As we made our way along the, at times, rutty road to Roorkee, we reflect on the rapid changes taking place in India and the uneven distribution of digital infrastructure throughout the hinterland beyond the country’s capital city. Abstract poverty fringes the ambitious skyline-in-progress in New Delhi’s far outer suburbs as gated multistorey communities for the emergent middle class spring up in what were farmers’ paddocks and sugar-cane fields.
We chose the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee to host our futures workshop due to its engineering heritage spanning back to the British Raj (it is the oldest Technical Institution in Asia founded in 1847) and unique place in India as a host to excellence and the country’s future cohorts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM ) graduates.
The 3DPIP Futures workshop we held at IIT, Roorkee attracted 30 experts and practitioners from diverse fields across law, engineering, and entrepreneurship. Our co-facilitator, Dr. Soumitra Satapathi, from the Department of Physics was instrumental in bringing together these diverse minds to gather and focus on the pressing questions of the futures of 3D printing in India.
We are still analysing the data from Roorkee, but are able to offer a preview of how the participants understand where 3D printing has come from, and is going to, in India. Our methodology first asked participants to think backwards to the technological and sociological innovations that moved India towards its current uses of 3D printing using the multi-level perspective.
We found discussion toward how new technology is spread, or not, in Indian society to be very insightful. There is a unique mix of government intervention to meet the ‘common people’ and pockets of innovation that otherwise struggled to trickle down, which shape how 3D Printing’s opportunities and challenges are now being considered.
From the context the participants mapped out, we used a methodology that set four distinct futures on two axes of uncertainty. The first scenario is reliant on familiar forms of global capital flows. The second is also profit driven but locally focused. The third asks how we get to a free global commons, while the fourth acts like local diverse experiments of productive-economic sharing.
Tackling how India would go-about getting to these ‘futures’ was the job of our participants, and they astounded us. Indian contexts of intellectual property, culture, industry and innovation were cogently explained to build towards each future. Our participants also helped us consider how each aspect would hold in check the four outlying future scenarios on the horizon.
Overall, unique practices of technological adoption and cultural-legal contexts showed how 3D printing is becoming both diverse and unique in the subcontinent. For instance, a focus on “made in India” goods by the government, histories of hand-spun Khadi that gained new significance through Mahatma Ghandi’s interest in being sustainable via spinning one’s own cloth, and the incredible moments of influx when technologies become ‘common’ in India, all helped paint distinct pictures of emerging 3D printing futures.
We look forward to continuing to work with the UK’s IPO office on 3DPIP futures project to be able deepen the analyses of our findings and will keep you posted on major developments.