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Arthur C. Clarke Center for Modern Technologies:
A Vision of Sri Lanka for Twenty-First Century

The Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies was named after Sir Arthur C. Clarke in honour of his work who is also a resident in Sri Lanka. He is the patron of the ACCIMT. (Sir Clarke is with his Pepsi.)

Interview & Photographs
by Bircan ÜNVER


Arthur C. Clarke Institute  for Modern Technologies' vision for 2010:
To be recognised in the South Asian region as a unique center of excellence in modern technologies*, inspired by Sir Arthur Clarke.


During my visit to Sri Lanka, I had the opportunity of visiting Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies (ACCIMT) in Katubedda, Moratuwa on December 30, 2002, and had the great opportunity of meeting  with the Director of the ACCIMT.  Dr. S. Namasivayam, and the engineer Shanthi de Fonseka. The ACCIMT is situated about an hour and a half a drive from Colombo just opposite the University of Moratuwa.  It has two buildings, two big dish antennas, a library, several laboratories, and  a  conference hall with a seating capacity for about a 100, along with the largest  telescope in Sri Lanka.

I was very curious about the Arthur C. Clarke Institute  for Modern Technologies. When  I looked at it's web site previously I was not clear as to its purposes. "How does it serve?"  "Who does it serve or does it provide an education or some courses in its line?"  "What is Sir Arthur C. Clarke's connection with this center. I had no idea until I arrived there.  After talking with the  Director,  Dr. Namasiyavam and the engineer Mr. Fonseka, and seeing some units of the Institute, clarified its place in Sri Lankan society. Thus, I would like to share this conservation and observations with you. Thank you so much to Dr. Namasiyavam and the engineer Mr. Fonseka for extending their great attention and time to me.  


The director of the ACCIMT's Dr. S. Namasivayam
during the interview at his office.

- How do you define "Information Technology?"

- Dr. Namasivayam: Information technology more commonly known  as IT,  today is based on transfer of information, from either within an organization or outside using  computers  or  via  Internet. Today, this information even does  management.   People make decisions based on information. So information technology has  become  the  basic  tool for making decisions and to make good business. Communication technology for example, is the process in which the information is transmitted and as such the  telephone facility, facsimile  methodology of exchanging  or  transmitting  information  is communication technology. And both these  use electronics to  a  great extent.  If you open up the computer, inside you will find a quite a lot of chips or ICs . And that is the  development of  electronics.  If you open this camera (pointing to my manual photo-camera), you will probably find chips inside. So electronics give added  value to all these fields. The three fields: Electronics, Communication, and Information Technology. These are today's top fields where there is major developments going on. And these developments are so rapid  today that every 18  months  the capacity of  these  fields  becomes doubled. The growth  of  development  is so fast.

- I would like to open up that connection of these 3 fields with Space a bit.

- Dr. Namasivayam: The idea is, since  these are the 3 key modern  technologies. How can Sri Lanka benefit by investing in these three areas. The idea is to carryout  research and development, initiate, promote and distribute these technologies for the development of Sri Lanka's industrial sector and also for the development of  the community.

So you asked, how can we improve the industrial sector for example? What will they need? What are the requirements for the industrial sector?

They require their products to be of  high quality and to maintain  its  standard  always.  People don't like variation. The country which uses its natural resources and converts it to some other products (for example if you take coconut it is the natural resource and if you can make coconut milk or powder out of that) if we can help in this process then you are sure of  a   quality  product. You add value to the product.

- How  could   you  directly  or  indirectly help  in  implementing  this  process?   How  does  your  involvement  process  work?  

- Dr. Namasivayam: The most basic step of the process would be to assure the industry on the quality or standard of their machinery and equipment. If you own some machinery or equipment, how can you be assured on the quality or the standard of the equipment. For this matter the ACCIMT is in a position and is well equipped to assure on the qulatiy of the equipment and also to assist in terms of preparing the equipment, maintenance and calibration of same.

-Do you have standard rates  for providing  these industrial  services?

