances in technology continue to transform how we live, work, play and learn. Intel is committed to making education accessible and engaging for all students,” says R. Ravichandran, director of sales, Intel South Asia.

Visvesvara Hegde Kageri, minister for primary and secondary education in the Karnataka government, sees the Intel initiative as a “very useful mechanism to enhance student learning by integrating innovative teaching methods” and by providing “a more engaging, interesting and experiential form of teaching and learning through smart use of technology.”

But how much of a role can technology really play at present in India’s education sector? S. Sadagopan, director at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, points out that there are four parts to learning — lectures, library, laboratory and life. “Technology plays a critical role in all these,” he says. Sadagopan cities an example from the laboratories: “Frog dissection is completely gone…. Many expensive instruments can be made available to school children in less endowed places through technology.”
But Dilip Ranjekar, co–CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, which focuses on primary education, offers another perspective.

Technology, Ranjekar says, can play an important role in education but only when the basic infrastructure is place. “In a vast number of schools in India, basic facilities like water, power and sanitation are inadequate. The teacher quality and involvement is also abysmal. These basic issues have to be addressed before there is any scope for technology to create any meaningful impact.”

Friday, May 03, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Hyderabad

What happens next? What should our drug industrialists be doing? What should the government do to prepare the industry for the future? No one knows; no one gives it a thought.

Independent India was born with a fetish of self-reli­ance. Our nationalist leaders firmly believed that the British had deindustrialised and impoverished India, that industry meant prosperity and that to return to the community of rich nations, India had to “develop” industry — to replace imported industrial goods by home-produced ones. The government assured industrialists of the home market; it licensed imports so as to keep out those that might compete with home production.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The 'Deep Crisis' In The 'Great Indian Education Bazaar'!

From asking students to resolve matters through ‘other means’ to convincing naive aspirants with false promises, private educational institutions have earned themselves the adage of ‘scamsters’.

Anil Sadagopal, a well-known educationist calls it the ‘Kumbhakarna-like sleep’. Even after years and years of hoarse chants from activists, policy-makers, children, youth and adults — quality education that is supposed to be a fundamental right to all, is still a dream in India. It is perhaps for this very reason that Sadagopal had demanded the Indian state to wake up from its slumber.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bangalore is home to India's tech elite

By Julia Roberts

On Bangalore's crowded streets, hand-pulled carts compete for space with trucks, cars, and make-shift food kiosks, often bringing traffic to a snail's pace. The heat, the grime, pollution, and potholes on the road make the city quintessentially Indian. But look closely. Cheek by jowl with the noisy bazaars of Bangalore are swanky design and development facilities set up by both multinational and Indian companies. In the cubicles in these premises is where Bangalore's technology innovation thrives, as the city's information technology engineers do software development, design integrated circuits, and even develop products.

Texas Instruments Inc. was the first multinational company to set up a development center in Bangalore in 1985. After TI, a number of multinational companies from the US, Europe, and Japan have set up design and development centers in Bangalore.

For a while after Microsoft Corp. set up its software development center in Hyderabad in 1998, it looked like Bangalore was losing out on new foreign information technology investments to Hyderabad, which is the capital of the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, and to Chennai, the capital city of another neighboring state, Tamil Nadu. By 1999, the trend was however reversed when Intel Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., ZiLOG Inc. and a number of other companies set up design and development centers in Bangalore.

"Sun's decision to set up the center at Bangalore was primarily influenced by two areas in which Bangalore stood out compared to Chennai and Hyderabad, in that order -- availability of people with the right skills, and ability to attract people from anywhere in the world to Bangalore," said Bhaskar Pramanik, managing director of Sun Microsystems' operations in India. Sun's India Engineering Center in Bangalore is an extension of the corporate engineering center in the US, and is expected to be the largest outside the US by June, 2001. "The work being done here is not just in sustaining or support, but in areas which will impact future Sun products and technologies," added Pramanik.

Bangalore is now also home to a large number of Indian technology companies, including Wipro Ltd., one of the country's largest information technology products and services company, and software services company, Infosys Technologies Limited. These companies built up their revenue, primarily by doing contract work for multinational information technology companies like Microsoft, Nortel Networks Corp., and SAP AG, and large, multinational users of information technology.

New entrepreneurs here are, however, focused on creating and licensing intellectual property, and they have not gone unnoticed by multinational companies. Intel, for instance, has invested in Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd., and in early 1999 acquired Santa Clara-based Thinkit Technologies Inc and its Bangalore-based subsidiary, Software & Silicon Systems Pvt Ltd.

Even before the multinational companies discovered Bangalore's potential as a design and development location, Bangalore was already a key location in India for the electronics industry, primarily because the Indian government located a number of government-owned electronics companies and defense research institutions in the city. Besides information technology and communications companies, Bangalore has a large number of manufacturing companies making automobile components, electronic connectors, and a variety of precision engineering products.

But the city did not anticipate the technology boom, and the attendant infrastructure bottlenecks, such as shortage of power and housing in the city. With an area of 366 square kilometers, Bangalore now has a population of 5.2 million, which continues to grow.

New business opportunities, such as the outsourcing by US and European vendors of Internet-based customer relationship management (e-CRM) to Indian companies, are also extending the benefits of globalization to plain college graduates who until recently were left untouched by the technology boom in the city.

Bangalore is home to India's tech elite

By Julia Roberts

On Bangalore's crowded streets, hand-pulled carts compete for space with trucks, cars, and make-shift food kiosks, often bringing traffic to a snail's pace. The heat, the grime, pollution, and potholes on the road make the city quintessentially Indian. But look closely. Cheek by jowl with the noisy bazaars of Bangalore are swanky design and development facilities set up by both multinational and Indian companies. In the cubicles in these premises is where Bangalore's technology innovation thrives, as the city's information technology engineers do software development, design integrated circuits, and even develop products.

Texas Instruments Inc. was the first multinational company to set up a development center in Bangalore in 1985. After TI, a number of multinational companies from the US, Europe, and Japan have set up design and development centers in Bangalore.

For a while after Microsoft Corp. set up its software development center in Hyderabad in 1998, it looked like Bangalore was losing out on new foreign information technology investments to Hyderabad, which is the capital of the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, and to Chennai, the capital city of another neighboring state, Tamil Nadu. By 1999, the trend was however reversed when Intel Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., ZiLOG Inc. and a number of other companies set up design and development centers in Bangalore.

