Random thoughts on a sunday

The past couple months have been tough. Product development is easy but then understanding the problem and coming up with a solution is a bit tough. I’ve got an amazing highly motivated team with me. Built them up from scratch, no hi-fi engineers or management people from the big name colleges. Figure I’m not going to be a good teacher unless I train the local talent around me. The goal is that we become the best damn engineering team in South Asia in 2-3 years time.

Staying positive while at the garage and the office is a fight. Luckily my friends keep my spirits-up on chat, or my mom and dad do it everyday, it’s a whole lot of fun seeing support from unexpected places.

Sales visits are always an adventure. Got in touch with some old pals during the recent Bangalore visit. I was so tired and didn’t catch enough sleep for many hours straight, as you can see.

I guess in a startup, the game is about staying positive, keep in touch with everyone and just treating everyday like an adventure. It’s adrenaline the morning I wakeup at 6am and the night I finish at 11pm.



The power of algorithms

Algorithms and the software/firmware that they create have taken-up no.1 importance in the list of portfolio offerings for companies, followed by electronics, IoT, hardware, manufacturing and trading. Evidence of this is the format of patents being granted currently, with the general environment of the patent being drafted around the algorithm in a majority of cases. Not long ago, patents were only granted for hardware-based inventions with its corresponding software taking lesser importance. Things have changed since.

Some algorithms, like those that compute the Fibonacci sequences, are intuitive and may be innately embedded into our logical thinking and problem solving skills. However, for most of us, complex algorithms are best studied so we can use them as building blocks for more efficient logical problem solving in the future. ” – author of The importance of algorithms

The following are some of various deliverables that justify the power of programming code:

  • To control hardware- Reduce lead time, operational costs, increase efficiency, achieve automation, device data security, ease-of-use on the field, 1-platform framework, field diagnosis, testing, standards compliance etc.
  • To streamline operations & execution for non-technical abstract operational problems (ex.: audit).
  • To address everyday common user problems- Ease-of-use, productivity, happiness quotient, etc. (ex.:smartphone-based).
  • To predict trends- market, finance, banking, valuation etc.
  • Game theory, pattern prediction etc.

An example case to control hardware:

To control hardware:

Robots welding in a pre-programmed pattern is a common manufacturing practice in the automotive industry these days.


The above robot control could be accomplished using PLC controllers (shown on the left) by writing very basic movement functions dependent on time.

Engineers representing programming logic in a very simple visual form is just the start to more complex processes. One major hurdle that every engineer tends to address is how to get the most out of the PLC/chip/microcontroller.

Here is a DW report on The power of algorithms and how a forecasting model is used by logistics companies to make better algorithms. The video also gives a glimpse into moral aspects of using algorithms to predict human behavior.

DW report on algorithms

Other literature:

Tesla releases new Autopilot 2.0 software update, adds Automatic High Beam worldwide

Why hardware-based security will always trump software


Ashwin Shreshta

Solar & automotive technology consultant



How highly-efficient well-planned solar technology can be a domino effect to energy success

As you know, renewable energy in India has seen a recent boom in the past 5-7 years, especially or primarily in the solar energy space. India aims to achieve a 100 Giga Watt (GW) of solar installations by 2022 with tariff rates dropping as we speak. More importantly, tariffs are already cheaper than conventional power tariffs.

Solar innovation:

Innovation in the solar sector can be split into 2 broad categories: Solar cell innovation and retrofit technology. Intellectual Property (IP) on solar cell material science belong to a select few companies, countries and institutes. This restriction has hence led to blossoming of cheaper, faster and more accessible forms of retrofit innovation like solar trackers, module-level MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking), automated cleaning, structural health monitoring and solar tiles just to name a few. In solar installations, Capex (Capital Expenditure) cost increases are related to the ‘extra’ devices retrofitted to the fundamental panel technology and faster return on investments are why they are considered in the first place.

With solar no longer being subsidised by the government like it used to, Capex cost increases are considerable enough and this has led to a preference of ‘non-risky’ simplistic solar installations in the country.

Better solar fields imply seamless energy transfer:

Innovation in solar is highly important because of the reliability issues associated with current solar technology. Even at 100 GW, India would still be producing only 9% of the total power consumption and this is considering that the sun shines consistently 300 days in a year. With solar power plants being spread out over acres, a shadow on one side of the plant will affect the power production overall or one could take the problem case of panels not facing the sun throughout the day which can reduce power production by as much as 14%.