- Dr. Namasivayam: Yes.  We have a specialized  unit  with  a  dedicated  staff and the  required  equipment to  certify  the  standards of  industry  requirement.  Let's say  the  Industry  has an equipment, the  accuracy / standard  of  which  has  to  be  certified.  In such a case we can assist them in certification of the standard of the equipment. If we take the information technology sector, there will be various needs the client requires the IT to be adopted viz.; payroll systems, management information systems etc.  One  of  our  main focuses  in  this  area  is  office  automation, which  helps  the industry  in  creating   and  office  environment  with minimum paper work or a completely digital office.  For this purpose you could  be  connected  to  all  units  of  your Industry,  through  a  network.  Through  this network you will  have  access to  almost anything  like,  salaries  of  employees, vehicle  details, personal  data  of  employees etc..  The  entire  office  can  use  this  information system  and  thereby  reduce  the  paper  work  involved  such  as  filling  of  forms  etc., to  a great  extent.  Somewhat  similar to a database.

- Are you prepared against the possible computer crashes or viruses?

- Dr. Namasivayam: That is an ongoing process. You have to expect such  situations and be prepared  for  it. .  There will be viruses when downloading, coming from emails etc.  All  you  got  to do  is  to  have  a  proper  system installed  in  order  to  minimize   the crashes or  breakdowns  which  can  check, detect  and   destroy  such  viruses  it is like a building doctor. It is a part of  the system that is information technology.

Next is  the  communication technology area. At  this institute our next focus  will be application of communication technology in video conferencing set up. We conduct   quite  a lot of training courses  here  for  the  continuation  of   professional  development.  This  means   bringing  the  Trainer  (Lecturer)  and the  Trainee  (course participant)  in to  one  particular  location.  Large  amount  of  work  is  involved  in  co-ordinating  such work . Sometimes, it is not possible to get everybody under  one roof.  With  the introduction of  this  new  communication  technology,  a  video  conferencing / teleconferencing can  be  arranged  where  the  speaker  is  not  available  physically  but  still  you  are  able  to  speak  to  the audience.  He can be somewhere working in his environment and through  the  video conferencing / teleconferencing you can make  arrangements  to have  the  training.  Which  actually  is  a  cost  cutting  method of  modern  technology.  In fact video conferencing is not new but we have to focus  much  on these as a tool  to improve somethings here.

- How do you define the technologies you develop which functions and adds some value into the industrial field as well as daily life? Would you give some examples related with it?

- Dr. Namasivayam: I can give you perhaps two examples. One is  if  you  take  the  case  of  a  large  scale apparel  industry.   They  work  on  a  production line.  i.e.  each  one   does  his  part  of  the  job  and  passes  it  on  to  the next. And  it  is  no  easy  task  to evaluate  their   efficiency individually  as  the  work  force  some  times  ranges  from  500 - 5000.  But  we  have  made   this  task  very  much  simple  by  developing   a   technology  where  the  employer  is able  to  evaluate  the  efficiency  of   every  single  worker.  Through  this  newly developed  technology the information is stored in a computer, each time  the  product  is taken in  and  sent out by  the  worker.  This  system  records all  such  minute  information.  This  stored  information  once   retrieved   will  show   the efficiency  of  each   individual  involved  in  the manufacturing  of  the   product.  Another example is, what is known as the "smart card." A card with a barcode at the back, where  employees  record  their   attendance and  their  movements.  We have another one, using radio frequency. Its called RF ID card which has a  micro chip embedded inside. You can use it for many  a things.  Arrival  and departure  times  of  workers  in  to  offices or  factories.  Storing  your  personal information, such as   blood  group, health  information  etc  is  another  feature  of  this   system.  You can use it as a doctor. The  small  chip  embedded inside  the  card has memory  which  can  store  what  ever  the information you  need  to  be  fed  in.   You  can  even  expand the  memory  of  this  chip.  You  can  even  use  this  so  called  Smart Card  for  your  transport needs, banking  purposes etc., and even  for  your  personal requirements.   If I want to make a photocopy of a regular ID card, still it is usable for its barcode. But you cannot duplicate the RF anyway. It's a better system, where a  high technology system is  used.  Talk  about  telemedicine  this  card  will  help  you consult  and see  the  doctor.  Basically I have to go from point A to point B, and the doctor comes there and we talk. But you can take this card, send it there, and he has a reader that will read your health.