"Sun's decision to set up the center at Bangalore was primarily influenced by two areas in which Bangalore stood out compared to Chennai and Hyderabad, in that order -- availability of people with the right skills, and ability to attract people from anywhere in the world to Bangalore," said Bhaskar Pramanik, managing director of Sun Microsystems' operations in India. Sun's India Engineering Center in Bangalore is an extension of the corporate engineering center in the US, and is expected to be the largest outside the US by June, 2001. "The work being done here is not just in sustaining or support, but in areas which will impact future Sun products and technologies," added Pramanik.

Bangalore is now also home to a large number of Indian technology companies, including Wipro Ltd., one of the country's largest information technology products and services company, and software services company, Infosys Technologies Limited. These companies built up their revenue, primarily by doing contract work for multinational information technology companies like Microsoft, Nortel Networks Corp., and SAP AG, and large, multinational users of information technology.

New entrepreneurs here are, however, focused on creating and licensing intellectual property, and they have not gone unnoticed by multinational companies. Intel, for instance, has invested in Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd., and in early 1999 acquired Santa Clara-based Thinkit Technologies Inc and its Bangalore-based subsidiary, Software & Silicon Systems Pvt Ltd.

Even before the multinational companies discovered Bangalore's potential as a design and development location, Bangalore was already a key location in India for the electronics industry, primarily because the Indian government located a number of government-owned electronics companies and defense research institutions in the city. Besides information technology and communications companies, Bangalore has a large number of manufacturing companies making automobile components, electronic connectors, and a variety of precision engineering products.

But the city did not anticipate the technology boom, and the attendant infrastructure bottlenecks, such as shortage of power and housing in the city. With an area of 366 square kilometers, Bangalore now has a population of 5.2 million, which continues to grow.

New business opportunities, such as the outsourcing by US and European vendors of Internet-based customer relationship management (e-CRM) to Indian companies, are also extending the benefits of globalization to plain college graduates who until recently were left untouched by the technology boom in the city.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Education: 'The Tussle Between Tradition And Technology'

By Dr. Shelly Ahmed (Star Guest Writer)

'Urban children swapped their toys for gizmos a while ago. Now, schools in Mumbai are bringing gadgets into the classroom for children as young as two. Is integrating technology with learning really the way forward? Shikha Kumar finds out.'

As you walk through the corridors and peek into the classrooms, you see students bending their little heads over their iPods and iPads some are keenly typing while others have earphones plugged in. This isn’t leisure time, however.

At the Universal School in Tardeo, technology is a way of life. Students at the school are introduced to gadgets at the tender age of two. They use iPods till Class 2, iPads and personal Macbooks take its place in consequent years.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Indian scientists bridge audio divide

By Raja Murthy

An Indian American duo at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created new technology based on the greatest engineering feat of nature - the human mind-body structure. Their invention, the Radio Frequency Cochlea, will not only enable a new generation of wireless Internet and communication technologies, but will also serve as a reminder of just how much civilization owes to the inner ear and ancient Asian powers of memory.

Indian American scientists Rahul Sarpeshkar and Soumyajit Mandal have merged human evolution with 21st century technology in their new invention - a high-speed, ultra-broadband, low-power radio chip that works on the same principles as the human inner ear, or cochlea.

Their invention, which they filed for patent as the Radio Frequency Cochlea (RF Cochlea), will usher in the next generation of wireless Internet, cell phone, radio and TV devices, and inevitably impact a US$2 trillion global media and entertainment industry with more advanced sound gizmos.

More immediately, the RF Cochlea will vastly improve radio frequency spectrum in the newly dawning technology of cognitive and smart radios - vital devices that automatically make better use of unused frequencies in our increasingly bandwidth-crowded world.

Sarpeshkar, a well-known professor of electrical engineering at the MIT and his graduate student Mondal, designed the 1mm by 3 mm RF Cochlea chip that is faster and more energy efficient than any currently working in radio-frequency (RF) spectrum analyzers [1].

More significantly, the RF Cochlea opens a fascinating new frontier of technology: living aid devices popping out of science blending with millions of years of human evolution. We could be entering an era of humanology, or more holistic technology uniting two or more disciplines of humanity-related knowledge.

Sarpeshkar told Asia Times Online that his invention has been "enthusiastically" received. "For the first time, we have technology that bridges the working of the human ear with the working of radio," he said.

That professionals involved with hearing having earlier had no working connection with those involved in radio technology sounds incredible. But it demonstrates how obviously related disciplines have been developing on parallel but separate tracks, until Sarpeshkar and his MIT team appeared. More disciplines could similarly and beneficially converge.

Sarpeshkar acknowledged that engineers could learn much from the greatest engineering device known yet to humans: the human mind-body structure.

While Mother Nature's technology is still leagues ahead of the variety created by humans, Sarpeshkar was inspired by nature's design concepts that have evolved over eons.

"Humans have a long way to go before their architectures will successfully compete with those in nature, especially in situations where ultra-energy-efficient or ultra-low-power operations are paramount," he said in a MIT media release dated June 3. "Nevertheless, we can mine the intellectual resources of nature to create devices useful to humans, just as we have mined her physical resources in the past."

Sarpeshkar and Mondal used the same design principles in the human ear to create the RF Cochlea. The device captures radio frequencies a million times higher than the 100 Hz (100 wave cycles per second) to 100,000 Hz that the human ear captures. It includes radio signals for most commercial wireless applications.

In Sarpeshkar's RF Cochlea, human-made inductors imitate the work of fluid mass in the ear, capacitors replicate ear membranes and active radio frequency amplifiers do the work of the outer hair cells in the ear that carry audio as electrical signals to the brain.

"The outer human ear acts as the radio antenna," Sarpeshkar explained to Asia Times Online, "the middle ear sifts through the substance from unwanted noise and the inner ear, or cochlea, is the amplifier and separates frequencies before sending signals to the brain."

As Sarpeshkar pointed out, RF Cochlea represents not merely a more holistic blending of human technology with nature's engineering, of merging biology with advanced electronics, but it also gives insights about the sense of hearing, a faculty fundamental to the development of civilizations.

That the inner ear and the evolving human mind are inter-dependent is obvious with the ancient world's richest treasures of wisdom first preserved and passed on across millennia through the inner cochlea hearing the spoken word, not eyes reading written script, and storing those words accurately in powerful memory.

