Step aside, IIT-Madras and Anna University: it's time to make way for a new set of stars from the suburbs. For students from the above two institutions, so long accustomed to viewing themselves as the elite of the engineering streams, it might come as something of a shock to find out that their `poorer cousins' are now sprinting ahead in the international arena.
For the disbelieving, here are a few facts. Top-class research papers and innovative ideas are no longer the exclusive domain of students of IIT-Madras or Anna University. Students of unaided engineering colleges are cranking out absolutely first-rate stuff these days.
Take for instance, a bright young duo from Sri Sairam Engineering, West Tambaram, R.C. Aravindakshan and R.S. Bharath (II year Computer Sciences and Engineering). They have jointly developed the "I-Cane" or intelligent cane that helps visually impaired persons. The cane has a guidance motor and a computerised `brain' and scanner that warns the user about obstacles -- pits, bumps, objects, or overhanging wires, branches or other static obstacles. It also factors in dynamic obstacles, though this is yet to be perfected.
Aravindakshan is bursting with pride and with good reason: he has an invitation from organisers of Robomaxx 2004 to display the `I-cane' in Grants Pass, Oregon, U.S. next month. He and Bharath are, meanwhile, trying to cut the weight of the cane to less than a kilo.
Arvindakshan points out that safety is the biggest concern for visually impaired persons. "Walking or taking the next step comes naturally to normal persons, not so for these people. I want to perfect the equipment before going commercial. We are in the process of patenting the idea ... " he adds.
A private company, Essem Systems, is helping them fabricate the parts for the cane, with three IIT professors S. Ramesh, G.T. Manohar and Ravindran and Sri Sairam College's head of computer sciences department Saravanan guiding the youngsters.
A versatile sniffer robot developed by P Rajan, A Raja and E. Lavakumar, of the same college, won the "Innovation potential of students" project award this year from the Indian National Academy of Engineering.