Ilya Obabkov, Director of the Institute of Radioelectronics and Information Technology
The institute of Radioelectronics and IT educates more than 2000 students, which is four times more than 20 years ago.
“This academic year, we enrolled over 2000 new students, and this number will grow”, says Ilya Obabkov, Director of the Institute of Radioelectronics and Information Technology. "This demonstrates not only the popularity of the programs and fields of studies our Institute offers—radioelectronics, information security, information technologies—but also about trust."
The institute is also a pioneer in the field of project-based education: student teams work on real-life projects and solve actual production problems with the support of mentors from among university lecturers and representatives of customer enterprises.
These factors contribute to the fact that our Institute is one of the leaders in terms of graduate employment rates among the divisions of Ural Federal University.
"The student acquires a clear understanding of the fact that they are forming new competences that are in demand now and will be in the future."
Mr Obabkov, what is the novelty of the project-based method of teaching in comparison with the traditionally close links of the Institute with real production enterprises?
Indeed, both at the Faculty of Radio Engineering and Faculty of Physics and Technology of the USTU-UPI (now UrFU), there were forms of design work that are currently undergoing modernization. A whole weekday was reserved for the Student’s Research and Educational Work, there were mandatory term papers, as well as project-related educational, introductory, and production practical trainings, where students solved specific problems.
Now we are looking at project-based training taking into account the current rate of change in the economy. Business, enterprises, especially those of serial production, have enough tasks to do. Making the customer come to the university with a ready task for students and staff is not easy. And the job of student groups, along with mentors, is to take the initiative themselves, to constantly generate and “tune” ideas to the state of a minimum viable product, in which they can be presented to partner companies. The novelty here is even in the fact that most often the student is the leader of the project. For problematization of the tasks faced by partner enterprises, we regularly organize specialized hackathons together with customers.
So there are elements of entrepreneurship to the project-based education?
Undoubtedly, there are such elements or, more precisely, whole projects. I would mention here the importance of social engineering. Entrepreneurship is when you work with a product, a customer, markets, and resources. Our students develop the ability to understand a potential customer, master the skills of forecasting, communication, presentation. From my point of view, this is exactly what the traditional engineers lacked: they had the belief that the customer is always there—and always will be.
Is there time left in such studying conditions for fundamental science?
The students willingly become scientists and researchers. It is, again, in-demand and prestigious: there is a system of research scholarships, grant support for young scientists at the level of our university and the country as a whole. We have young 30-year-old researchers who associate their future with the university. On average, only 3 to 5% of our students see themselves in fundamental science—mathematics, computer science, electrodynamics, electronics, photonics—in a word, where there is a lot of unexplored and new. Those students, as a rule, participate in research projects under the guidance of researchers from the university and the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
For example, together with the Ural Institute of Humanities of UrFU, we are creating the Ural neurocenter, where we will study human behavior using information technologies, explore how virtual and augmented reality affect it, and what opportunities can be found in this. That is another actual result of the interdisciplinary approach and a good example of a series of student projects.
"Our main advantage is that we can organize mutually interesting work of student teams, uniting them on the basis of digital technologies and tools."
And how does the Institute benefit from the cooperation with the humanities and arts-oriented departments of the university?
On the one hand, it is the skills of communication and public speaking, as well as a deeper understanding of history and culture. We have the experience of doing a joint project with the Department of the Russian History, when a group of students was developing a military-historical game. Players could simulate any battle of the Great Patriotic War by setting the qualifications of commanders, characteristics of military units, different types of weapons and armored vehicles. It is clear that without knowledge of history, without interaction with historians, resorting to historical literature, the development of such a game wouldn’t be possible.
On the other hand, the humanities are a good subject area for application of information technologies, perhaps this is a variant of a future profession or research subject.
How are such interdisciplinary projects launched?
We communicate at the level of both companies and the university (directors of institutes, heads of departments). Often the initiators are the higher managers. Conferences play their role, too: opportunities for cooperation open up in the discussion of reports.
We have developed and are currently implementing an information system that will make it possible to collect ideas for student projects. It will be open to anyone who would like to take the initiative, submit an application and become a customer for a student project.
And how do you persuade the student that he may find interest in a project that is not directly related to his area of studies?
Firstly, in our Institute, disciplines related to the development of thinking and basic research skills (such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering computer graphics) have always been among the priorities, and this provision is inviolable. So far, we have not found a more effective way to develop thinking than mathematics.
Secondly, just as the Student’s Research and Educational Work was an obligatory discipline at the UPI’s Faculty of Radio Engineering, now a separate discipline is devoted to projects, called “Project Practicum”. During the semester, students are required to complete a project and defend it before a commission of external experts who evaluate different competencies.
Thirdly, there is a system of minors, where students can choose a course at any institute or university.
Usually, the path to professional success begins in school years. What knowledge, skills, and qualities would you recommend that todays’ schoolchildren develop in order to feel more confident and comfortable in the first semester after their enrolment to the Institute?