The sensory impact the inner ear has on the mind becomes evident in how great oratory mesmerizes more than a great essay, or the way great music captivates and changes moods more than great prose. In his famous dialogues of Phaedrus (360 BC), ancient Greek teacher Plato too argues of the superiority of the spoken over the written word.

Sarpeshkar's South Asian origin fits with the ancient regional tradition of the heard and memorized word, via the inner cochlea, protecting old world knowledge and wisdom from invading culture destroyers burning libraries, books and manuscripts. The connection between the inner ear and memory can make fascinating scientific study.

"While the textual riches of Alexandria, China and Rome were being put to the flame, a wholly different tradition of scientific expression was brought to a peak in India, in a manner that would prove enormously more resilient to the vicissitudes of time and adversity," observed Alok Kumar, Department of Physics, State University of New York. "This was the oral, poetic tradition of Indian thought, whose greatest purveyor in astronomy and mathematics was Aryabhata."

Mathematician astronomer Aryabhata (born 476 AD), after whom India named its first satellite launched in April 19, 1975, composed the Aryabhatiya, a remarkable astronomy and mathematical work in poetic form. "There are no numbers anywhere in Aryabhata's composition in Sanskrit language, nor are there figures, drawings, or equations," wrote Kumar in his project note for the New Jersey, Princeton-based Educational Council on Indic Traditions organization that commissioned him to study ancient Indian contributions to science. "The Aryabhatiya expresses the highly sophisticated mathematics of sine functions, volumetric determinations, calculation of celestial latitudes and motions, and much more, in the form of a poetic code."

Inputs through the inner cochlea and advanced powers of memory preserved a more priceless treasure, the Buddha's teaching of Dhamma, or universal laws of nature, that detailed a non-sectarian path for freedom from all suffering - by objectively observing the constantly changing mind-matter phenomena within, manifesting at the bio-chemical level as bodily sensations arising and passing away, instead of blindly reacting to whatever we experience in the outside world.

The entire 82,000 discourses of the Buddha and related commentaries in Pali, one of the oldest known languages, were memorized and their authenticity confirmed in historic congregations of monks such as the Chatta Sanghayana or Sixth Council held in Yangon, Burma, between 1954 and 1956.

The First Council was convened in 544 BC, in the Sattapaaai Cave located outside Rajagaha, northern India, three months after the Buddha passed away. It was only during the Fourth Council held in Tambapanni, Sri Lanka, in 29 BC under King Vattagamani's patronage, that the voluminous Tipitaka [2] texts containing the Buddha’s teachings and related commentaries were committed to written script on palm leaves.

In the Chatta Sanghayana or Sixth Council in Burma, 2,500 learned monks from Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam recited the entire 82,000 discourses and related commentaries that they had heard and committed to memory, as did generations of monks across two millennia.

"An European spectator would have marveled at this preternatural feat, but it [extraordinary powers of memory of the heard word] is a commonplace occurrence in this area of the world," wrote a leading Sri Lankan scholar Harischandra Kaviratna in his 1971 essay "Unbroken Chain of Oral Tradition".

Sarpeshkar's RF Cochlea marks the latest milestone in the evolutionary journey of human hearing and civilization, a path that transcends a distance from 544 BC when the Buddha's personal attendant Ananda narrated to the First Council the entire discourses he heard from the Buddha, word for word. Ananda started every repeated discourse with the words in Pali "evam me suttam", meaning "Thus, have I heard [from the Enlightened One]".

"As in all interdisciplinary fields, it is important to synergistically combine the creativity and excitement generated by new non-traditional thinking with the discipline and knowledge of older ideas," said Sarpeshkar who calls the biological inner ear an "amazing custom analog computer".

"The cochlea quickly gets the big picture of what's going on in the sound spectrum," said Sarpeshkar. "The more I started to look at the ear, the more I realized it's like a super-radio with 3,500 parallel channels."

Forty-year-old Sarpeshkar was born and brought up in Bangalore before he left for the US as an under-graduate student. He holds over 20 patents, has authored more than 70 publications and ranks among the world's most brilliant young scientists from South Asia. His several awards include the Packard Fellow award, given to outstanding young faculty, and the Indus Technovator Award, which MIT instituted in 2003, for distinguished young innovators of South Asian origin working at the confluence of technology research and entrepreneurship.

After obtaining his degree in Electrical Engineering and Physics at MIT and his PhD at Caltech, Sarpeshkar joined the technical staff at Bell Labs, Biological Computation department within its physics division. Since 1999, he has served in MIT's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Faculty, leading a research group on analog VLSI and biological systems that works on developing what it calls "low-power brain-machine interfaces".

The cosmopolitan Analog VLSI MIT team reflects the kind of international talent that MIT hopes to nurture in country specific programs it has operated since 1994 in China, Japan, Israel, India, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Spain.

Sarpeshkar's MIT team, for instance, includes Scott Arfin, Benjamin Rapoport, Lorenzo Turicchia, Micah O'Halloran from the US; Serhii M. Zhak from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Russia; Soumyajit Mandal from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Keng-Hoong Wee from Tohoku University, Japan; and Woradorn Wattanapanitch from Thailand.

So far, their brain-machine interfaces work to combine the human physical structure and 21st century technology has produced:

A new generation of high performance, low-power devices that mimic the communicating relationship of the mind, brain and human limbs, to help paralysis patients, the blind, and victims of Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. These ultra-low power brain-machine devices can run for 10 years or more, compared to current bulky devices that are 100-10,000 times more power and often lack wireless capabilities.

The Bionic Ear project to design advanced ultra-low-power cochlear-implant systems that also enable the deaf to hear music and tonal languages such as Chinese and other East Asian languages. Tonal languages use variations in tone, or pitch, to express different meanings of words. For example, the Mandarin word "ba" can be used with four different intonations to mean "eight", "to uproot", "to hold" and "a harrow". In contrast, English is a stress or accent-oriented language.

"Biological systems have developed over hundreds of millions of years of evolution to perform sensory, motor and chemical tasks extremely efficiently and robustly while using very little power, in very little volumes, and in real time," said Sarpeshkar, who sees his research as just the beginning of a journey for many more efficient, adaptable and cost-effective technologies to be developed from biology.

The RF Cochlea device demonstrates what can happen when researchers take inspiration from fields outside their own, said Sarpeshkar. "Healthcare is a natural area for applying biologically inspired technologies since we are trying to engineer systems that perform the normal functions of biological ones, so mimicking the biology can be helpful in fixing it."

