(Gopi Katragadda is the Managing Director at GE India Technology Center) Be it going down unknown roads of a new city, or peeling the onion of a known fact to discover fascinating unknown layers, what drives me is the unknown… The amount I have learnt trying to decipher the Indus script is as valuable as the eventual goal of decipherment. As a boy, one summer, I learnt to make soap from my English teacher, and I sold the soap to neighbors and friends. I made soap because I enjoyed the act of creating and I sold soap because it was a validation that what I created had value… Today, deep down, I am still that boy who makes and sells soap… Leading GE Technology in India provides me the ultimate platform to probe unknown corners of Energy, Healthcare, Transportation, and Aviation. We create intellectual property and put it into products that solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Over the last decade, the work done by inventors at GE India has resulted in over 1500 patents being filed by the Parent General Electric Company. My book on innovation titled ‘Smash Innovation,’ explores the barriers to innovation in India and how we could break those barriers. This blog is again my exploration of how to make this a century of Indian Innovation.
Applying new sciences or new materials for the health and comfort of humankind is the story of engineering progress. Harnessing materials directly by humans predates the emergence of science, as we know it today. One of the markers of progress of a society has been its ability to work metals and its alloys. Today, we have come a long way in materials advances. Recently a friend’s son had an accident and ended up with a decent size cut on his head. Not too long ago, this wound would have been treated with 4-5 sutures. Not anymore. Doctors used a liquid adhesive to close the wound! The liquid adhesive forms a microbial shield while the wound heals without the use of a needle. Materials research does take a long time, but research from the last several decades is now bearing fruit and becoming useful applications:
As we move forward, India has every opportunity to develop leadership in materials and use this to solve tough problems in healthcare, energy and transportation for India and the world. A particular focus, in my opinion, should be composite materials. Driven by the use of composites in the Indian aerospace industry (rockets, satellites, missiles, light combat aircraft, advanced light helicopter), we have fairly mature capabilities in the area of composite structures. Technical assistance and soft loans from the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), a unit of the Department of Science and Technology as well other government initiatives are in the right direction to enhance India’s capabilities. Joint ventures and global collaborations are now required to ensure India works at the leading edge of the technology and gets better at raw material development while further strengthening the applications end of capabilities. It will be great to aim for a century of Indian materials. Remember the Damascus Sword!