The DARPA Robotics challenge 2015 recently concluded in USA with robots from South Korea and US taking home $3.5 million in prizes. DARPA provided the platform for innovation and technology demonstration as also incentivised participation by funding the prize money. This is an example wherein DARPA has developed an ecosystem to drive innovation in cutting edge technologies. Establishment of institution like DARPA has helped US achieve technological sovereignty, reap economic benefits and gain military superiority in the world.
Technological sovereignty is an essential component of National Power. Technology, especially defence related, is closely guarded by nation states and cannot be bought or taken through transfer of technology. Therefore, an ecosystem which promotes excellence in cutting edge technology is an absolute necessity. Our current organisational structures are not in consonance with the ecosystem required to foster technological innovation and achieve technological sovereignty.
We are well aware that changes to existing structures are generally resisted as inertia and vested interests try and scuttle new and innovative changes. The first initiative to changing existing institutions has to come from a top down approach. This implies that our quest for technological sovereignty has to be driven by the political leadership, preferably the Prime Minister. A strong political backing can ensure that there will be least resistance to change and new ideas will get implemented much more smoothly.
The first question which has to be asked is whether the existing architecture can take our technological sovereignty agenda forward. If we take an insight into the manner in which present programs like Digital India, Smart Cities etc are being implemented, the following issues emerge :-
• These programs have the backing of the Prime Minister which is a big positive.
• A nodal ministry has been earmarked to implement these programs. However, these ministries may not be able to efficiently implement these programmes.
• Stakeholders like academia and research and development organisations have not been fully co-opted. Thus the full ecosystem has not been developed.
• All stakeholders do not have an equal say. The ministry/government continues to play a dominant role. There is, therefore, a need to develop a vibrant ecosystem which can take India to the road of achieving technological sovereignty.
Let us delve into the DARPA architecture. As per the DARPA website, DARPA’s success depends on the vibrant ecosystem of innovation within which the Agency operates, and is fuelled by partners in multiple sectors. It’s ecosystem includes universities, industry, small businesses, government, public and media. Unlike in India, the government is just one of the components of their ecosystem and not the dominating one.
Achieving technological sovereignty requires a long term vision, political backing, government funding and an establishment which nurtures and develops a cutting edge ecosystem. In India, it is the establishment leg which is missing. A government nominated ministry may not be able to take us on the path of achieving technological sovereignty. An idea which was discussed during the National Conclave on Technological Sovereignty in November 2014 recommended establishment of the National Technological Sovereignty Mission (NTSM). Establishing a NTSM will enable India to fully exploit the knowledge potential of its youth and develop an ecosystem for achieving technological sovereignty.
The NTSM should be headed by an eminent scientist with experience in research, industry collaboration and leadership skills. The mission can have the following representation
• Research and Development Organisation – government and private.
• Scientists. • Industry. • Government.
• Armed Forces.
Based on technology forecasting and national requirements, the NTSM will have to establish separate technology verticals which will drive innovation in those fields. Till now, our talent pool has been contributing to the technological development of other countries. It is time that we create an ecosystem which attracts them to take part in developing our own technology prowess.It would be in India’s national interest to establish NTSM as a means of achieving Technological Sovereignty.
Col TS Bains is a Senior Fellow in Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). His field of research is ‘Achieving Technological Sovereignty in the ICT Domain’.
DARPA Robotics Challenge http://www.theroboticschallenge.org/ DARPA Website http://www.darpa.mil/ National Conclave on Technological Sovereignty 2014 Report http://www.claws.in/eventdetail. php?eID=167