Sarpeshkar's work also reflects the rewards that come by way of those daring to walk the rarely trodden path. "I have followed my heart in my work, and in my love for science," he said.

Friday, December 28, 2012

India's Education Sector: Moving Toward a Digital Future

The typical Indian classroom was once characterized by students sitting through hour-long teacher monologues. Now, technology is making life easier for both students and educators. Schools are increasingly adopting digital teaching solutions to engage with a generation of pupils well-versed with the likes of PlayStations and iPads, and trying to make the classroom environment more inclusive and participatory.

Take Smartclass from Educomp Solutions, one of the first Indian companies in this space. Smartclass is essentially a digital content library of curriculum-mapped, multimedia-rich, 3D content. It also enables teachers to quickly assess how much of a particular lesson students have been able to assimilate during the class. Once a topic is covered, the teacher gives the class a set of questions on a large screen. Each student then answers via a personal answering device or the smart assessment system. The teacher gets the scores right away and based on that, she repeats parts of the lesson that the students don't appear to have grasped.

"Technology makes the teaching-learning process very easy and interesting," says Harish Arora, a chemistry teacher at the Bal Bharti Public School in New Delhi who has been using Smartclass since 2004. "For instance, [earlier] it would easily take me one full lecture to just draw an electromagnetic cell on the blackboard. Though I could explain the cell structure, there was no way I could have managed to show them how it really functions. This is where technology comes to our aid -- now I can show the students a 3D model of the cell and how it functions. Instead of wasting precious time drawing the diagram on the blackboard, I can invest it in building the conceptual clarity of my students."

According to Abhinav Dhar, director for K-12 at Educomp Solutions, more than 12,000 schools across 560 districts in India have adopted Smartclass. More importantly, the number is growing at almost 20 schools a day. On average, in each of these schools eight classrooms are using Smartclass.

"When we launched Smartclass in 2004 as the first-ever digital classroom program, it was an uphill task convincing schools to adopt it," Dhar notes. "These schools had not witnessed any change in a century.... It is a completely different scenario now. Private schools across India today see [technology] as an imperative. A digital classroom is set to become the bare-minimum teaching accessory in schools, just like a blackboard is today."

Dhar recalls that one major roadblock for Educomp's proposition in the early days was on the price front. At US$4,000 (at the exchange rate of Rs. 50 to a U.S. dollar) per classroom, schools found the product very expensive. To get over this hurdle, Educomp quickly decided to make the initial investment and gave the schools an option to pay over a period of three to five years. The strategy worked. Enthused by the market response, in January Educomp launched an upgraded version -- the Smartclass Class
Transformation System -- with more features, including simulations, mind maps, worksheets, web links, a diagram maker, graphic organizers and assessment tools.

According to the "Indian Education Sector Outlook -- Insights on Schooling Segment," a report released by New Delhi--based research and consultancy firm Technopak Advisors in May, the total number of schools in India stands at 1.3 million. Of these, private schools account for 20%. Educomp's Dhar points out that only around 10% of the private schools have tapped the potential of multimedia classroom teaching whereas in government schools, it has barely made any inroads.

"The current market size for digitized school products in private schools is around US$500 million," says Enayet Kabir, associate director for education at Technopak. "This is expected to grow at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 20% to reach the over US$2 billion mark by 2020. However, the market potential then might get as big as S$4 billion [i.e. if the total population of private schools that could adopt multimedia actually adopt it.] Apart from this, the current market size for ICT [information and communications technology] in government schools is US$750 million. We expect this to grow five times by 2020 due to the current low level of penetration in government schools."

Kabir lists Educomp Solutions, Everonn Education, NIIT, Core Education & Technologies, IL&FS and Compucom as dominant players in this sector. New entrants include HCL Infosystems, Learn Next, Tata Interactive Systems, Mexus Education, S. Chand Harcourt (India) and iDiscoveri Education. Except for S. Chand Harcourt, which is a joint venture between S. Chand and US-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, all the others are Indian firms.

A recent trend is that schools in tier two and tier three cities are increasingly adopting the latest technology. Rajesh Shethia, head of sales and marketing at TataInteractive Systems, which launched Tata ClassEdge in early 2011 and has partnered up with more than 900 schools, says that "more than half of the demand for digital classrooms is from tier two and tier three cities." According to Shethia, schools in these smaller cities realize that it is difficult for their students to get as much exposure as students from tier one cities. "[So] they proactively subscribe to solutions such as ours, which richly benefit both teachers and students by simplifying the syllabus....

Even parents want the best for their wards and are not averse to paying a little extra. They see value in these initiatives by schools to modernize the way teaching is imparted today." Making some back-of-the-envelope calculations Shethia adds: "If we consider the top 100,000 private schools in India as the captive market, the potential is approximately two million classrooms of which currently just about 80,000 have been digitized."
Srikanth B. Iyer, COO of Pearson Education Services, also sees tremendous potential in the smaller cities. Pearson provides end-to-end education solutions in the K-12 segment. Its multimedia tool, DigitALly, has been adopted in more than 3,000 private schools across India since 2004. "DigitALly installations have been growing at three times the market for the past two years," Iyer says. "Currently, more than 60% of our customers are from tier two and tier three towns, such as Barpeta (in the state of Assam), Sohagpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and Balia (in Uttar Pradesh)."

In order to make its offering attractive to the schools, Pearson has devised a monthly payment model under which a school pays around US$2 per student per month. "As the price point is affordable, schools across all locations and fee structures find it viable to opt for our solution," Iyer notes. "We focus on tier two and tier three towns and cities where penetration is relatively low and desire for adoption of technology is high." HCL's Digischool program, which launched about 18 months ago, has also made a strong beginning, with a client base of more than 2,500 schools.

Meanwhile, state governments are also giving a boost to the adoption of technology in schools. Edureach, a divison of Educomp, has partnered with 16 state governments and more than 30 education departments and boards in the country, covering over 36,000 government schools and reaching out to more than 10.60 million students.

"Edureach leads the market with 27% of the total schools where ICT projects have been implemented," says Soumya Kanti, president of Edureach. "We are looking [to add] 3,000 more schools this fiscal year and 20,000 to 25,000 additional schools in the next five years." As of now, Edureach has created digital learning content in more than 14 regional languages for these projects.

