Future Factory: Yantra Karkhana

January 6, 2014 , by Dipeshwor Man Shrestha, Leave your thoughts
Future Factory: Yantra Karkhana » My Dreams Mag

The performance of Nepali teams in South Asian competitions is satisfactory. Yet there is a lot of room for improvement. We need to inspire the new generation and teach them necessary skills to invent. This is where Yantra Karkhana comes in. The value of competitions like this is in how much one learns in preparing for them.


Robotics in Nepal

Anil Karki was fascinated by machines from an early age. When he saw an airplane, he wondered how something that heavy could fly. When he watched a crane move large objects effortlessly, he wanted to know how it was so strong. When he was in the ninth grade he salvaged parts from his toy car and made a robot. After he completed SLC, he enrolled in a +2 college hoping to learn more about electronics. He enjoyed his physics classes, in which he had a natural inclination towards topics like electricity and magnetism. He hoped to apply this knowledge to build machines. But he was disappointed that teachers focused just on what is needed to pass exams.

After finishing high school, he decided to study electronics engineering, expecting to learn how to make things. But after the first semester he was again disappointed, engineering college was just theory and exams. He was frustrated because there were no mentors to help him make things, and no resources with which to pursue his passion for making machines. But his passion won over his frustration, and Anil began working on some electronics projects he saw on the internet. He reached out to some seniors working on their final year project and learned about an organization that was working on robotics called RAN. He became curious about it. A quick Google search led him to RAN’s website.

Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN) was established in August 2010 with members from eleven private engineering colleges. RAN members wanted to create a skill-based platform for students in an exam driven country. This resonated with Anil’s belief that there should be a community where likeminded people could hone their robot making skills. Two things on the website excited him. RAN was holding Yantra 1.0, their first robotics competition, in July 2012. And they were offering a skill-based workshop to help students prepare for the competition.

He enrolled in the two day workshop with excitement. The workshop taught him how to control a motor using programming. Equipped with new skills and knowledge, he entered Yantra 1.0, which attracted 150 participants like him. Although his robot did not function properly, he was hooked to the competition. This failure gave him motivation to work harder.


Nepali Robot Makers in International Arena

However, Yantra 1.0 was not the first major robotics competition in Nepal. Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk has organized six robotics competitions since 2004. Teams from Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk have been participating in the Asia-Pacific Robot Contest (ABU Robocon) since 2001. Fifteen to twenty teams from different countries participate in the event each year, and Nepal has reached the final eight on several occasions. In the Robocon events they have won several awards as well like the Mabuchi Motor Award for mechanism (China 2005), the Toyota Award for machine performance and mechanical reliability (Malaysia 2006) and Best Autonomous Robot Award (India 2008).

Private engineering colleges have been active in this field too, and are doing well internationally. In 2011, Nepal Engineering College, Bhaktapur won the best automated robot contest in Inferno at IIT Kharagpur. TechKriti at IIT Kanpur in 2012 was a great event for Nepali robotics. Nepali teams claimed the second and third spots there, beating participants from seven countries. Anil was in the team that secured the third position.


Birth of Karkhana

Considering these achievements, we can say that the performance of Nepali teams in South Asian competitions is satisfactory. Yet there is a lot of room for improvement. The line tracking robots that engineering students make in Yantra, our national robotics competition, are made by school students in many parts of the world. The chips the Nepali students use in robots are easy to program and usually have low processing power. In order to improve their robots, they would need to learn to program more complicated chips. Another limiting factor is that our teachers and universities are not up to date with the latest technologies and developments in the field. The world has moved far ahead, but they still rely on outdated course books and teach outdated technologies. Talented students like Anil have been frustrated because of these factors.

Karkhana was born out of this frustration. Karkhana is an education company started by engineers with a focus on building hands-on curriculum related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths). The Karkhana team wants to build skills to support an innovation industry in Nepal. And they have started working with class 6-9 students so that we can build a strong base to secure the future of our country.


Notable Participants of Yantra 2.0

Karkhana and RAN share a similar vision to promote skill based learning. And in fact, they partnered up to develop Yantra and jointly organized Yantra 2.0, on October 1, 2013. It had three events (Robo Akhada, Robo Racer and Mission Nepal) and 218 participants including 20 participants from below 10th grade. The total prize worth one lakh sixty thousand rupees was a great motivation for the students.

Robo Akhada, a robotic version of sumo wrestling, was the crowd favorite. The audience cheered a lot for the eighteen robots fighting each other. Team Bullets, the eventual winners, utilized the maximum allowed weight which was an obvious advantage in a sumo battle. Team NCE-2 who came in second, cleverly attached rubber grips on the wheels, which made it harder for the opponents to push them out of the arena.

Roboracer, the line tracking competition, had the most participants from schools. A line tracker is usually the first robot a beginner starts with. In this contest, robots had to follow a white line on a black background. Team Maxwell Rover had the smallest robot which was very swift, but it lost in the final game. As the adage goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. Team ART won the competition using a very accurate sensor array to track the line. My personal favorite among the twenty-four robots was Nepalese Buddha, which looked like a sports car and had Buddha eyes painted on the front.

Mission Nepal, the main event, attracted fourteen teams which fought for the national title. The teams had to track a line, follow a wall, avoid obstacles, navigate slopes and climb stairs to complete the course. Team DBOT, who came second, had the best line tracking robot and was the crowd favorite with its sleek design, but they struggled in the obstacle avoidance zone. The title winner Nepal College of Information and Technology, Imadol was the only team whose robot had large wheels designed to climb the treacherous stairs to earn the bonus 60 points.

When I met Anil at the event, I wished him luck for the competition, but he told me he was not entering a robot in the competition this year. His answer surprised me but I did not get to ask him the details as I was busy arranging the gamefield. Later I came to know that instead of participating, he had mentored 28 robot makers from his college to make 7 robots. He wanted to share his experience and skills with his juniors rather than build another robot. The value of competitions like this is in how much one learns in preparing for them. In just one year Anil had graduated from participant to mentor. As he cheered for his teams from the sidelines, he held his head high with pride when one of the teams from his college won Robo Akhada.


The Future of Karkhana

Karkhana and RAN have planned to organize six events throughout the coming year (2071) to nurture the community. The six events will lead up to Yantra 3.0, scheduled to happen after Tihar. Together, they want to make Yantra a truly national competition, by organizing contests from East to West. There will be several Yantra mini-competitions in Biratnagar, Chitwan and Pokhara. There will be an inter-school Yantra competition for grade 7-10 students which will provide a platform for young makers in the country to showcase their skills. These events will be preceded by workshops that develop the participants’ skills.

To be successful as a nation, we need to inspire the new generation and teach them necessary skills to invent. Yantra 3.0 will introduce young students to the fascinating world of inventing through robotics. Karkhana believes this will give them the skills and confidence to find innovative solutions to the problems that our nation faces. When Anil went to visit his family in Morang over Dasai he noticed that harvesting rice was time consuming. So he built a prototype of a solar powered rice cutting machine. Innovations like these coming from someone from the Yantra community gives us hope that people like him will help create a better future for Nepal.



Text by: Dipeshwor Man Shrestha. Shrestha studied Electronics engineering from Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk, and was Game field coordinator of Yantra 2.0. He is also the Head Engineer of Karkhana Learning Labs (KLCubed). He is currently designing STEAM based hands-on curriculum for grade 6-9 students and teaching them.

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