Bangalore: Fifty-one years after it was set up to spearhead India’s nuclear programme, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, or Barc, wants to work more closely with industry and is setting up an incubation centre to find commercial applications for its nuclear spin-off technologies.
“So far our technology transfer has merely entailed a document transfer with little care for return on investment, but now we want to partner with the industry in developing our technologies for the market,” said A.M. Patankar, head, technology transfer and collaboration division, Barc. A set of low-tech as well as high-end technologies are ready to be commercialized, he added.
Till date, Barc has transferred at least 100 technologies to 200 organizations. Barc claims that some of these have had a huge societal impact, like a range of low-cost water purifiers. Now, the nuclear tech pioneer wants commercial success.
Some of “the earliest computers, television sets, copiers and other electronics were developed here (at Barc-affiliated Electronics Corporation of India Ltd.) but none of them survived because the industry did not come forward to develop it further”, said Srikumar Banerjee, director of Barc, in an interview in June. With the incubation centre the centre wants to allay any inhibition, if at all, the industry might have in approaching Barc for commercializing its technologies, said Banerjee, admitting that this would also propel scientists to “take one step further” in innovation.
Still, given that the department of atomic energy has always been adequately funded by the government, the extent to which the spin-off technologies have been commercialized or dominate the market in their respective areas is far from significant.
For a cause: Till date, Barc has transferred at least 100 technologies to 200 organizations.
“The fault lies not with our research and development but with the industry which has lacked the confidence to develop technologies on its own,” said P.K. Iyengar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of Barc. Indian industry, he added, has relied more on “copying designs or licensing technology from overseas”, rather than investing in local technology development.
“The government hasn’t pushed the industry (to do this) either,” insisted Iyengar, narrating how promising ultrasound technology research was conducted at Visakhapatnam in the 1930s but failed to reach the market, which eventually was flooded with imported machines.
As a result, Barc has begun to do more with companies than just transfer technology. Having transferred the technology for a cobalt therapy (radiation) machine for cancer treatment to a Bangalore-based start-up, Panacea Medical Technologies Pvt Ltd. in late 2005, the agency has worked with the company to build the machine, called Bhabhatron. At Rs1.5 crore a piece, half the price of its Canadian competitor, Bhabhatron is now installed at 12 hospitals and clinics in India and has been used to treat more than 6,000 patients.
“We are shipping one machine to Vietnam; three more will be shipped later, including one to Sri Lanka,” said G.V. Subramanyam, managing director of Panacea. He claims Bhabhatron is not only cheaper, allowing even smaller hospitals to offer cancer treatment, but has advanced features that its competitor lacks.
“Bhabhatron has a unique radiation safety feature called ‘collimator closure’ which ensures that a patient or a technician doesn’t get any unwanted radiation,” said Subramanyam, whose eight-year-old company is set to break-even in 2009.
Though Barc has a range of innovations, it believes its low-cost fluoride detection, electron beam welding and electromagnetic forming (a metal forming process) technologies are close to the product stage. The latter has applications in aeronautics, defence, automotive, and electrical industries, said Patankar.
Long under the belief that the heavy campus security has deterred industry, Barc doesn’t want the incubation centre to suffer the same fate. It has allocated at least 4,000 sq. m in its adjoining 8-acre campus and has a separate entrance. “This will help our scientists to move back and forth between the two campuses,” said Patankar. He, however, is unclear how Barc will work out the details of intellectual property or IP benefits accrual to the innovators.
Still, with many IP sharing models in use, Barc just needs to make a choice.
“After all, a stage has come where if India has to prosper uniformly, it must develop and use its own technology,” said Iyengar.