The below image taken from German trade and Invest presentation of 2011 shows that the transition to conventional energy post5pm from solar is one of the major hurdles a solar energy reliant country will need to keep in mind.

How price drops affect innovation in the energy sector:

Renewable energy in India is still in its nascent stage and still requires significant government support if it is to even replace some part of the conventional grid. If we continue to drop unit prices just based on contracts, this will be a serious detriment to alternative forms of innovation.

Outline of some common problems:

·        Solar power has to compete with conventional energy generation.

·        Bidding contracts highly regulated with over-dependency on cheapest price of the bidder.

·        Indigenous innovation on solar technology still a rarity.

·        India imports most of its 99% pure silicon from China with an import duty of 25%.

An ideal situation:

In a decade time span, our cities would be supplied with power generated few 100kms away, most probably a solar power plant spread over acres. Once the natural resource of energy generation runs out, there will come a time when reliability of mass scale renewable power will be a major necessity. India would need to start to design for this future as soon as possible and give up on the existing mode of adopting this raw plug-and-play technology.

Most of these pockets of solar energy generation will soon drive the cities of our future.

The solution

An ideal solution would be to create a USP around the application of solar power generated that will make it irreplaceable by the conventional grid.


Case study

One example of great planning of renewable and more specifically solar installations is Portugal which in 2016 achieved 95.5% of its entire energy delivered by renewable energy.

In solar energy, Portugal split its installations with energy generation from 1. Solar PV and 2. Solar thermal depending on the installed location.


24 hours of energy provided by solar energy storage gets rid of the post5pm hassle of transitioning to coal-based energy.


I do hope this is useful to you.


Ashwin Shreshta

Solar & automotive technology consultant

Vaahan Renew Energy Pvt. Ltd.


Electric vehicle safety

Source: Electric vehicle safety

Electric vehicle safety


Frontal crash of an electric vehicle at 64 KPH

Vehicle safety used to be a back-end job, with engineers toiling in the crash lab analyzing, testing and validating different materials for their crash absorption characteristics. Now, it has become a sign of pride for most of the OEMs.

Differences in architecture between EVs and ICEs:

One might assume that electric vehicles would perform in a similar way to conventional ICEs (Internal Combusion Engine s) but this is not true. In comparison to ICEs , EVs (Electric Vehicles) have a different drive-train layout & the power source i.e. battery pack is very different to a conventional cylindrical fuel tank. Even the HVAC (Heating Ventilation And Cooling) system in modern EVs are taking a different shape and size. The only systems resembling ICEs seem to be the suspension systems for now but even this is beginning to skew towards a different technology Literature.


Modern vehicle body-in-white structures are no longer heavy and bulky built, instead ‘impact energy absorption’ has become a methodology for success. A normal crash test team goes about determining load-paths for a vehicle during crash in order to best divert forces away from the passenger compartment and for an EV, they also try and keep the forces away from the battery pack. Since Li-ion batteries have a state of instability which could lead to fires under high impact conditions or thermal runaway, safety of the battery pack is of high priority.

A load path and stress distribution chart are what crash engineers rely on.

Legal standards:

Crash legal requirements & consumer ratings are set by agencies such as Euro-ncap,Us-ncap, Japenese-ncap, Iihs etc. and they give a rating in terms of stars with 5 being the most safest. A technical evolution in these tests is that they rate the vehicles not just in terms of passive safety but also crash avoidance systems, high-voltage protection, post-crash safety and many more. Some examples of crash test standards are FMVSS 208, FMVSS 214, FMVSS 301, ECE R94, ECE R95, TRIAS 47 etc. How to read the stars NCAP

Comparison in safety:

Yes depending on the vehicle class and one can verify this with a number of studies Study on crashworthiness of electric. Moreover, the improvements in EV safety are happening at such a rapid pace, vehicle homologation agencies are not able to keep-up. Just as an example, the underbelly of EVs used to be a major concern during fast collisions with road-lying objects. This part of the vehicle has been improved so much more in terms of crash safety that software updates are sent to the raise the vehicle using its suspension system in rocky areas.

On a more economics note, there are different body structures that deliver better profits to the OEMs and this is a work under process, especially for electric vehicles. Volume sales, body architecture and profitability are crucial variables in vehicle safety for any vehicular platform.