In the northern state of Haryana, CORE Education and Technologies is implementing a US$59 million ICT project that aims to benefit 5 million students across 2,622 schools. Five of these schools will be developed as "Smart" schools. CORE is also implementing ICT projects in the states of Gujarat, Meghalaya, Punjab, Maharashtra and Nagaland. The scope of work in these projects ranges from implementation of computer-aided learning in schools, installing bio-metric devices to monitor attendance of teachers, and setting up computer hardware, software and other allied accessories and equipments.

"The task has not been an easy one," admits Anshul Sonak, president of CORE. "There are several logistical issues. Delivery of equipment to rural areas is a big challenge in itself.... There is lack of basic infrastructure -- either there are no classrooms or there are ones with no windows.... Some schools don't even have toilets. Moreover, the power availability in these areas is often poor and we have had to deploy generator sets in many schools."

But despite the challenges, educationists are optimistic. Rahul De, professor of quantitative methods and information systems area at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIM-B) believes that "ICT can have a huge impact on our education system." He points out that ICT can result in increasing the reach [of education] and in keeping the costs low. "With increasing penetration of mobile phones and Internet kiosks, the potential is indeed immense," he adds.

A study conducted by De in 2009 on the economic impact of free and open source software (FOSS) in India found that it resulted in significant cost savings. "FOSS can play a huge role in education," De notes. "In the state of Kerala, it has already had a huge impact in both saving costs and providing state-of-the-art access computing to students in government schools. FOSS has a huge number of packages for school students, many of which can be ported to local languages and used in schools. It is also helping disabled students in a big way, by enabling them to access digital resources using audio-visual aids."
Edureach's Kanti adds that a study by the Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Development Research in Dharwad in Karnataka in 2006 revealed significant improvement in student enrolment and attendance, as well as a reduction of student dropouts due to ICT interventions. "Yet another study conducted by the Xavier Institute of
Management in Bhubaneswar in 2007 revealed that computer-aided education has improved the performance of children in subjects such as English, mathematics and science, which are taught through computers using multimedia-based educational content."

In line with this increasing interest in technology for school education, there has been a rush of education-focused tablet computers in the market. The most high-profile of these has been Aakash, which was launched by Kapil Sibal, union minister for human resource development, in October 2011. The Aakash project is part of the ministry's National Mission on Education through Information & Communication Technology (NME-ICT). It aims to eliminate digital illiteracy by distributing the Aakash tablets to students across India at subsidized rates. While the project itself has become mired in delays and controversy, it has generated a lot of awareness and interest among students around the educational tablet.

Meanwhile, DataWind, the Canada-based firm that partnered with the union government for the Aakash project, has also launched UbiSlate7, the commercial version ofAakash. "The opportunity for low-cost tablets in India is huge. In the next two years, it will exceed the size of the computer market in India i.e. 10 million units per year," says Suneet Singh Tuli, president and CEO of DataWind.

In April, technology firm HCL Infosystems launched the MyEdu Tab, which is priced at around US$230 for the K-12 version. The device comes preloaded with educational applications and also books from the National Council of Educational Research and Training, a government organization. Anand Ekambaram, senior vice-president and head of learning at HCL Infosystems, is in the process of partnering with more than 30 educational institutes across India for MyEdu Tab. "MyEdu Tab has content offline and can be accessed over the cloud. It allows students to learn at their own pace," Ekambaram notes. "With a topic revision application and a self-assessment engine, students can evaluate their skills and knowledge on their own. Teachers can upload content, which can be accessed by students and parents for tasks such as homework and progress reports on their respective devices. The parent can monitor the progress of his or her child through the cloud-based ecosystem."

Earlier this year, Micromax, a leading Indian handset manufacturer, also launched an edutainment device called Funbook. Micromax has also partnered with Pearson and Everonn to make available relevant content for students. Susha John, director and CEO at Everonn, was upbeat at the launch. "Digital learning facilitated through tablets will revolutionize the educational space," John said. "Everonn has invested in developing content and services targeted toward tablet audiences. To start with, we will offer our school curriculum-learning modules ... and at home live tuition products on the Funbook. Students can now have access to good teachers, educational content and a great learning experience anytime, anywhere."

At Pearson, Max Gabriel, senior vice-president and chief technology officer, is "focusing on K-12 content in English to begin with. We are sitting on a huge repository of existing content. Adding the right level of interactivity and richer experience will be our priority." Meanwhile, Educomp is gearing up to launch content that is device agnostic and can be run on any tablet.

But even as schools in India are going through this transformation powered by technology, one key question is how big a role technology will play in the education sector.

In an earlier interview S. Sadagopan, founder-director at the International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore, pointed out that there are four parts to learning -- lectures, library, laboratory and life -- noting that, "Technology plays a critical role in all these." Kabir of Technopak adds another perspective. "Despite numerous studies on the impact of ICT in education, the outcomes remain difficult to measure and open to much debate. It needs to be understood that technology is only an enabler and a force multiplier and cannot be treated as a panacea. We believe that impressive gains in teaching-learning outcomes are possible only through an integrated approach rather than a piecemeal intervention."

Don Huesman, managing director of Wharton's innovation group, recommends caution in considering potential investments in educational technologies. "These are very exciting times for online and distance education technologies, but there are risks facing parents, educators and policy makers in evaluating the opportunities these new technologies, and their proponents, represent."

Huesman points to the recent growth in high-quality, free, online educational courseware offered on websites like the Khan Academy and the Math Forum, as well as the work of the Open Learning Initiative in developing intelligent cognitive tutors and learning analytics. "But such technologies, available from a global network of resources, only provide value when understood, chosen and integrated into a local educational community," he says. As an illustration, Huesman offers the example of cyber kiosks, provided in recent years by foundations at no cost to rural communities in India, exacerbating the "gender divide" in many traditional communities in which young women congregating at public cyber cafes, also frequented by young men, would be considered taboo. "Interventions by governments and NGOs must be inclusive of local community concerns and aware of local political complications," Huesman notes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Big Mission: 10,000 Start-Ups In Next 10 Years

 The National Association of Software & Services (Nasscom) today announced a plan aimed at incubating, funding and supporting 10,000 technology start-ups in India over the next ten years.

Mr Som Mittal, President Nasscom, said, “10,000 Start-ups aims to catalyse the technology start-up ecosystem by 5X and create a significant national impact on employment, GDP, innovation and entrepreneurship indices. This is one of the largest initiatives that Nasscom is undertaking and will be vital to realise the industry vision of $300 billion by 2020.”

