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Over 70% of Intel India’s staff are into R&D: Kumud Srinivasan

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-05-2014 Leslie D’Monte

Mumbai: Kumud Srinivasan, president of Intel India Pvt. Ltd and general manager of Intel Architecture group in the country, has been with the company for nearly 27 years. As president of the Indian arm of the world’s largest chipmaker, Intel Corp., she is responsible for overall strategy, engineering and innovation for market development, and relationships with the government, industry and academia. In an interview in Mumbai earlier this month, Srinivasan underscored the local arm’s contribution to Intel’s global research and development (R&D) efforts. She also spoke about the company’s focus on promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education in India and explained how Intel’s technologists have begun mentoring PhD students in the country. Edited excerpts:

Intel’s R&D is its major strength. What’s the contribution of your local arm in developing global products?

If you include our subsidiaries, Intel India has around 6,000 employees, and a little over 70% of these do research and development (R&D) work in some form or the other. We are the third largest R&D site of Intel (the company spent $10.1 billion on R&D in 2013) and second outside the US, after Israel. We are a very strong development arm. We basically provide Intel with a lot of high-skill engineering capability. The work we do spans market segments—from servers, clients, phones, tablets, and most recently, wearables and IOT (Internet of Things), and it spreads across all layers of the stack, and includes silicon design—both SOC (system on a chip) and processors, platform validation, firmware, software validation and development across Windows and Android (operating systems). Intel has invested over $2 billion in India till date. In January, we said we will invest over $120 million in consolidating our existing research and development infrastructure in Bangalore. The new facility will be a global centre of excellence for chip design.

What kind of work is done in India? Give us some examples.

Since we work across many segments, the examples are manifold. We worked on the Clover Trail SOC, and are working on Bay Trail (energy-efficient chips targeted at tablets, with support for Windows and Android operating systems). We work on several of the SOCs that go into tablets and phones, but not on SOCs for wearables and IOT where we do a lot of work on designing of the solution and initial development of prototypes, leveraging our understanding of the technologies and market.

During the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, our CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrated a smartwatch with geo-fencing capability (in January, Krzanich introduced a new line of wearable computers, including a connected smartwatch and a pair of earbuds with a built-in heart monitor). We worked with our counterparts in the new wearables unit, which we refer to as the new devices group, and played a role in introducing that (the smartwatch) as a prototype for Brian to demonstrate. We are also working on other interesting solutions like one for the healthcare sector in India—a vertically integrated solution that will have a device and a back end to collect big data and do analytics.

How much latitude, independence do you have as an arm of a multinational when doing research that typically has a long gestation period?

We don’t need to wait for latitude. We need to come up with compelling solutions, and the latitude follows. It’s also something that our CEO wants—encouraging innovation. India is an emerging market. It’s for us to make Intel take notice and invest in it.

Your company also has a sharp focus on education...

We have a very strong focus on STEM education in India. The focus is to make education very experiential, hands-on, so that there is a problem-solving approach to STEM education. We signed an agreement (in February) with the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) in an effort to strengthen the research culture for students across the country and build innovation resources. These collaborative initiatives would include setting up of a “Galileo Corner” at 45 NCSM innovation centres.

The “Galileo Corner” will be set up in selected innovation hubs in NCSM in a bid to promote creativity, innovation and a Do-It-Yourself “Maker” culture among the student participants in the NCSM’s Innovation Club. Such a hub will give students access to the Intel Galileo Development Board, which will endeavour to help them build prototypes for their ideas for smart devices. The board allows the creation of quick prototypes of simple interactive devices such as LED (light emitting diode) displays that respond to social media, or for tackling more complex projects such as automated home appliances through to life-size robots, which can be controlled through a smartphone. This learning and discovery process would be helped by relevant technologists who will be on hand to guide on potential usage capabilities of the platform.

Building momentum on the Galileo programme in the country, Intel India will also launch a lab-focused, Galileo-based curriculum focusing specifically on the Intel Quark SOC architecture in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science.

Also, DeitY (department of electronics and information technology) is very interested in having more PhD graduates in India. Just a couple of months ago, we jointly announced the PhD fellowship programme that Intel will be funding. (In March, Intel India announced a fellowship of `5.7 lakh to enhance PhD programmes and boost quality research in India. It is part of Intel’s higher education programme and will be available for eligible students from the academic year starting July 2014. The Intel PhD Fellowship programme was started in the early 1990s by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.)

We will invest more after seeing how the programme progresses in the country. We have kept the budget flexible. We have identified nine research areas.

But is it easy to find PhD graduates in India?

We have a research council in India that is working on making our technologists mentor the PhDs. As of now, I don’t have any numbers, but at least one technologist will mentor a PhD student and then put them in touch with other technologists within Intel.

Intel India has principal engineers and senior principal engineers. In 2013, we had our highest number (18) of principal engineers—a step below an Intel fellow.

Intel senior fellows represent the highest level of technical achievement within the company, and are awarded the title for their technical leadership and outstanding contributions to the company and the industry. (Globally, Intel has one Indian senior fellow, Rajesh Kumar, and 13 Indian Intel fellows.)

In India, the challenge is to get kids and teachers to devise a more problem-solving approach. And that is our focus in the country. We keep innovating in this space.

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