BENGALURU, India -- Current research at the various technical institutes in India is not oriented to the country's needs, being dominated instead by research in chip design and not in embedded systems. The latter, however, is clearly the country's strong suit and, according to industry observers, will continue to be so.
Doctorate holders and those now earning doctorates in fields related to chip design are far too few, especially in light of the current state of affairs in China, a nation that enjoys a proliferation of doctorates and of doctoral research of much higher quality, especially in VSLI and EDA. This may eventually tellingly affect India's future potential in these high-tech areas. China, which has been trying to replicate and then outdo India's global success in engineering services, is a potential rival, as industry observers point out.
The overall research scenario appears to be improving, but industry executives said that, with the exception of a very few institutes, such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, research is piecemeal and at best satisfactory. Companies, they said, are to blame for not spending much time with institutes in research.
About 33 percent of all research conducted in Indian institutes is in chip design, embedded systems accounting for about half of this at 17 percent. Process-related research constitutes 16 percent, EDA 13 percent, MEMS and sensors 10 percent and testing and verification 10 percent. Taken together, chip design and testing account for 43 percent of all research conducted by Indian institutes, and analog accounting for half of this, according to the India Semiconductor Association (ISA).
Interest in research certainly exists, but research activity itself is hampered by inadequate numbers of experienced faculty, the lack of a local market and disinterested venture capitalists, observers said, adding that nearly 20 years ago, some institutes had designed robots for painting and sensors for closing railway gates. "More research needs to be done in embedded systems, as the market is five time larger than chip design. In any case, the more there is research in embedded systems, research into chip design will also rise. India will also have to do more research in MEMS and sensors if you consider [that] products like the Apple iPhone have so much to do with this," said Ganapathy Subramaniam, chief executive officer, Cosmic Circuits Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru.
Research in embedded systems software and hardware is accorded a much smaller share of Indian efforts than are chip design and testing, primarily because of the greater scarcity of faculty in the Indian institutes, the ISA said.
The embedded services industry in India made up $3.7 billion of the total Indian semiconductor 2006 design revenues of $4.6 billion. According to the ISA's projections, embedded software will account for $11.8 billion in 2010, but chip design only about $2 billion. The engineering workforce in 2010 will see 84 percent of its energy spent working with embedded software, but only 12 percent with chip design.
"Job growth over the next seven to eight years will see up to 75 percent of engineers being involved in embedded systems, so if India needs to remain competitive in this, more research initiatives must go into this area," said Anand Anandkumar, vice president of globalization and managing director of Magma Design Automation India Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru.
"A problem is that there are not enough good-quality students taking up their doctorates or staying back in India after they complete [them] . . . In our own case, getting a doctorate engineer is possible only from overseas or by searching high and low," Anandkumar said.
But Subramaniam and Anandkumar also see signs of change for the better. The number of experienced faculty coming back home from Silicon Valley in the U.S. is rising, and as more attention and funds are devoted to research, particularly in response to the efforts of the ISA, the overall quality and quantity of research will only improve, they said. Previously, the lack of a body such as the ISA (which was instituted only a couple of years ago) contributed to the unsatisfactory quality and quantity of research in India, the executives pointed out.