Among the attendees at the launch were Rajan Anandan, MD Google India, Saurabh Srivastava, Founder of Indian Angel Network, Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman Microsoft India and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman Google Inc.

Schmidt had a few tips for entrepreneurs.

“Focus on recruiting. The first set of people you hire are those that set the culture. Having the right technical people matters a lot,” Schmidt said, adding, “The world is a much bigger place than you think of it. Most people underestimate what they are working on. As a start-up you can change the world.”

He also said finding the right partner to start a business is very difficult, but very essential for the growth of a company. “If you can find yourself a partner who is so embedded with you in business and you live and die with them in arguments – understanding you are alive. That is amazing,” Schmidt said.

The program plans to incubate and fund 10,000 technology start-ups facilitating a tenfold growth in them to $15 billion firms and will focus on multifold activities aimed at fostering entrepreneurship, building entrepreneurial capabilities at scale and providing robust early stage support through incubation, mentorship and angel funding.

Start-ups can benefit by receiving early stage funding between Rs 5 lakhs and Rs 2 crore, with three to four months of incubation and acceleration help, a start-up kit which will consist of technology and business tools worth $25,000. Most of all, the start-ups will benefit by striking connections to technology mentors, leaders and venture capitalists.

Nasscom has said it will focus on three key areas to achieve its goal:

1) Evangelise and create awareness about technology entrepreneurship as a preferred career option. India has an organised workforce of 30 million of which 3 million are IT professionals.

2) Engage with aspiring entrepreneurs through digital/social channels and start-up support groups to create entrepreneurial capability. The programme will see over 7,000 start-up events like hackathons, investor roadshows and best practices workshops being held across 30 cities. Tech talks and discussions will help entrepreneurs identify global technology trends and needs.

3) Incubate and facilitate funding of 10,000 start-ups through partnerships, extend support to incubators/funding partners in the form of industry connects and co-working infrastructure and a start-up kit consisting of hosting credits and other technology and business tools valued over $25,000.

“With over 150 million internet users and growing, the internet in India presents enormous opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. At Google we are very excited about the possibilities that India represents and are committed to extend all the support to make this initiative a roaring success,” Rajan Anandan, VP and Managing Director, Google India said. “We will work very closely with Nasscom and all the players in the ecosystem to boost the technology innovation rate in India,” he added.

Some of Nasscom’s partners in the program are the Indian Angel Network, Google, Microsoft and Verisign.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reevaluation of India’s Nuclear Program

By Mukesh Williams

The paper concerns the reasons for India going nuclear, the development of its nuclear program and its rationale for its not signing the NPT and CTBT in spite of advocating a non-violent foreign policy. The early stages of India’s nuclear program were prompted by a perceived threat of China and later of Pakistan. The success of the program was a combination of three factors namely, a skilled organizational workforce, scientific leadership and political endorsement. In this the contributions of the IAEC, Homi Bhabha and the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru played a significant role.

India’s accelerated nuclear development in the 1960s and 1970s was again prompted by the nuclear ascendancy of China and its unilateral support to Pakistan as a buffer zone. India took advantage of the positive connotations of nuclear technology in mid-twentieth century and developed a thermal reactor thereby initiating a nuclear program that would evolve into the nuclear explosive project. The explosion of a nuclear device by China in 1964 initiated a debate in the Indian media and political circles on the efficacy of developing a nuclear military technology and the negative impact on its fragile economy. While the Congress Party believed in international diplomacy to contain the hegemonic intentions of China, the BJP and the Praja Socialist Party argued for developing a military nuclear option. It was believed that the military nuclearization of India would not contradict the pacifist goals of Gandhian ideals that had infused its foreign policy. On the contrary the theory of deterrence would protect the sovereignty of India thereby making the ethical compromise pragmatic and viable.

The secretive development of the nuclear program under Indira Gandhi and Homi Sethna culminated in the explosion of PNE at Pokhran in 1974 and made Indian foreign policy more assertive. The changed geo-political reality of the 1980s in the wake of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan pushed the United States closer towards Pakistan making Pakistan an American ally to combat the threat of growing Soviet communism in the region. With a supportive America, Pakistan took the Chinese help in developing its own nuclear program aimed at containing India. Perceiving a new nexus between Pakistan and China, India began to develop its own missile technology. In 1996 the CTBT once again reiterated a time bound framework for universal nuclear disarmament placing yet a new pressure on India to contain its nuclear program. Sensing the closing of the nuclear window India conducted five nuclear explosions at Pokhran to bolster its image aboard and then place a moratorium on nuclear tests. In the wake of these explosions there were worldwide condemnations and the US, European powers and its allies like Japan placed economic sanctions on India.

India however continued to develop both economically and technologically in subsequent decades and began to be perceived as a responsible nuclear nation and a western ally in its fight against terrorism. In 2006 the US signed a treaty with India initiating a civilian nuclear transfer of technology beneficial to both countries. Both the European and Japanese perceptions about India’s nuclear program has changed from political belligerence to economic advantage. India has always argued that the development of dual-purpose nuclear technology would offer a cheap and effective resource to resolve economic and social problems but this is debatable.

In a world wrought by extremely divisive forces, nations with advanced nuclear and missile technologies act as deterrence to state-sponsored violence and keep a check on the hegemonic ambitions of non-nuclear nations. Today, it is not only enough to possess nuclear weapons but also a sophisticated delivery system in the form of intercontinental ballistic missiles to be taken seriously by other nations. In its February 14, 2009 issue The Times of India reported that India would test-fire ICBMs in 2010. By this date it would also acquire a submarine launched ballistic missile technology (SLBM), and develop a ballistic missile defense system (BMD) in order to offset its military disadvantage and come closer to the exclusive club of nuclear nations formed by America, Russia and China. In the light of these new developments it is important to analyze the causes and motives that forced India to go nuclear about four decades ago in spite of espousing a non-violent foreign policy.

Early Stages of India’s Nuclear Program: India’s nuclear program began in the late 1940s when India gained independence from Britain after over 150 years of protracted colonial rule. The memory of American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fresh in the minds of Indian leaders and the public, who felt the need to develop an indigenous nuclear technology and military superiority to prevent future colonization or hegemony by any other ambitious nation. India began to see the U. S. model of using nuclear technology for producing both domestic energy and providing military defense as an ideal for its geographical and political situation. At the same time India never lost sight of developing nuclear technology indigenously—whether it was related to the mining and enrichment of uranium and reprocessing spent fuel or the development of cryogenic engines and supercomputers.