Ashwin Shreshta

Solar & automotive technology consultant

Email:  creativedzns@automotron.in



Museums, a repository of great ideas

Visvesvaraya Industrial and technology museum in Bangalore, India is an amazing place. Takes you back in time to engineering marvels of the 20th century. Also more importantly one can see the connect between ideas and the inventions that came out. The layout and design of the museum is beauty enough to visit it once, even if you are not an avid science fan.


Scroll mouse over from labels

Sometimes one tries so hard looking for inspiration. Inventors of the past have shown us the way already. Working in adverse conditions to achieve such great marvels. One really wonders what they could have achieved in this age.

Engineer’s design dilemma

It’s been almost a week of work at the workshop and the metal structures are finally taking shape. Along the way, I had spent many hours consulting with experienced mechanical engineers on whether the structure would hold the weight I wanted them to. It was mind-boggling the amount of data they had on their finger-tips. In addition to this, I spent countless hours drawing-up CAD models, performing FEM analysis and filling-up my notebook with stress calculations. Do I trust the theoretical calculations on paper or the empirical advice of an experienced engineer? Would they add-up in the end?

This is a problem most of the engineers face. Its cheap to buy a notebook, pen, a book and workout an engineering problem from a college dorm or an office or a home. What’s not cheap is building the full-sized contraption in a humid, dusty workshop and then testing if your assumptions were correct. Would India ease this transition from chalk-board to machine-shop for budding inventors? 

But the joy of working-out complex models on paper is incredible. Dr. Amar Bose had worked out the theory behind ‘noise-cancelling headphones’ on a flight between 2 cities. ‘Wearable device’ nevertheless, but extremely complex mathematics behind the electronics. I guess it did add-up in the end for Bose corp.










Scams throughout India a threat to Modi’s ‘ease of business’ policy

I had just finished registration of my company a few days back. Normally company registration in India is done in 3 steps:
1. Digital signature verification

2. Director Identification Number

3. VAT registration
Thanks to steps taken by the central government, now registration of a start-up/company has become digital. This is a big shift from the usual filing of paper-applications at the local Company Registrar office. In the past, budding company founders were taken advantage of by brokers/middlemen and clerks. Sometimes they even fell victim to corruption (so I am told by my Dad). Now that this avenue of earning has stopped for these people, they have resorted to scamming innocent Indians ( Company Incorporation VPP scam in India ).

I received a V.P.P (Value Payable Post) delivered by India Post on a Saturday. It looked like it had something to do with the Director Identification Number registration and I had no-one to consult on a Saturday (stupid me). I knew from past experiences not to return packages to India Post because it ended-up in a bad shape. So, I paid the postman Rs.998. To my surprise I am told by my auditor on the next Monday that it is a commonly recurring scam that occurs throughout India. I was angry and had to go through 4 clerks to finally get some answer. I was shocked to learn the Post office couldn’t even track the money order being sent back to the sender.

W/reg to past experiences:

I build and innovate on high tech devices. I had sourced some testing equipment from Australia and upon receiving it by India Post, was asked to pay a customs duty of Rs.950. I refused because customs didn’t have a relative Indian device to compare to and hence charge me such a hefty amount. Unable to have my customs query answered, I headed-off to the local post office to collect it. I found it below a heap of parcels with the original packing ripped-off and just cardboard + torn bubble-wrap for protection. I protested only to be threatened by the postman that if I didn’t pay then and there, he would send it back to customs. I paid the amount.


India is not yet a manufacturing economy but people have taken the first steps already. Government is still lagging behind and we still face problems when it comes to sourcing raw-material, equipment and tools. In my case, I source 90% of my equipment from abroad because India still doesn’t make such machinery. For us ‘lead time’ and ‘cost’ are highly critical parameters and our survival depends on ‘ease-of-sourcing’.

What can you do to avoid getting scammed?

Question everyone and look for accountability. The hierarchical structure of departments makes accountability a big problem. ‘Make in India’ should also be looked at from a startup point of view. Manufacturing is a follow-up of innovation and RnD.

Strain energy, shape functions, minimum potential energy principle

New blog post: Relating the minimum potential energy principle to FEM.

Why systems of nature assume states with the lowest energies is a question that even automotive engineers have to contemplate with. The minimum potential energy principle is used in Finite Element structural Analysis. Read on further to learn about shape functions and the basic concepts in FEM.

