BD’s young potentials for robotics
In the present age of technological revolution third world countries probably have a long way to catch up. Bangladesh, having just graduated from LDC might not be able to harness the dimensions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on its own. But the situation is far from that. According to Mehdi Shams, president of CRID, there are at least one hundred scholars in Bangladesh who are capable of competing against MIT students. In terms of equipment the country is also ahead, the American-trained engineer thinks. Mechanical equipment here can be purchased at around one-tenth of the cost in global markets. The grass-root labourers are also pretty crafty; they need only some moderate training, Mehdi notes.
Mehdi was speaking at a discussion session organised last week on March 25 at Council Building Auditorium, BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) in the city. Nasrul Hamid, lawmaker and State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources appeared as chief guest at the event with Professor Dr Saiful Islam, Vice Chancellor of BUET in the chair. Along with Mehdi, Dr Md Ashraful Islam, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, BUET provided insights into the discussion at the session.
Mehdi Shams founded CRID so that he can promote Bangladeshi engineers as world-class robot makers and Bangladesh as a robotic hub in the very near future. He has noticed that at least three universities right here in Bangladesh have ranked among the top twenty of NASA's Human Exploration Rover Challenge during the last five years. The annual competition awards the best makers from colleges and universities for constructing a human-driven vehicle from scratch to conduct expeditions through grungy paths of Mars or Moon.
What the discussion session revealed remains to be jaw-dropping for many in Bangladesh and others in the rest of the world. It turns out that the labourers of Dholaikhal, who have for long been speculated to have high potentials despite their low literacy levels, actually constitutes a force to reckon with. Mehdi by himself has interviewed about nine hundred of the robust twenty-five thousand forces and found them to be highly skilled. Though, he acknowledges that the craftsmen of Dholaikhal need to be trained about modern denominations of equipment among other things. But the training does not have to be hefty it has to be moderate. Thus not much preparation or funding is required. There is need for some funding though otherwise, they might always remain one step short of building the Bangladeshi version of Dell. Mehdi pointed out that many of the US tech giants like Microsoft, Dell, Amazon, Apple, Nike started in garages. Thus the rusty labourers of Dholaikhal or Syedpur in North Bengal are not worth frowning upon.
Then Mehdi presented the prospects of innovators from universities who also need funding. Not only funding but according to Mehdi they also need morale boosting support. The mindset of many adult in Bangladesh remains conventional and they many a times discourage young minds of the country, a situation that needs to be changed.
The discussion obviously saw debates particularly regarding the typical fear about 'Robots replacing Human workforce'. However, attendants resorted to be moderate in this regard. The first question raiser asked whether the future robotics project aims to follow moral guidelines. But the panelists pointed out that robotics cannot replace humans and on the contrary if the chance of procuring the technology at the earliest is missed then like our late purchasing of access to 'Submarine Cable' we might have to enter the race anyway at much higher price. Shykh Seraj pointed out that in villages modern machinery is being used in harvesting seasons but that has not put the livelihood of traditional farmers at stake rather many farmers are now asking for heavy price for their services.
Another attendant highlighted how he was amazed to find out that all the sorting of good rice is being done through automation in remote parts of the country. He inquired about wider propagation of robotics in the country.
Mehdi then outlined his business plan to make all these possible at wider scale. He firstly pointed out that garments workforce will be soon replaced by automated machinery. The same can happen in other sectors naturally. So if our country does not beef up its homegrown potentials and resources to take the best of robotic technology then like many other regions we could be loosing a lot of workforce and also exports. In the race we have to be innovators rather than consumers of robotics technology simply for survival and seeing Bangladesh as one of the few most profitable destinations for robotics Mehdi thinks we can turn the risks posed from abroad by mean of technology into our assets.
Countries like America are full of young innovators. But they lack affordable mechanical equipment for prototyping and testing. Bangladesh can fulfill their needs and in this way the country can start reaping the harvest even before starting to make robots right at home. This is his plan but to fulfill it he needs BUET to take the lead among other universities in terms of designing the future robots and government to fund the process before profits start showing up.
In this regard State Minister Nasrul Hamid stated that firstly BUET scholars have to stick to their homeland and not go abroad for higher studies and big jobs which he claims, has been happening 70% of the time. Then he wants BUET students to have good wits, many in his office become dumbfounded when asked to solve a problem. This situation needs to alleviate, he stated.