To mark EU Day this year, a special webinar was hosted between an EU delegation and the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIITH) on October 28, 2020. Here’s what it entailed.
The concept of EU Day first began in 2017 when it was officially launched as part of EU Public Diplomacy in India through Policy and Outreach Partnerships. Through this initiative, EU Days support the achievement of EU’s foreign policy objectives by actively engaging with academic institutions and students and providing them insights into EU’s policies and programmes on a set of themes. This year’s theme which centred around human centric digitisation, both through research and innovation as well as policy dialogue seemed apt for an institution like IIITH.
According to Prof. P.J. Narayanan, Director, IIITH, while research has always been the primary focus of the institute, especially in information technology, its application in other domain areas lies at the institute’s core. This has been demonstrated by the presence of interdisciplinary research centres on campus such as the lab for Spatial Informatics, Building Sciences, Computational Linguistics as well as the more recent Social and Human Applications of AI.
The latter especially assumes importance in the wake of the pandemic where there has been greater reliance on staying connected and communicating virtually. While stating that both India and the EU share the same principles of democracy, His Excellency Mr. Ugo Astuto, the Ambassador of the European Union to India stressed upon the need to further collaborate to face the challenges of countering not just the pandemic, but also climate change and a digital transformation which requires resilient and secure communications. He fielded questions from students about the role of academia and research in the current scenario, and the takeaways for policy makers while simultaneously allaying fears about the Covid-19 situation being a set back to Indian researchers wishing to pursue research in the EU.
Data Is King
Mr. Benoit Sauveroche, consulate and part of the EU delegation echoed His Excellency’s thoughts when he kicked off the first session of the webinar. However he went a step further and said that data encapsulates all elements of a digital transformation. While presenting the concept of a data-driven economy, he mentioned that all data would be useless unless mined and analysed appropriately. Thus by highlighting the challenges and enablers for the same, he emphasized upon the need for India-EU cooperation in this field. He also underscored the need for a human-centric approach for the application of AI.
In this context, appropriately enough Prof. Vikram Pudi who was moderating the session invited Prof. Nimmi Rangaswamy, a human computer interaction (HCI) expert to speak about her research. As an anthropologist and researcher in emerging technologies, Prof. Rangaswamy briefly touched upon some of her research work such as the ethnographic profiling of Uber drivers in the Indian context where they discovered technology to be an enabler for the drivers and another study on one of the largest IT skilling hubs where they found learners prefer classroom tutoring to upskill themselves rather than online learning platforms. Prof. Radha Krishna, National Institute of Warangal, an expert on big data and data mining spoke about how data can be measured and laid out a roadmap for the coming decade and more in a data-driven economy.
Living Labs Project
Sachin Gaur, Project Coordinator of the India-EU ICT Standardization pact started the second session with basic information about the project itself. As part of the joint venture, a Centre of Excellence on IoT for Smart Cities was established at IIITH. He summarized the activities conducted under the aegis of the CoE such as outreach measures in the form of hackathons, workshops and conferences on components of IoT but also standards such as OneM2M. Exploratory trips to Estonia and France were organized by the EU for the IIITH faculty to pursue collaborations between Indian and French universities. In fact, it was during one of these trips that the inspiration for a Living Lab on IIITH campus was seeded. Prof. Ramesh Loganathan, who heads this initiative mentioned how the project took off with the signing of an MoU between the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) and IIITH. The goal of the lab is to help startups who are foraying into ‘Smart City” products as well as those keen on sustainable urban development. Funded by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) and the state government in association with EBTC, it seeks to leverage on the expertise of Amsterdam Innovation Arena. The arena uses the concept of a ‘smart stadium’ and its adjoining area as a hotspot for testing innovations to tackle challenges for the city.
What The Indian Govt Seeks
To bring in the EU-India perspective on the theme for EU Day, there was a significant presence of officials from the European Commission or European subject matter experts. Similarly, for the Indian perspective on the theme, there was representation from not just the institute’s faculty members and other subject matter experts, but also government officials. The latter was made up by the presence of Ajay Garg, Senior Director, MEITY and Ms. Rama Devi Lanka, Director of Emerging Technologies, TS Govt. Mr. Garg who was all praise for the institute spoke about its pioneering steps in all things IT. When asked by Ramesh to list areas he would like to see progress by the Living Labs in its first year of inception, Mr Garg mentioned challenges in hygiene and supply of good quality water that could be addressed in the wake of Covid-19. Ms. Lanka echoed Mr Garg’s thoughts on the importance of addressing water challenges. She referred to the recent floods faced by the city of Hyderabad and stressed upon finding affordable solutions to water contamination, leakages and others. She also wondered aloud if there could be a tech solution to identifying spots in the city for garbage pickup where it is segregated as wet and dry respectively. The panelists also talked about how to scale it to different cities in the state and country. The data from this living lab will be provided for researchers and startups for training their solutions.
Opportunities for Indian Researchers
In the concluding session, Tania Friederichs, Counsellor, EU Delegation to India made a presentation with a focus on the cooperation opportunities between EU and and India on research, innovation and education. In particular, she pointed out the various avenues that researchers and students could explore if they wanted to study in the EU such as International Credit Mobility, the Jean Monnet schemes, Erasmus Mundus and Erasmus +. Despite being in the final year since its launch, she also mentioned that a few opportunities were still available with Horizon 2020, an EU Research and Innovation programme with nearly €80 billion of funding available. Kavita Vemuri who moderated the session, collated questions from students eager to know more about research opportunities available to them. Dr. Sachin Chaudhari who coordinates IIITH’s Centre of Excellence on IoT for Smart Cities concluded the proceedings of the webinar with a formal vote of thanks to all the stakeholders who participated.