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Tinkering IIT Bombay Style

by Dewashish Kumar Dey
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Something has bothered us for the few years of our stay in the institute. After quite a bit of soul searching and walks under the dim lights in the institute, it wasn’t difficult to find out what is that abstract thing that has been so unsettling. For many of the students of the institute, taking a high-paying job is a very big thing, for which most of us have slogged nights and days preparing for IIT-JEE. The slogging ensured that majority of us entered the prestigious institute eyeing packages and good paying jobs and not evolving into engineers to develop technology.  Many of us end up as being consultants, investment bankers, analysts and not the engineers that we have been trained for the four years in the institute. I am not sure if this is my experience alone or the issue troubling a major part of the student community. But one thing we all can say with surety is that the education system in our country has failed us all.

It is being long felt that youngsters entering the field of engineering education in India are not as facile and deft with objects and things of everyday life as their peers from developed countries. A significant number of Indian youth are noIMG_0774t sufficiently hands-on, and this missing ingredient often slows down the pace of technology based innovation. In an endeavour towards bridging this gap Tinkerers’ Lab has been established.

The recent initiative taken by alumni from the batch of ’75, supported by the current IIT-B administration, called the Tinkerers’ Lab, is a tiny move in the right direction. Tinkerers’ Lab is a place where students can meet in groups, outside of the regular curriculum. It is situated besides TreeLabs near Mechanical Engineering Department at N3 Bay area. The workspace at Tinkerers’ Lab is being equipped with tools and materials to allow students to break down and rebuild gadgets to learn how they work, or to build novel gadgets. To a large extent, our engineering education at IIT-B is being treated as a queue where once you enter you wait your turn to get out and start making big bucks by getting jobs with global consultancy firms, or joining MBA schools. Tinkerers’ Lab is encouraging those who want to be different.


The lab was inaugurated on March 19, 2014 by Dr. R. Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in the presence of Prof. Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT Bombay, Prof. U.A. Yajnik, Dean, Students Affairs, IIT Bombay, Prof. Ravi Sinha, Dean, Alumni & Corporate Relations, IIT Bombay, among others. Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Chidambaram, said, “One of the aims of the Tinkerers’ Lab is to empower students to take systems apart, examine the component parts and rebuilding back the original systems. It will also help the students to put together new systems, to convert creative ideas into actual engineering products.” Moreover, he suggested that design innovation may be incorporated into the new technology development. “Design innovation can add exceptional value to product innovation and you have an excellent Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay. I hope the students using Tinkerers’ Lab are able to derive benefit from the Design Centre as well,” he added.


The Lab has been established with a generous funding received from the 1975 alumni batch of the Institute, who have pledged a sum of Rs 2 crores towards it. The ’75 batch alumni team will moreover, provide mentoring, run workshops, and help organize lectures by eminent innovators from India and abroad, for the benefit of IIT Bombay students.
According to Mr. Hemant Kanakia, a ’75 batch alumnus of the Institute and a successful entrepreneur based in USA, “Our counterparts in US and Europe learn to build and tinker with systems from an early age. That gives them an edge when we compete with them in our professional lives. Innovators like Steve Jobs of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook developed their innovative ideas while experimenting as students, whereas we at IIT usually learn how to excel within confined bounds of curriculum and examination system. I believe that to be relevant in technology game, IITs  have to meet the challenge of how to motivate their students to build things, to take initiatives and to learn to innovate by building.

The Tinkerers’ Lab is being set up with an intention of promoting experimentation, creativity and innovation, and will be equipped with latest workstations of electrical and mechanical tools including power mechanical machines like Lathe, Milling, Welding, Drilling, electronic test instruments, 3-D modelling software, Small PCB manufacturing unit, several workbenches, several single board computers such as Arduino boards, etc. It will also allow students to borrow spare parts and electrical circuits from its store and would provide latest mechanical and electrical tools to build and to test electro-mechanical systems from small to big projects like robots, flying machines, and biometric systems, to cite a few examples.


Laser CNC cutting machine built in TL.

The facility, which is managed by the Students’ Technical Activities Body (STAB), is open to all students of the Institute, irrespective of their discipline, and is accessible 24×7. It provides the freedom and facility to experiment, exercise imaginations and build novel systems. Students begin by taking apart systems and learning how it works and by putting the knowledge they gain to build innovative advanced systems. “I hope this will aid us in generating a culture, where students work in the labs, do things on their own and also learn in the process,” said, Prof. Khakhar.

Already,Tinkerers’ Lab has helped in taking the institute’s technical projects to a new level. A 27 x 7 open working space with all the latest equipments and machineries has removed infrastructural barriers. A few of the projects accomplished/ongoing in Tinkerers’ Lab are listed below:.

  1. Low cost CNC cutting and engraving machine
  2. Fault testing and analysis of digital circuits
  3. Refreshable Braille Display
  4. Tilt Rotor
  5. Ultrasonic Blind Vision device
  6. Pole Climbing Robot
  7. Self Balancing Robot
  8. Drishti – Reading robot
  9. A prototype for blood typing
  10. Wall Climbing Robot
  11. Skates
  12. Traffic flow estimation using Infrared imaging
  13. Guitar Making Device
  14. Selective Laser Sintering Machine

Every year during summer STAB organizes Institute Technical Summer Projects (ITSP) for students to transform their own ideas into prototypes.

Thanks to Tinkerers’ lab, students were able to maximize the outcomes with consolidated efforts. The availability of each and every thing required to drive the project to completion under one roof, ranging from soldering iron to milling machine and from mentor support to inter-team interaction helped the teams a lot. 74 out of the 121 projects were completed and demonstrated by freshmen during the summer. The list of all registered projects can be found at http://itsp.stab-iitb.org/projects.php.

The facility is now the hub for tech-enthusiastic students to meet up and works on novel ideas.TLpic1


Major Events funded by Tinkerers’ Lab are:

  • FireHack hardware hackathon
    36-hour long hardware hackathon wherein participants worked on their submitted ideas to develop a prototype with a long-term aim to convert it into a product. These ideas were pitched to investors during the final presentation. There was a turnout of 12 IIT teams and 2 non-IIT teams out of which 8 teams successfully demonstrated their work.
  • SSTeP (Solution to Socio-Technical Problems)
    A week-long event with an objective of identifying the existing problems on campus and getting people started with the implementation of possible technical solutions.

Major events where Tinkerers’ Lab has been extensively used are:

  • XLR8 – Remote Controlled Car Racing Competition
    Largest competition for freshmen witnessing participation of about 600 students. Tinkerers’ Lab used by teams to make their bots and for debugging sessions. Teams used RF modules made by STAB managers in Tinkerers’ Lab while in previous years RF modules were procured from market.
  • Line Follower Competition
    Second competition for freshmen, where freshmen are introduced to arduino and basic automation systems. Participation of 40 teams out of which 24 teams attempted the track and 11 teams completed the task.
  • Techify your Room
    Take-home projects which could be implemented in hostel rooms. Participation of 6 teams with 6-8 people in each team out of which 5 teams completed the projects.

We sincerely thank the alumni batch of ’75 for taking a step towards improving the technical scene in the institute. We thank them not just for the funding but also for their constant support and encouragement. Without their guidance, this major step towards getting the next big innovation from India would never have become a reality.

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