- When RF card  is used for health purpose, does it get updated automatically?

- Dr. Namasivayam: Yes, it gets updated automatically.  So you have to find a way to  feed  your current information in to  this and you can send it. I'm looking for  other  possibilities, it  could  provide. As  it  could store information. 

- Beside industrial and health, what are the other areas which are already being used or can be used with this card?

Dr. Namasivayam: This is extensively used banking and the health sectors. For security reasons if you are the only person who needs to enter into a certain place, this card can be used. This card can be used only to one particular entrance but not to another. Very unique. This is a special feature.  

Then we come to electronics and what we are doing here. There are many things  but I am only focusing on what we are doing here. We have what we call “smart sensors” which  can  measure temperature pressure, and  transmit it by radio. And send  the information  gathered about weather to be received at  a  particular   location. 

- Where will this transmission of information be useful in?

- Dr. Namasivayam: There are industrial processors  where you cannot be at  its  site  due  to  either too high  or  low  temperatures  or  some  existence  of  a  gas  such  as ammonia  which  blocks  our  breathing  process. So all  what  you got  to  do  is  to  install  this  smart  sensor  and  move  away  from  the  location. The card  will  work  out  your requirements.  Such  as  measuring  of  the temperature   this  is  called remote sensing.

- Who is going to be the end-user?

- Dr. Namasivayam: Let's say that I am manufacturing  a  product  out  of  metal.  And  this  metal has to be heated by a 1000 F degrees. Obviously  it  is  not  possible  to  stay  close to metal  and  to check  on  the  temperature due to it is  heating process.  By putting  the  sensor  there you  can  find  out  the  exact  temperature.  The  sensor  will  do  the  needful.  Measuring  the  Climatic  conditions  is a perfect example. By  using  this  sensor,  daily  you  can monitor   the  temperature variations. How  the  weather condition  rises  and  comes down,  how it  changes everyday. This  sensor will  even  help  you to transmit  this  information  gathered  to  any  location.

At present  we  are  engaged  in  this new technology.  But we  will  venture  on  some  other  things  soon.  It's  called  the  incubator  project.  Hospitals  use  this  apparatus to  keep  premature  babies. We hope  to  develop  this further with  full  conditioning;  temperature, pressure, air flow..

- What will be different in yours than what already exists?

- Dr. Namasivayam: We are going to improve what already  exists today.  In Sri Lanka we do not have sufficient  incubators and  it is costly. Bulk purchasing cannot be done due to  its high cost.  Bulk  importing  is not  possible  for a country like ours. What we  intend  to do  here is to  manufacture  this  locally  with  improvements  which  will  indicate  danger  level, of  a  child.  All required  information  of  the  baby  can  be measured and  sent, so that the hospital  staff  are  in  a position to monitor  the  condition of  the baby. That  will  be  our  next   step  in this  area.  We  are  exploring  ways  and means   of   improving   on  this  further.

- Do you  conduct any classes or training programmes here?

- Dr. Namasivayam: Astronomic societies and school societies contact us for visits and programmes. Even our staff go on field visits  and  educate  the school  children  by  using the mini  telescope available  at the  ACCIMT.  Field visits are  mainly  done  to  villages where  they  are given some  overview  in the  astronomy  field. We also  have  the largest  telescope  installed  here.  It is  not  movable and  is not always possible for everyone to come and observe  through  this.  Hence  we  use  the  mini  telescopes  which  is moveable on  our  field  visits  to  remote  schools.  These  classes  / programems  are done  free  of charge as a service to  the most  remote  village  level  schools.

We  also  have undergraduates  who  specialize  in  coastal  erosion.  They  work  with our  staff  of  the  Space Applications  division  and analyze  data  through  satellites.   So  you  can  see,  we have  students, university students, astronomy students; working in  that  group.  

- How do they get this opportunity or how can they get this opportunity to work with the ACCIMT? Is it by appointment.? And how long does these projects last?