The beginning and success of India’s nuclear program was a rich combination of perceived military threats and able political and scientific leadership to address these threats. India’s nuclear program, beginning in the 1960s and developing in the 1970s, was a direct outcome of perceived security threats from China and Pakistan. The success of the program owes in large measure to the dedicated efforts of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, its chairman Homi Jehangir Bhabha and the late Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Together they provided the impetus for a skilled workforce, a sophisticated infrastructure and nuclear R&D to create a formidable nuclear defense plan for India that would become the envy of many nations. The first one-megawatt thermal reactor in India named Apsara went critical on August 4, 1956 paving the way for the development of its dual-purpose nuclear technology.

In the early 1950s atomic R&D was viewed in the world as a positive contribution by nations towards resolving their economic and social problems. The development of atomic energy did not have the negative connotations of ‘nuclear proliferation,’ ‘mass destruction’ or ‘global threat’ as it has today. India took advantage of this favorable international climate and used the expertise of nuclear nations like France, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States to build its own nuclear technology. Of all these nations, Canada was instrumental in helping India construct its nuclear program in the initial stages. Briefly, the initial two decades, that is the 1950s and 1960s, were basically developmental in nature as they provided India with the nuclear expertise to expand its infrastructure and nuclear agenda into what Lal Bahadur Shastri termed “the nuclear explosive” project.

The Nuclear Debate: From 1947 to 1964 India continued to develop its civilian nuclear infrastructure keeping the military option open. But when in 1964 China exploded a nuclear device, the act initiated a grand debate about the security needs of India based on its nuclear threat perception of China and Russia. India always saw communist China as a friend and often raised the highly emotional slogan Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai, or Indians-Chinese Brothers, Brothers. India never anticipated that a border dispute with China would soon turn into a full blown conflict. In 1962 India fought a contentious border war with China and lost about 50,000 square miles of territory to it. The Sino-Indian conflict revealed the abysmally poor defense system India possessed. The conflict shattered the belief that a communist country would never threaten the sovereignty of India. However, this perceived and real threat from China did not push India into a nuclear arms race with China. India still feared the debilitating effect of a costly nuclear development on its fragile economy.

The Congress government wisely realized that, at the present moment, to pursue international diplomacy in order to contain the hegemonic intentions of China would be more suited to India’s needs. The opposition parties did not share the government’s view. Both the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the socialist party, The Praja Socialist Party, demanded the nation to develop a nuclear military option to combat the growing hegemonic intentions of both China and Russia. The intellectual elites, the media and the political parties in India began to debate the pros and cons of a robust nuclear policy.

The Indian newspapers saw the Chinese nuclear policy as a “new menace” to the world that directly affected India, its next door neighbor. Some pacifists argued that India must not develop its own nuclear weapon technology but instead seek nuclear protection from the US. Though the United States president assured India of American help in the eventuality of a nuclear attack, the US government was unwilling to make a firm commitment. The lack of a clear assurance from the US made Indian leaders feel that in case of an emergency, or a scenario where Russia and China joined hands against India, American help may not be forthcoming. India always considered verbal assurances somewhat unreliable in international diplomacy, and rightly so. The US government on the other hand was unwilling to make a firm commitment to India or sign a treaty. Given the state of affairs it was felt that an independent nuclear program would not only free India from depending on the US or Russia, but also bestow prestige on the country for its scientific prowess.

The Ethical Imperative: The Indian debate on “going nuclear” was fervently discussed under many sub-themes including necessity and cost, but the most significant sub-theme was the ethical imperative. It was felt that the nuclear program would run contrary to the general non-violent ideals propounded by Mahatma Gandhi and the pacifist principles of Panchsheel enshrined in the Indian foreign policy. Obviously the pragmatists disagreed. They argued that the threat posed by five nuclear nations to the security of India was far greater than the ethical compromise. They further argued that the theory of deterrence need not contradict the moral basis of nonviolence, but in fact lend credence to it. Since China posed a long-term threat to the security of India, China continued to shape Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis nuclear disarmament and sanctions. It was felt that even if China did not use the bomb on India, it would threaten to use the nuclear option to blackmail and coerce India. Therefore many intellectual elites felt that strengthening nuclear security at high cost was a far greater priority for the government than just worrying about fiscal development.

Soon the pragmatists were able to win over the moralists and the idealists in their campaign to develop a nuclear option. Both the ruling and opposition parties began to feel the need for developing military nuclear infrastructure. Even from within the Congress Party pressure began to mount on the government to produce its own “atom bomb.” The New Delhi Pradesh Congress President Mustaq Ahmed voiced this concern by suggesting that the time was right for India to develop its own nuclear infrastructure. In November 1964 the Jana Sangh tabled a motion in the Lok Sabha urging the Indian government to produce nuclear weapons. Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri who until now was opposed to the idea of a nuclear program, began to be convinced that India should go nuclear. He modified Jana Sangh’s motion by suggesting that India should develop “peaceful nuclear explosives” in the near future. This paved the way for an underground nuclear test called the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion Project.

Response to Pakistan and China: The conflict with Pakistan also helped India to think more positively about its nuclear program. In 1965 India and Pakistan fought a bloody war to resolve the territorial dispute in Kashmir. In this conflict China supported Pakistan creating a sense of crisis in India. China threatened India with grave consequences if it proceeded with military action against Pakistan. It is during this period that India’s nonviolent idealism gave way to a pragmatic defense policy that included the nuclear option. The political history of the 1960s in India amply demonstrates this conclusion.

Though initially Indira Gandhi pursued a non-nuclear policy, the thermonuclear test by China on May 9, 1966 and the nuclear missile test on October 27, 1966 convinced her in favor of developing a nuclear explosive technology. Also the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was increasingly considered detrimental to the security interests of India, as it did not attempt to contain the Chinese problem. On the contrary it went on to legalize China’s nuclear status. India therefore refused to sign the NPT in 1968. A survey in 1972 demonstrated that 68.9 percent of Indians were not in favor of the NPT.

