Driven by an initiative taken by Central Government’s Department of Heavy Industry (DHI) to promote innovation and develop a related ecosystem for the advancement of technology locally in the country, Manesar-based International Centre of Automotive Technology (ICAT) has created ASPIRE, an e-portal that launched, July 15, 2020.
ASPIRE is an acronym for Automobile Solutions Portal for Industry, Research & Education, and it aims to aid and advance the development of newer technologies and address the challenges in the field of automotive technology. This is one of several platforms being created for various technology sectors with the help of organizations under the aegis of DHI.
Auto Tech Review spoke to Dinesh Tyagi, Director, ICAT on the thought behind this initiative and how ICAT wishes to take the initiative forward. Excerpts:
What is the thought behind the creation of ASPIRE, and what are the basic objectives?
The thought process behind the creation of the ASPIRE platform originates from our Prime Minister’s Make in India initiative, which is now being translated into something actionable. All the ministries have been given this task and assignment to create the ecosystem, and the environment to really make it happen on the ground.
As part of our parent ministry, the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, the task of realising Make in India for the auto sector has been assigned to ICAT and ARAI. This e-portal is an initiative of Arun Goel, Secretary, DHI, who has assigned this task to five entities under DHI, and ICAT is one of them. All five of them are independently working to create a such e-portals, which will bring together all those people who require certain technologies and research, those who can provide and develop technology, and those who can support this initiative.
With this portal, we are primarily trying to bring together the industry, which needs certain technologies to be developed, to enable them to have so-called local technology, ‘Made in India’ technology, and that technology could be in terms of the product, processes or anything that goes into producing something locally. Providers such as the academia do a lot of research, but unfortunately that just lies as research and is never applied; and doesn’t find its way into real application.
There is a strong thought process in our Secretary’s mind is that we are dependent on the West, on Japan, the US, and some of the advanced Asian countries like Korea and Taiwan for technology. His vision is that over a period of say five to 10 years, depending on the complexity of a certain technology, we should become self-sufficient. He believes we should develop our own technologies, conduct our own research, and we should reduce our dependence on these advanced nations. And that way, India can really contribute to the Prime Minister’s vision to create a $ 5 tn economy over the next five years.
Here, we are trying to bring together academia, R&D institutions & professionals, consultants, individual experts, test houses, research labs, including government research labs, who actually does a lot of research but doesn’t find its way to real application, primarily because at times the research is not target oriented. The objective of ASPIRE is to bring together everybody and those, who wish to avail of a certain technology, process or sometimes even troubleshooting, field problems, quality issues, or even a technical requirement and need of the industry, which they are not able to fulfil by themselves in the country and have to seek help of foreign countries, that should be enabled to be done in India through this platform.
Who would be the users of this portal?
The users would primarily be the industry, who can float their requirement on the portal. A certain elaborate system would be in place, which – based on the profile – can be passed on automatically to those who can actually help. Sometimes, if there is a bigger requirement, there will be a provision to float a kind of expression of interest (EoI). Start-ups are also a part of this.
Could you give us the launch plan of this portal?
This porta will be launched in three phases – the first phase will be live on July 15, which will have the basic registration and such functionality to begin with. On August 15, we will launch the second phase, which will be fully functional, while a few other things will be launched on September 15, 2020.
This will also need to be a huge collaborative effort, Mr Tyagi?
Yes, it has to be. Developing a portal is not very big thing, but the key will be in operationalising this, make it usable so that more and more people come onto this and find value – both the users and the people who need technology, and also those who can provide technology.
So, what I anticipate is that the initial concept, when launched on August 15, will be a basic first-cut version of this portal. But we will have to constantly, continuously evolve it going forward. We will keep a full-time team of two people to manage this portal from ICAT’s side and will be hiring one IT resource from the developer IT company, who will be working full time on improvement ideas. Customer requirement keeps changing, and the environment keeps changing; so, you have to continuously evolve your portal also.
Besides, there will be a provision for people to take our services as a programme manager, which is optional, not mandatory. But those who wish to avail ICAT’s services, in that process, we will be providing those services.
You’ve talked about the objective of being self-reliant, and you’ve talked about taking a stakeholder approach. Plus, there is the provision of programme management at some level. Do you think this would enable some amount of core research within the sector, and is ICAT willing to support the industry that way?
Yes, the whole objective of ASPIRE is to do research, product development and some consultancy. In product development, as you understand, there’s already research that has happened. Based on that research, technology needs to be developed. Aster technology development, the next stage would be product development. So, research, technology, and product are the three phases or three levels of application. And this portal will support all three. Wherever ICAT can provide support through a collaborative approach, we’ll try to pull-in all resources.
Our honourable Secretary, DHI views that a lot of activities are happening in siloes in India. National Laboratories are doing their own research, and there is a possibility that multiple labs are doing the same research. Battery technology for e-mobility is one area, where many private entities as well as government labs are working on. But they do not talk to each other. His idea is if research and technology of national interest can be done in a common manner, it will decrease the lead time and cost. If we can pull in resources of such experts, the diversity of thought processes can still be maintained. I think as a country we can do a good job.
The other initiative that the ASPIRE portal will support is the Grand Challenges, which will be primarily government initiatives. So, developing a core research or core technology development, which is of a national level – battery technology, for example, could be a part of a Grand Challenge. Big items of national interest could be taken up through Grand Challenges, and potentially get funded by the government. Otherwise, if the industry need the services of other stakeholders for their business and commercial activities, they will have to pay.
How would ASPIRE help create an ecosystem for research, technology development or product development?
At present, companies that need technology look westwards or other developed nations, where the technology has already been developed. Because nobody wants to take a chance, and risk the application of a commercial product. Let’s take the example of BS 6. Lots of new technology went into vehicles to meet BS 6, and those were developed technologies used in Europe, because Europe already had Euro 6 several years back. Those countries carried out their own research, technology, development and commercialisation, and we just picked them.
So, now, when the government intends to make this ecosystem through an e-portal, I think the success will have to be based around creating a few projects. We will need to very consciously approach people, convince them, and through a collaborative approach, we’ll need to realise it. Initially, it may be slow to begin with, but success breeds success, right? We will need to build a few success stories through the portal, and in that ICAT will play a big role, and I personally would like to play a big role.
Otherwise, this can just drown. It can just become an e-portal that doesn’t yield any result. The key will be in the operationalisation. There has to be certain credibility, there has to be the view of certain value addition for all the stakeholders on this e-portal, and that has to be very carefully thought of.
Any thoughts on the kind of work that might kick-off this portal?
I can give you a directional thought, which may not be in concrete technology per se. In a vehicle currently, there are many system-level parts, aggregates, for which technology has been bought by people through JVs or technology transfers by paying some fees. There could be certain product development requirements of OEMs each time they wish to bring out a new model. That is the time where we'll have to pitch in.
OEMs, Tier I, Tier II and Tier III suppliers will all be part of this e-portal. We’ll have to reach out to them, talk to them and convince them to engage in product development through this e-portal. Product development is something to begin with. Technology development and resource will need more conviction. Research is of course not time bound as much as product development. So, keeping all this in mind, we’ll have to actually consult.
I’m getting an idea of creating a governing board with people, who can actually assist me to operationalise this e-portal. That's a great idea. More minds, more ideas, people who are passionate about the country and who can really contribute here, let me think about this. I’ll make a governing board for this and have regular consultations with them.
Finally, how do you see this progressing in the mid to long-term?
The initial portal development is going fine. Whatever we had planned for Phase One is on time and on track, and I believe even Phase Two is on track. This will happen on time and once we start to use this, real things will start happening.