Dr. Namasivayam: There is  an  important  contributory  factor  to  this.  Certainly  they  can  come by  appointment  but  everything  depends  on the  climatic  condition of  that  particular  day. Observation  sessions  can  never  be  held  as  a  planned  programme due  to  the  unpredictable  weather  conditions prevailing  here.   Although  times slots  are  given  depending on  the  weather  conditions  only   the  programme  could  be  conducted. We   must  be  a  little  flexible.

But the portable telescopes are a different story. We have 2 or 3 portables.

- Who produced the biggest telescope?

- Dr. Namasivayam: The telescope was a gift from the Japanese government. It  is  a  unique  one  and  is  the largest  in  Sri Lanka. It  is  now sitting  at  the  top of our building right now.

- You said that you were going to link all of these technologies with Space...

- Dr. Namasivayam: The satellite, today, has become the need by which you can transmit connectivity between two different places. Two opposite sides of the earth can be connected through satellite. Connectivity gives you communication. That means you can communicate through satellite, you can exchange  or obtain information  management systems through the same means and you are using electronics to achieve that. If you take computers, they are made with electronics or if you take any telephone exchange, it is with electronics. Even the satellite itself is with electronics. The electronic idea is that you can create programmability in a small space, you can store information and you can change that information. That is called programmability. The information that we receive from the satellite about the earth is also information. We can use that to analyze. I may be interested in fishing, you may be interested in putting up buildings, and somebody else may be interested in forestry:  How are the forests growing or reducing? The information from the earth or the geological information can be taken out and transmitted. By using different types of filters and software you can use what you need and look for what you want.

- Who initially founded the ACCIMT?

- This institution is not funded by Sir Arthur C. Clarke but is fully funded by the government. The government felt  the need  to  establish  this institution in order that this institution will introduce modern technologies to the country. The ACCIMT  was named  after  Sir  Arthur C Clarke  in  honour  of  his  work  who  is  also  a  resident  in Sri Lanka. He is the patron of this institution. He has  contributed immensely  towards  the  establishment  of  this  Institution  and  also  towards  the sustenance of  same  by way  of  contributing   generously   with  large  sums  of  money,  and  even  encouraging  sponsors  to  fund  certain areas of  the  ACCIMT.

- Do you have a satellite?

- Dr. Namasivayam: We are at  present communicating   with  the  Indian  authorities  for information about this area. We can also get information from them.  We do not have satellites. India is the closest one available to us.

- If you do not have a satellite yet, then who owns the Clarke Orbit?

Dr. Namasivayam:
 It is not owned by Sri Lanka. The Clarke Orbit is called the Geo-Station Orbit. It is the other countries which have sent  satellites in to  space. Sri Lanka has no satellites in space, not yet.

Technology Laboratory at the ACCIMT

- How many employees do you have at the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies today?

- Dr. Namasivayam: 60, but we should have roughly about 120 people. So we are running at the 50% capacity.

- Why do you need 120 people?

- Dr. Namasivayam: We need to  fill  the balance 50%  since  there are several divisions here and  most of the  positions  of  heads of divisions have not  been  filled. At present there are 5 active divisions; Electronics, Space Application Technology, Communication Technology, and Information technology. Today, the world communicates broadly  using satellites, through  electronic apparatus and through communication technology.  We are all exchanging information. So this institution was set up with that purpose to  accelerate  the introduction of  Modern  Technologies so that these four areas can help to bring development to this country and to the community by  way of upgrading the quality of life.

When you talk about satellites, we  think  it  is  cheaper to have a satellite in space rather then connecting underneath the cable in China. If you are talking about new development in Sri Lanka you will need a satellite in terms of raising the quality of industrial product or raising the quality of life. Then you have to know what is the quality of life elsewhere. And you must have some targets and try to reach a certain degree performance levels. That's what we are trying to do with this project. So this Institute was set up with that purpose. And the idea was to promote, to initiate, to do research and development in these areas. And you got something which will be useful for the country, the development of the country and the development of the towns, rural areas, the villages and so on.

- How do you operate this?

