Maker’s Lab: The Whole 9 Yards of Product Development at IIIT – Hyderabad

Apparently  the biggest hurdle of innovation is coming up with the idea itself. But what comes next? Where would young innovators find the means and expertise to translate their ideas into a prototype? IIIT Hyderabad, under the NIDHI-PRAYAS scheme, steps in to address this area with its state-of-the-art Maker’s Lab.IIIT Hyderabad has been supporting start-ups for over a decade now through its Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). In 2012, the incubation facility was recognized as a Technology Business Incubator (TBI) by the Government of India (GoI). Ever since then the institute has rolled out several programs focused on encouraging start-ups in cutting edge technologies. With the inauguration of Maker’s Lab, the institute takes another step forward in its bid to nurture young innovators.

Maker’s Lab is a dedicated prototyping (mechanical and digital) facility set up with support from the Department of Science & Technology under the NIDHI-PRAYAS Program. GoI through this program aims to support young entrepreneurs with grants to address the gap in the early stage idea/ proof of concept funding. CIE IIIT-Hyderabad NIDHI PRAYAS CENTRE and its Maker’s Lab has been set up under the very same objective.

As Head of the Technology Transfer Office and Product Labs, Prakash Yalla spearheads the program and considers Maker’s Lab a natural extension to the Product Lab which is heavily focussed on software products. He is excited about the endless possibilities this facility brings along. He proudly claims that the lab can churn out wood-based, glass-based and acrylic-based prototypes. He points to a massive laser welding machine and jokingly says “You can even design your gold jewellery here!”.

Jokes apart, there is some serious heavyweight machinery in the facility. In addition to several power tools, there’s a room dedicated to 3D printing. It houses four 3D printers, one of which is an SLS 3D printer; currently the only one in South India. A room for all your circuit making needs, including a PCB printer. The facility also houses a Bio-Printer, a high precision laser cutting machine. Here is a comprehensive list of all equipment at the lab.

The most fascinating aspect yet is the line of products waiting to be built and tested at the facility. Currently there are 8 start-ups under the NIDHI PRAYAS Grant. A quick peek reveals a range of products unique in their design and application. An automatic meal maker. Drones for mosquito eradication in lakes & land surveying. Bots which can navigate underwater, clean your pool and also play some music while at it. A robotic system for solar panel cleaning. An affordable light-weight electric bike optimized for performance as well as product sustainability. An automated CPR device and a healthcare device with integrated games for rehabilitation.

The facility itself can be easily mistaken for a modern cafe with its fresh grey tones, hanging planters and wooden top workstations.

How does the lab benefit innovators?

The program at its core is designed to attract young innovators while minimising risk of failure and cost, which are the biggest deterrents in the initial stages of product development. Start-ups/innovators under the grant at CIE@IIIT Hyderabad can simply bring in the required materials and use the facility at no further cost. Any tech-based start-up with a focus on deep tech in need of hardware prototype can apply for the grant. The equipment at the facility can also be rented by other incubated  start-ups at the institute for building prototypes.

Maker’s Lab provides a one-stop-shop to innovators: from idea to a viable product. For example, a start-up working on a wearable device could only test the functionality of their product at IIIT-H. They would have had to approach multiple different vendors for building a prototype, which not only is expensive but also time-consuming. At the facility now, they can easily print their circuits and build or even 3D print the enclosure box.

In addition to the convenience to build, the facility offers a quick turnaround to innovators. They can test their product, perform a market-based validation and accordingly tweak their product.

At Maker’s Lab, innovators not only find a platform for faster, easier product development but also a network of academia, mentors, incubators and other innovators.