26 Jun 2017

Innopolis: Destination next for technology firms in Russia

 

Innopolis is a city in a hurry. It has 2,000 citizens, one police officer and one electricity-powered bus to cover its 40-km stretch of roads. It wants to reach the milestone of 150,000 citizens and fast.

In an effort reminiscent of India’s STPI scheme that allowed tax breaks to software firms, and the South Asian nation’s intermittent efforts at developing Tier-II cities as software hubs, Russia’s newest city is doing all of these and, importantly, has bundled into the package what was the missing link in the Indian IT landscape — an educational curriculum that delivers what companies want. It has set up a university dedicated to computer science, with an obligation on graduates to work with a company based in Innopolis for at least 18 months.

Located about 800 kms east of Moscow and all of two years old, Innopolis wants IT companies to set up shop there and is offering inexpensive housing to attract employees, and hence employers.

“We have about 56 companies, with a headcount ranging from 5 to 300,” Ruslan Shagaleev, the 37- year-old mayor of Innopolis told The Hindu. It aims to touch a citizen base of 10,000 in three years. It houses office buildings, a university, schools, apartments and a gymnasium in 50 of the 1,200 hectares allotted to it.

Lower taxes

“The city offers special tax rates and subsidised levels of rent on houses,” he said, adding that salaries are typically lower than the current IT hub of Moscow, incentivising companies to set up shop at Innopolis. “Instead of social tax rates of 35% on salaries, employers pay only 17% here.”

A fully-fitted out, singlebedroom apartment comes at 7,400 roubles, or at about one-hundredth the cost of a similar unit in Moscow. Asked what his current priorities are, Mr. Shagaleev said, “We need to build more apartments for employees, in order to bring in more companies.”

“I moved into Innopolis to avoid a 1.5 hour commute in another city,” said Dmitriy Chernyshov, a team lead heading a group of 40 people across 6 cities at the BARS Group under the National Centre for IT, a stateowned technology unit. “I walk to work, my children go to a quality school and nowhere else in the world would I have a view of the forests from my bedroom window,” he said, beaming.

Speciality university

What makes Innopolis tick is the university that preceded the township by at least two years. “Without a university, Innopolis is just a set of buildings,” said Alexander Tormasov, rector, Innopolis University.

It currently has 554 students. Last year's intake was 313 students for which there were 9,000 applications across nationalities. It offers a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, offered with 4 main streams of study — big data, artificial intelligence/ robotics, software engineering and cybersecurity, with English being the medium of instruction. A master’s degree is also on offer.

“Up to 30% of top physicists globally have traditionally come from Russia. But only 2.5 out of the top 400 computer scientists are Russian. We want to be right up there.”

“We wish to have about 5,000 students at any given time, with 1,000 as the annual intake,” he added. “Last year, two offers for admission were made to Indian students for the bachelor studies but were not taken for various reasons,” he said, adding that this year, about 10 offers have been made.

Almost all of its bachelor studies students are covered by a grant, offering about 1.2- 1.4 million roubles a year per student. This is greater than the median salary in Russia, said Prof Tormasov.

The university also works with Rostec State Corporation, a government arm that focuses on ‘furtherance of industrial policy’, such as in the area of airplanes, nuclear reactors and helicopters.

An interesting area of work currently is unmanned vehicles. According to Prof Tormasov, “We are working on complete vehicle driving control and decision-making on board is executed by robotics and AI on speed, position, environment, engines and tyres.” Further details of the company would be revealed as and when progress is made, he said.

Big data in X-rays

The university has also incubated a project along with Radio Company Vector on the use of big data analysis. This is currently being piloted with evaluation of Xrays for lung scans. “For every 1,000 lung X-rays, 2 or 3 typically need further examination. This new data analysis framework has shown that at least 300 out of 1,000 need intervention as they exhibit higher probability of leading to lung cancer.” Data sizes can reach 100 peta bytes going up to exabytes. The same framework is being used for the control and security of Russian oil major Gazprom's pipelines, and in raising efficiencies in agriculture production.

The university is also working on an advanced cognitive robotics project, creating robots capable of facial recognition and reacting to emotions.

“This could eventually lead to better care of the elderly,” said Prof. Tormasov, adding that in Europe, the ratio of working to retired people is 1:1, suggesting that a working generation of people alone may not be adequate to care for the elderly.

Combining the outcome of this research project with another of its robot projects focused on mimicking human movement of joints and balanced walking by robots, could lead to robots taking over the performance of dangerous tasks that humans currently do, said Prof. Tormasov.

(The writer was in Russia at the invitation of Rostec)

Source: The Hindu