Next in the series of Know Your Professor(KYP), is Mr. Dilip Kumar Pratihar, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, who has been doing research in the field of Robotics, Soft Computing, and Manufacturing Science. Recently, he got a Certificate of Special Mention for a paper at EAIT-2006 Conference, Kolkata, and a Certificate of Merit from the Institution of Engineers (I).
What hardships did you face during your voyage of becoming a great professor?
I was sent to Goaltore (belonging to the West Midnapore district of West Bengal) for my high schooling, as there was no high school within 8-10 km surrounding my village, where I had to stay almost alone and help my father in his business. Though I was not interested in engineering or medical, I got admission in Regional Engineering College (REC, now renamed as NIT), Durgapur. I was the topper of the 1988 batch of the college, and through campus interviews, I opted for a public sector job. There, I was requested to teach engineering drawing and solid mechanics in the junior engineers’ training school. Since there was no challenge in the field, I decided to leave it and come back to academia. I used to teach subjects of diverse fields at the beginning and completed my M.Tech. in part-time. I joined IIT Kharagpur as an assistant professor in 2003 and became a professor in 2008 and got the HAG scale in 2015. Here, I started teaching soft computing and robotics mostly, and both the courses are still very popular among the students even today.
What are the differences between students during your time and now in terms of the education system, difficulties faced by students, and passion for engineering?
The students of my time did not have many facilities. In contrast, current time students get many advantages, especially in computing facilities, and are exposed to mobile, internet, online library, etc. In those days, the students used to be afraid of teachers and avoided asking questions, while nowadays, we welcome them to ask their doubts.
There is also a lot of difference in the way of teaching as well. At that time, teachers used to prepare the materials meticulously before the class. As some topics could be missed in this case, the teachers now note down the main points in slides and explain them in class. Now, many universities are using a modified version of this teaching style. The teacher sends slides and notes to the students beforehand so that the students come prepared, and then, the teacher explains each topic in the class. This gives rise to class interactions, and the learning rate of the students increases.
You held two post-doctoral positions, one at Kyushu Institute of Design, Japan, and the other at Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany. How was your experience at those institutes compared to Indian institutes based on students and teaching lifestyle present there? What changes would you like to introduce to the education system in India?
Any good foreign university has a very well-structured curriculum for undergraduates and a flexible curriculum for postgraduates. They have spent a lot of time in designing their curriculum. For UG, some introductory courses are taught in the first two years, and then, the students can choose courses related to any branch in the next two years. They also prepare textbooks and transcripts for their students.
I think that all the Indian colleges should follow these principles, and the teacher should have an in-depth knowledge of his subject. The teachers should also put effort into writing a textbook based on their thinking, instead of being dependent on foreign texts. Also, student-teacher interaction is a must. The teachers should clear their queries and not worry about taking attendance.
The good foreign universities/institutes have a closed-loop control system, and the future lectures are modified according to students’ feedback. In India, almost all institutes (except a few good IITs, NITs, and others) have an open-loop control system. They take feedback from students but do not make improvements and thus, remain in the same position. This system should be changed in the Indian universities/institutes.
What inspired you to pursue the field of research? What is your source of motivation for research in the field of robotics, manufacturing science, and soft computing?
I was fond of research, even when I joined REC, Durgapur as a lecturer in 1990. I had published 11 papers before I started my Ph.D. at IIT Kanpur. I think teaching is the food, and research is the spice. I don’t like eating plain food always, but at the same time, taking only spices may deteriorate my health. Thus, teaching and research are complementary. When I teach a subject, I get the fundamentals, which can then be applied in research. On the other hand, when I research a topic, I get to know about innovations, and those are added to my teaching materials and thus, strengthen my teaching. I find myself comfortable to work in different areas as my foundations are strong. However, I am still learning and being fundamentally strong, I can try to think of my research ideas and innovations simply.
Would you like to tell us something about the projects you have completed or currently working on?
I work in all four modules of robotics – kinematics, dynamics, control schemes, and intelligent issues. I have worked on manipulators, wheeled robots, multi-legged robots, humanoid robots, drones, etc. In 2007, I, along with my students, was the first to publish a paper on the dynamic analysis of a biped robot of seven degrees of freedom. Now, we are working on a humanoid robot of about 30 degrees of freedom. We are also working extensively on medical robotics and developed a few orthotic and prosthetic devices. For wall-climbing robots, both designing and analysis are done, while for pipe climbing robots, analysis is done, simulation is checked, and we are preparing the drawing for manufacturing. We are also working on intelligent drones and how to transfer intelligence. Recently, we have almost finished developing a tracked mobile manipulator as an agriculture robot, which will inspect the field, classify the diseases through image processing, and spray the required pesticide. This is being funded by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India.
How can students be motivated to take research, as they are provided with such a research-orientated platform, rather than just running after packages in MNCs?
None of the students knows whether they want to teach and research or join the industry after graduation. The first five years after graduation is a fluid state. You do not know initially, how you will mould yourself. But, if you are in teaching and/or research, you should be very strong in fundamentals to be successful. Adding to this, you should have the habit of independent thinking. These will boost your confidence in solving problems.
What are the hobbies that you like to pursue in your leisure time?
I had many hobbies in my childhood. I used to do fishing very frequently, and I still love doing it whenever I go there. Secondly, I am a bird lover. I go after them, and even now, I like watching different birds from my quarters. Hobbies can be created only in childhood, and those are cultivated later on.
How do you feel upon being awarded the INSA Teachers’ Award for 2020?
It is an excellent feeling, though I do not know whether I deserve it or not. I have completed 30 years in teaching and research, and being 55-plus, this was my last opportunity to get the INSA teachers’ award. I took advice from Professor P. K. Chattaraj (an INSA fellow), and after seeing my CV, he told me to prepare for it. Fortunately, I got it, and the success is all yours – my students, teachers, and colleagues. I am honoured and delighted to be an INSA teachers’ awardee.
What message would you like to give to the students of IIT Kharagpur?
I always talk about 3 Hs (hand, head, and heart) in robotics. Here, I’ll talk about three different Hs – Honesty, Hard-work, and Happiness. You should always be honest and learn how to work hard; there is no alternative to hard-work. And, while you go on learning, be happy even with whatever small you achieve. If you follow these three Hs and keep your fundamentals strong, your success is bound to come.