For instance:  We will  select  two  villages, which do not even have basic electricity,  what we are planning and what we hope  to do with this project is to provide electricity using solar cell, have a communication set up so that they can communicate using satellites. And see how that community will grow. So you are starting basically with nothing but  people in a group and see the  developments  that  take place when  given  them the electricity, what happens when you give them the communications and what and how will they develop.

- Who will be funding this project?

- Dr. Namasivayam: Japan will be our funding country for this project. And  the  funding  source is  JICA (Japanese International Corporation Agency). They will visit  here and  select two villages  which will  need their  support   primarily. Then they will bring in foreign assistance groups to both monitor and evaluate the progress taking take place, and then they will bring in equipment like solar cells.

- What is a solar cell?

- Dr. Namasivayam: It is something that can convert the energy from the sun into electricity. The efficiency of conversion is not very high but it still does that. Today, you are going to have cars which operate on solar cells . Using this method will certainly create an unpolluted environment. It is not becoming very popular and have already manufactured some. The skin or the roof of the car is made with solar cells which will convert sun’s energy.

You don’t need to be in the tropics for solar cell. Most of the people who are using solar cell energy are in Europe. They are building houses with solar cell roofs to provide heat inside.

* * *

Two antennas are between two building of the ACCIMT. The Engineer Shanthi de Fonseica is with the largest telescope of Sri Lanka at the ACCIMT.

The engineer Shanthi de Fonseka  has joined us, and he continues on the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Modern Technologies contributions to Sri Lanka, and also its continuing education as well as training courses.

- When I asked some youth  if they went to school, they said until  the 10th grade.  What does 10th grades imply for you? Some also said education qualifications are too high in this country so they can't continue after high school. Would you give a general information related to these?

- Fonseka: It's a common problem. You have to give them a lot of options. Here the education system is done in such a way that your ultimate goal is to enter a university. So it is very competitive. Only about 2% of the total who sit through the examination get inside. Less than 2% even. So the question is what do you do? There are other levels like national diplomas. Automatically the 98% will find other ways to survive. They will go to other diplomas. We are giving training courses for such personnel.

- Can we open up this training issue a little bit more?

- Fonseka: Now what we mean by practical electronic course is, we take in people at school level, not necessarily they  should  have gone through G.C E (O/L) successfully. Anybody can enter. There are people around 50 years old.

- How long is one training?

- Fonseka: This  training  is conducted  on  full-time  basis  during  weekends. i.e. Saturdays and Sundays  and  continues  for  about  5 -  6  months.

Now we have  scheduled  our training for  the  whole  year including the courses for next year as well.  And we are in the process of  exploring  the  needs of institutions so  that  we  could  enlighten  them  of the  types  of  courses  we  conduct here and  also  design  customize  courses  using  our  expertise to  suit  their  needs.    For instance, television institution or telecommunication will require telecom related topics not power related or not other topics. Power related topics will create interest with electricity board and other consumers or electronic manufacturers.  We  circulate our course syllabus to these places. This is something we have already commenced.  

Supposing  we are conducting a course on telecommunication the course details are sent  to  telecom related organizations. That is Sri Lanka telecom, etc. but power related is something like UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply.) We send more details to the industry and end users  of ups. UPS is a source of clean power. This part of the world you need UPS because power is not clean. It is a box and it has batteries inside. It can become very large  but basically it has got one connector to the plug so that when the power is on it is coming through. When the power is off, the batteries inside provide a power. And it has to deliver very clean power.

- Are there any other projects in the program  for the future which are important for the development of the people?

- Fonseka: We are not going to be the only ones doing this but we are going to support education system through the Internet to every village. That means through every village they will be able to access the ACCIMT  web page and  want the education system to be propagated. It doesn't matter how far you are from Colombo or any major city, you will have access to the education.

- Is this going to be in Sinhalese?

- Fonseka: The idea is that it will be in all languages with more emphasis in English. I think we have to build world cities. If you are going to use Internet a lot you have to do it in English.

- What do you consider your contribution to this country through this institution? Also, what are your future plans?

