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Nokia to set up robotics lab at Indian Institute of Science

The Nokia Centre of Excellence for Networked Robotics will explore the use of drones, advanced communications and artificial intelligence in agriculture and industrial automation, among other applications

Nokia has teamed up with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to establish a research facility to develop applications for robotics and 5G technology.

Dubbed the Nokia Centre of Excellence for Networked Robotics, the facility will explore the use of robotics, advanced communications and artificial intelligence (AI) in areas such as emergency management, agriculture and industrial automation.

These include the use of drones to promote water conservation on farms, access affected areas during disaster relief and to anticipate crop fires. 

The centre will also house a network robotics laboratory, which will be available to the IISc community and its ecosystem partners for conducting research projects involving next-generation networks and AI applications.

Nokia said it will share its expertise in network innovations and leverage Nokia Bell Labs’ technical expertise in robot orchestration, robot network controllers and human-robot interaction to support the development of new use cases.

IISc, on the other hand, will engage its cross-disciplinary faculty and researchers, and provide in-house expertise in algorithms, drones and robotic systems. The centre will also host events for academia and industry, as well as organise hackathons for startups.

“The ultimate relevance of technology is to find solutions to improve the quality of our lives,” said G Rangarajan, director of IISc. “This is a critical initiative and it will help us move closer to finding technology-powered solutions to enrich our lives.”

Sanjay Malik, Nokia’s senior vice-president and head of the India market, noted that technologies such as 5G have the potential to enable a new array of use cases with societal impact.

“With Nokia’s rich innovation heritage, we aim to engage with the bright and young minds at IISc to nurture and advance the latest technologies that can benefit communities. We are confident that it will lead to the development of ground-breaking use cases,” he said.

Recent efforts by India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to provide fast-track conditional exemptions to government agencies for drone operations in the fight against Covid-19 have opened up avenues for usage of drones in non-defence applications.

In May 2020, MoCA granted exemptions to 13 consortia, including those initiated by budget airline SpiceJet, Google-backed Dunzo and drone maker Throttle Aerospace, to operate drones on an experimental basis without requiring operator permits till 30 September 2020.

The move will enable them to pilot drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for transporting goods, once approved.

India currently only allows drone operations within sight of an operator, thus limiting the use of drones to surveillance. The BVLOS drone flight experiments will serve as the basis for formulating laws to allow autonomous and long-range drone operations that are essential for drone-based deliveries.

Nidhi Gupta, technology analyst at GlobalData, said: “Encouraged by the government’s newfound focus on easing norms for flying drones, more businesses are now seeking to develop drone-based capabilities such as deliveries, medical supplies, and movement of packages for air cargo, which indicates the tremendous potential in store for commercial drone applications in the country going forward.”

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