India always perceived China’s nuclear and rocket technology as a threat to its security. On April 24, 1970 China tested a rocket carrying a satellite in orbit. This once again raised India’s anxiety to a new level. In response to the Chinese threat, IAEC chairman, Vikram Sarabhai initiated a 10-year nuclear space program called the Sarabhai Profile that would develop a missile delivery system for both civilian and military purposes.

The Difficult 1970s and Pokhran I: In the midst of political and technological impasse, India began to inch forward towards a nuclear option. Though the political crisis in the 1970s was obvious, the technological crisis was less obtrusive. The Americans had refused to transfer the technology of super computers and the Russians were coerced by Americans to deny cryogenic engines to India. Denied help from both the superpowers India turned swadeshi. In less than four years it was able to produce the supercomputer named Param and develop its own brand of cryogenic engine. In 1974 India conducted its first peaceful nuclear explosion or PNE at Pokhran, nicknamed “Buddha Smile,” under the leadership of Indira Gandhi and Homi Sethna, a test that was conceived much earlier by Dr. Raja Ramanna. Though India vehemently denied that the test was a precursor to the development of a formidable nuclear arsenal, the test did two things: firstly it strengthened India’s nuclear option and secondly it opened the way for the development of nuclear weapons. It can be argued that India’s increasing assertiveness in foreign policy ran at tandem with its nuclear strength. The nuclear testing at Pokhran created a quick reaction and condemnation from countries like Pakistan, United States and Canada for various reasons. Pakistan felt threatened. The United States became concerned of a regional instability in the subcontinent and Canada felt betrayed as the plutonium came from the Canadian CIRUS reactor. However, most Indians were fully supportive of the nuclear development.

The New Political Reality of the 1980s: The early 1980s saw a new realignment of superpower interests in the South Asian subcontinent. We must remember that this is the period of a Cold War between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The American reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 pushed US interests closer towards Pakistan. The US needed Pakistan to prevent Soviet hegemony in the region and expansion in the west. It also needed Pakistan to buttress anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. The US tilt towards Pakistan reopened American military aid in the form of financial assistance and supply of F16s to Pakistan. India began to see a new threat from the growing alliance between the US and Pakistan and between Pakistan and China. Furthermore India became deeply concerned when it saw that China was directly helping Pakistan at Kahuta and PINSTECH in Rawalpindi to build its nuclear and missile technology. At one point India even contemplated surgical and preemptive strikes at these two locations.

As a reaction to the new political realignment in the subcontinent in 1983 India initiated the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) under the direct supervision of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The IGMDP allowed India to integrate its anti-tank, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface technologies in the development of its nuclear missile program. In 1984 Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan’s comment that his country possessed the capability to produce weapon-grade uranium, accelerated India’s own nuclear program. When in 1985 Pakistan tested a triggering device for a nuclear explosion India’s threat perception of its neighbor was raised to a new height. Rajiv Gandhi was well aware of Pakistan’s nuclear ambition and its threat to India. Though he campaigned for global disarmament he did not abandon the nuclear option or the use of nuclear technology for civil use. By the early 1990s India had developed about two-dozen nuclear devices to be deployed at short notice.

Retreat of the Soviet Union: The end of the Cold War in 1991 restructured the global strategic balance. Apart from other geopolitical changes it also saw the breakup of the Soviet Union. The restructuring weakened the diplomatic support of the Soviet Union and supply of arms to India. From 1993-1995 China threatened India by deploying nuclear warheads in Tibet. China also assured Pakistan of helping it develop its nuclear and ballistic missile technologies. It is in this background that the Kashmir issue flared up. Pakistan began supporting insurgency in Muslim-dominated Kashmir and threatened India with the use of nuclear device if forced into a tight corner.

Besieged by China and Pakistan, depending on a weakened friend like the Soviet Union for support, and criticized by western powers for pursuing a nuclear program, India felt increasingly beleaguered. We must see some of the subsequent developments in the light of this situation. Though in October 1963 India had decided to join the Partial Test Ban Treaty it consistently refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on moral grounds. As late as 1996, India voted against the UN General Assembly resolution endorsing CTBT on the grounds that the resolution lacked a “time-bound” framework for universal nuclear disarmament and a ban on laboratory simulations. However though India rejected the terms and conditions of the CTBT, major powers began using the provisions of the CTBT to put pressure on India to either join it or curtail its nuclear ambition. Since India had become a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) four of its nuclear reactors had to comply with the IAEA security safeguard standards. It became increasingly difficult for India to pursue a policy of nuclear ambiguity. India began to realize that like China, sooner or later, it had to accept the NPT and the CTBT. The rising power of China and its unequivocal support of Pakistan further exacerbated India’s anxieties. It is within these parameters that we must understand India’s movement towards Pokhran II.

Pokhran II: In early 1998 when the Hindu BJP came to power, it wanted to realize its election pledge of advancing India’s nuclear capability. In May 1998 it conducted five nuclear tests under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. It is argued that these tests were part of the party’s strategy to bolster its image both at home and abroad. Subsequent events revealed that this argument was not completely sustainable. Within a few months of Pokhran II the BJP lost elections in three major states of India, namely Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. However it must be remembered that in 1995 the Congress Party under Narshima Rao also wanted to test a nuclear devise but backed out under US pressure. It can be said that the pressure of the CTBT became a diplomatic barrier that India had to either break or succumb to. India chose to take a bold stand and conduct its nuclear tests.

Over the years US sanctions against India have been lifted and European and Japanese acrimony has also evaporated. In 2006 India and the US signed a civilian nuclear transfer of technology which was considered mutually beneficial. This has to do with a growing recognition in the west that India is not only a responsible nation using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but also a strong international ally in fighting terrorism.

Conclusion: Though the development of the nuclear program has directly addressed India’s anxieties regarding its neighbors, it is debatable whether nuclear technology for civilian use is beneficial in the long run. It is widely believed that nuclear energy would provide sustainable and cheap electricity to India in the coming years. However many scientists argue that this hope may be belied as it has been in other countries pursuing the same goal. Nuclear technology has never proved to be a major generator of electricity. On the contrary the dangers it poses to the environment are far greater than its benefits. Though the deployment of nuclear weapons is directly under the control and command of the prime minister of India, the threat of nuclear weapons from countries like China and Pakistan to the people of the Indian subcontinent cannot be ignored. Even though India’s nuclear deterrence is enormous in the region it still calls for a serious discussion on the ways nuclear technology is utilized in future and the need for nuclear disarmament in the subcontinent.