Source: Strain energy, shape functions, minimum potential energy principle

Strain energy, shape functions, minimum potential energy principle

Why systems of nature assume states with the lowest energies is a question that even automotive engineers have to contemplate with. The minimum potential energy principle is used in Finite Element structural Analysis.

Pierre de Fermat’s least-time principle for light states that light will travel through an optical system in such a way as to pass from starting to ending point in the least amount of time. Maybe the light has a mind of its own?

Example no.2 Tautochrone curve is the curve on which a ball sliding without friction, under the influence of gravity, takes the same exact amount of time no matter which point you place it on the curve. (Wiki) This is also a consequence of the minimum potential energy principle.

What is the mathematical formulation that describes this principle of least action?

\prod = U- W

Strain energy:

When an external force is applied on a body and the body deforms, the energy of the body is said to have reached a higher level. This higher energy level is termed as strain energy by mechanical engineers. Note that there exists two types of strain energies:

  • Elastic strain energy
  • Inelastic strain energy


Strain energy (2)


When a bar is loaded upto a certain point B on the load-displacement curve and the force then slowly removed (static load implies no inertial effects), a certain part of the elasticity is still retained in the bar. This is referred to as ‘elastic strain energy’.


Potential energy:

As far I understood it, in structural analysis, any body that is elastic is said to have potential energy.

\prod = U- W – equation 1


U- strain energy

W- potential energy of loading

W comes from the principle of ”conservation of energy” and is usually of 3 types:

  • Body forces a.k.a distributed forces. It is the force per unit Volume, just like the self-weight of a bar under gravity.
  • Traction forces are frictional forces.
  • Concentrated point loads.

W has to be subtracted from equation 1 because this part of work potential contributes no longer to the potential energy of a system. Just like, you drop a book and it has no more potential energy.


There are many ways to express strain energy, a few examples are shown below:

Strain energy U = \sum \frac{1}{2}\int \sigma ^{T} \varepsilon A dx

Strain energy U = \frac{1}{2}\left \langle q_1~q_2 \right \rangle \bigl(\begin{smallmatrix}  k_1 & k_2\\  k_3 & k_4  \end{smallmatrix}\bigr) \begin{Bmatrix}  q_1\\  q_2  \end{Bmatrix}

The second equation form above is called the quadratic matrix form. q1,q2 are the displacements at the nodes.




What do you observe from the above figure?

It is the fact that I haven’t used the ‘method of sections’ to break-up the system and perform the force balance. This is the primary advantage of using the PMPE. It requires no force balance. One arrives at the familiar FEM equation F=KX just by using the strain energy equations.

There is one disadvantage of the above method though. You get to calculate the stiffness matrix of the system from the above method, but how accurate is this stiffness matrix? Notice that the deflections of the elements(spring-mass) are calculated only at the nodal points. What about the deflections happening within the element?


Shape functions:

I have always found myself hitting a virtual brick learning wall when encountered with the theory of shape functions. As a student, one first encounters shape functions when reading into in the Rayleigh-Ritz method.

As pointed out in the previous section, the disadvantage of finding the stiffness matrix using the PMPE discretization approach is that deflections are computed only at the nodes. Hence, if one wanted to arrive at a more accurate solution, the number of finite element discretizations would have to be a very large amount. One can make life simpler using something known as shape functions. These are basically mathematical analytical functions that vary between 0 and 1. Why they vary between 0 and 1 is a result of the local coordinate system one chooses (phi from the diagram below). The advantage of using a local coordinate system is that irrespective of what x1 and x2 is, your shape functions would have the same form/shape. (refer to a FEM textbook for the equations on the local coordinate system phi, which in-turn is a function of x.) Equations of the shape functions N are basically functions of phi.



Everything begins with the local coordinate system ‘phi’



So now we have a way of representing the deflections in an element not only at its nodal points, but also at any point in between. Notice that the shape function N1 has the value of 0, exactly where the shape function N2 has the value of 1. This pattern, you can observe even for quadratic shape functions also.

Notice that the above element is a 2node element. In cases of a 3 node element, the shape functions take the form of a quadratic function i.e N1, N2, N3.




Crude example of FE discretization for a beam under axial load

The split is made-up exactly where the tractional force T acts. The areas of the 2 sections can be calculated as averages.

In the news:

1. Air bag makers eye boost from new India road safety rules (Click for the article)

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