- Fonseka:
First of all I should say, I joined this institution in September 2001 so it's only more than one year here. I have been involved with various courses as a resource person since September 1993 to 1994.

According  to what I see, number one is satisfying the technological advancements of  the industry. That is imparting the newest know-how on technologies to the engineers and technicians in the industry. And conducting part-time  courses  for school leavers that is to repairing of television, VCR etc. And hardware courses for school leavers and engineers in the industry. That is as far as the transfer of technology has got us in the teaching part is concerned. Then in addition, we have got involved with technological developments, requirements from the industry. That is when the industry needs something to be developed, we have assisted  them by using newer technologies or newer techniques to achieve their results.

Now last, but not the least, you saw telescopes. Telescopes and astronomical knowledge was transferred to schools and school children especially in difficult areas where the children have no access to literature and such.

Further, with our new Director we are trying to be more dynamic in a sense oriented to work on industry demand. The industry demand means, we look at what the industry wants and assists them to produce them using new technologies. Let's suppose they want a power car with special features, we try to manufacture and give it to the industry.   In Sri Lanka there are many effective "baby incubators", most of them with defective electronics.  What we are trying to do is develop the electronics which will fit in and give it to the industry to manufacture and supply.

Likewise we will cater to demand oriented needs.

- What is your overall expectations Dr. Namasivayam?

- I think that you have to always look at expectations in a very positive ways. Otherwise you have no success. So we always tend to look that tomorrow will bring a better day, and we have to make sure that tomorrow comes, and that we are planning to make it a better day.

*The term Modern Technologies is defined in the ACT to include electronics, communications and related sciences, information technology, microelectronics, space technology, photonics, robotics and new materials.

- - - - -

Based on the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Modern Technologies

Strategic Intent:

The main divisions are:
* Computer
* Communication
* Space Technology
* Robotics
* Energy

The Institute’s objectives for the future are reflected in its Vision and Mission statements. The Vision represents ACCIMT’s long term ambitions. It provides guidance and focus for consistency in the organization’s actions over time.

Vision 2010

To be recognized in the South Asian region as a unique center of excellence in modern technologies,* inspired by Sir Arthur Clarke. (*The term Modern Technologies is defined in the Act to include electronics, communications and related sciences, information technology, microelectronics, space technology, photonics, robotics and new materials.)

The Mission statement reflects the aspirations of the Institute over the period 2001 to 2006, identifying the specific areas of focus in both local and international operations.

Mission 2006

ACCIMT  will contribute to national capability development in modern technologies through, locally, becoming the most respected Institute for assisting technology transfer in the related technologies by:

* establishing Industry institute partnerships
* conducting research and development
* developing technology know-how of targeted sectors
* implementing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities.
* Supporting the formulation and implementation of the industrial policy and assisting the implementation of the educational reforms by the Government

And enhancing the infrastructure and image of the Institute, with external support and self –generated funds. Internationally, becoming a regional center of excellence in specialized areas and contributing to subject development, world-wide.

A Brief History:

The Arthur C. Clarke Institute  for Modern Technologies (ACCIMT) was established in 1984 by an Act of Parliament to accelerate  the process of introduction and development of modern technologies in the fields of Communications, Computers, Energy, Space Technologies and Robotics, through the provision of training and research facilities. Basic infrastructure was established in 1986 and the technical activities commenced early 1987. Today the center is actively involved in the areas of communications, computers and applications of microelectronics where a team of electronic engineers and other related professionals are working towards self reliance in the areas related to modern technologies. (Source: ACCIMT brochure)

- . -

For further info:
The Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies

Other related links - Sri Lanka:

- Very First Annual Dance Festival of Sri Lanka (Dec. 2003)
- Dances, Masks and Drums of Sri Lanka
- Peace Process of Sri Lanka

- Hector Ekanayake: "Underwater Safaris"

Dr. S. Namasivayam>dir@accmt.ac.lk
Eng. Shanthi de Fonseka > shanthi@accmt.ac.lk

This page updated on April 21 2003.

E-mail: Bircan Ünver> contact@lightmillennium.org
© Bircan Ünver, Light Millennium, March 18, 2003, New York

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