Feel like going to the nearest city? You can take a flight from the mini airport of IIT Kharagpur.
In a hurry to go to class? You can either hop onto the toy train going around the campus or the driverless cars zipping across.
How would it feel to work in a nuclear power plant? Just go to class, put on the VR headset and find out.
It’s raining cats and dogs and you still need to train for the inter-IIT sports meet? No worries. You have a dome over the Jnan Ghosh stadium.
You could say if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, just as any disparaging parent would tell a child whose mind is careening out of control. But no. These are actual scenarios that can play out in the IIT Kharagpur campus.
A few days ago, second year civil engineering students were asked to give free rein to their imagination and come up with something “wow” for the 2,100 acre campus and its residents. Related to the campus infrastructure, these ideas had to be feasible and workable. They would have to carefully work out the cost estimates but not to regard the cost as a constraining factor for an idea that was really good. As the professor in charge put it, “I wanted them to give me an idea that could be engineered.” The catch? This was to be a semester project and would carry half the marks of the final exam.
Students learnt in class how IIT KGP managed its affairs independently – whether it came to water supply, civil works, electricity distribution or managing the telecommunications network. Formed into nine teams, the 74 students got to work. They burnt midnight oil for two months at a stretch before they were finally ready with their presentation. They were told that they would be graded on the basis of boldness and impact, sound engineering analysis, plan of execution, budgeting and finance. Each project was also going to be peer reviewed by the whole class.
Some of their ideas presented were truly fantastical – a “Wow” dome over the Jnan Ghosh stadium, an air strip in IIT Kharagpur, deployment of light rail throughout the campus – but all of them were implementable engineering solutions to many of the problems faced by the residents of IIT Kharagpur. They had not only worked out the cost of the projects but had thought through the likely problems that could arise, and even found solutions to them.
For example, while detailing their proposed Biogas plant, Group 7 not only set out at the micro-level the amount of cement, sand, PVC pipes, stone chips and nails that would be required, but also clearly stipulated that the metal digesters and gas storage tanks for the biogas plant needed to be properly earthed so as to avoid struck by lightning. Team 9, which suggested a dome over the Jnan Ghosh stadium, had even considered the fact that since the dome would get sun rays from the southern side only, half the solar panels fitted on the dome (that would power the movement of the dome) would not be getting any sun light. As solution, they suggested moveable solar panels and Heliotex technology for their cleaning.
Team 1 dealt with improving classroom infrastructure. They argued that incorporating augmented virtual reality in classroom teaching could revolutionize learning by changing the way students experience subjects. For example, students could actually experience being inside a nuclear power plant. In fact, they argued, the concept of VR lab could be extended to schools. According to the team’s estimate, it could cost a little more than Rs 1 crore to set up a fully functional VR Lab.
There were three ideas on improving the transport network. Team 6 suggested deployment of light rail throughout the campus to serve the purposes of connectivity and amusement. Battery-operated toy trains with two passenger coaches could ply for 10 hours a day on tracks laid in the free space available alongside the roads. Team 8 suggested autonomously controlled carrier shuttles to ply 24×7. The 8 shuttles would be operated by a centralized swarm model and would cost the Institute approximately Rs 56 lakhs. Team 5 suggested an exclusive airstrip for IIT Kharagpur in order to provide easy access and also to provide for air ambulance for residents. They suggested the Institute bought two Cessna aircraft, hired two pilots, two maintenance engineers, and crew on contract basis. According to their calculation, the average cost for a person to travel from KGP to Kolkata airport would be less than than Rs 1,500. The one-time cost for the air strip would Rs 23 crore and the annual cost of running the air service would be Rs 60 lakh.
Two projects talked about betterment of the existent infrastructure. Team 3 suggested revamping the Gymkhana Lakeside and modifying the park in order to promote pisciculture and recreational activities. Team 2 suggested converting the Tech market into a Hi-tech Market by installing a self-sustainable solar power system that would power the Tech market completely. They also suggested the setting up of a cafeteria, a bar, a clothing section and a central canteen with a giant TV screen at a total cost of close to Rs 4 crore.
There were two green projects – Team 4 suggested building a lake that would take care of the run-off and help IIT Kharagpur become self-sufficient in water. The geo-thermal pipes under the water would trigger geo-thermal cooling of the entire campus, bring down the temperature. Team 7 proposed setting up of a Bio-gas plant in order to produce bio-gas from the leftover food from the Halls of Residence. In their calculation, the total food wastage produced by the Halls was about two tons per day, which would produce 345 kg bio-gas worth Rs 11,000 approximately per day.
Team 9 proposed a ‘Wow’ dome over the Jnan Ghosh stadium that will provide an optimum solution to the problem of suspension of sports practices and stadium getting muddy during the monsoon. The retractable multipurpose dome would also use the rainwater for harvesting. The total cost of the dome would come to Rs 135 crore, but the campus could save around 42 million litres of water. Truly ‘wow’ isn’t it?
Despite the wow factor though, most of the students concurred that they ought to immediately have a Bio-gas plant. Somehow, even while letting their imagination soar, the students had kept their feet firmly grounded.
Asked what the project had achieved, the said professor stated, “I wanted them to come up with something imaginative but I also wanted them to connect with the IIT KGP campus…think of it as their home.”
The project had undoubtedly hit home. When asked how they felt about the project, Eknoor Malhotra of Team 9 said, “Initially, it was about marks. But once we started working for it, we realized that if this (idea) gets implemented, then we would have been the first to propose it. In the end, however, the effort became something much more than obtaining the marks. In the end we were so connected to it that we could visualize Jnan Ghosh actually having a dome.”
Now that the project was over and done with, would they keep thinking about IIT KGP? Eknoor declared, “Yes, of course. The domino effect has started. Everywhere I go, I try to see what can be changed.” Raman Shaw of Team 5 agreed, “The mind has started functioning differently… we are oriented differently now.”