We guarantee high-quality teaching of knowledge and basic competences, such as algebra, mathematical analysis, the basics of programming and so on. But success depends not only on this, but also on developed imagination, innovative thinking, the ability to achieve the best results in a team, the work speed, and so on, through all stages of prototyping. You can learn all this at the university, or you can start doing it before enrolment – it all depends on the attitude of the future entrant. I would recommend to participate in project sessions, Olympiads, hackathons, read a lot, play sports.
You can also independently take the open courses. For example, in collaboration with SKB Kontur, we developed an online course called “Basics of Programming”: the lectures are recorded and posted on the educational platform, so that you can read and listen to them at any time. And the teacher then works with students to solve the difficulties they are facing, to answer their questions. This approach produces great effect, and the success rate of such open courses is several times higher than that of classroom lectures on programming. This skill of self-studying can also be trained before the university.
"Our very important task is to develop in students the entrepreneurial culture in the high-tech area"
You mentioned SKB Kontur. What other organizations and enterprises cooperate with the Institute in terms of project training?
The project-based training program started in 2017 and has been developing for the second year now. IT is a pilot project, here we are both a pioneer and a test site. We actively cooperate with companies in the field of information technology: first, they have personnel shortages; secondly, the basis of their activity is small group teamwork, and they are interested in our students who have the skills of team design work.
A good example is the Novator Experimental Design Bureau: there are a lot of our graduates in the company’s IT division because of their participation in projects supervised by Denis V. Volman, the head of the division. Naumen, a large software company from Yekaterinburg, participates in our project training, and the experts it provides accompany our students from the task formulation stage to the final result. JetStyle and JetTeam are also our partners in web technology and machine learning projects. Sberbank opened a specialized department in our institute — “Automation of Financial Operations”. In the field of radioelectronics, we are now discussing cooperation with the NPO of Automation, Vektor, IRS, Triton, Prosoft Systems.
Suffice to say that before the beginning of the current academic year, I held meetings with 19 partner companies, and all of them expressed a desire to cooperate with us. The forms of cooperation include the provision of equipment and software, lectures and workshops, project support, provision of practical training positions, grant support for teachers and students, support for hakatons and project activities of students.
IRIT is a pioneer in project-based training. And what about research, including applied research?
We are very active in the fields of augmented and virtual realities, data analysis (we have two large laboratories), computer modeling, device engineering and application of IT in medicine.
We are the best in Russia in atmospheric sounding: the meteorological sounding balloons created by our scientists are used at the Vostochny cosmodrome to sound the atmosphere when launching rockets. We have a leading scientific school on technical electrodynamics and antenna feed devices (founded by Professor Boris Panchenko).
Our Space Monitoring Center performs digital analysis of images received from space satellites. We have competences in analyzing images in dynamics, as well as the necessary equipment, access to satellites, image storage and processing systems. This work is interesting in terms of environmental monitoring, prediction, detection of natural and man-made disasters and assessment of their consequences: forest fires, illegal logging, ice movement on rivers, and so on. The second way to use the technologies and competences of our Space Monitoring Center is to develop a new generation of cartography: for example, town-planning or accounting of deposits in mining operations.
The High-technology Research Biomedical Engineering Center, together with the leading medical universities of the country, has gained multicompetences in the field of brain research, including those in comparing its states with other systems of the human body, such as the cardiovascular system. The purpose of such studies is neurorehabilitation of patients suffering from migraine, aftermaths of stroke or other brain damage. Another focus area of the Research Center is studying the effects of the brain’s exposure to weak electrical discharges. The world is changing very quickly, there is more and more information around us, so our specialists are discovering ways to train and develop the brain, create unique devices for monitoring its states and stimulating its activity.
For example, the Ekaterinburg based company Triton, run by our graduates, produces world-class electronic medical equipment and delivers it to European resuscitation centers. And our Biomedical Center is engaged in prototyping such devices, and it has lots of quality publications in respected international journals.
There is an Innovation Center operating at the Institute, created in conjunction with Cisco. Its task is to promote innovative applied developments created using the equipment of the famous American company. One of the projects is a self-organizing telecommunications system that helps drivers choose the safest mode and route. Is the next step the development of a driverless vehicle?
The world is really standing on the verge of the time when the human monopoly on driving a car will be lost. Companies such as Yandex, Google, Uber, and Delphi are already releasing their unmanned vehicles on the roads, and the number of accidents is minimal. Back in early 2018, Yandex conducted a test of its unmanned vehicle on Russian roads, and they understand very well that our neural network should be trained on our roads—this is a competitive advantage for us.
As for the said system, it is now only a prototype, a student project to test the entry and exit of unmanned vehicles in the parking lot with account of the presence of other vehicles there and with complex elements of traffic. Those are not the conditions of a city road in winter yet, but preparing the model for the real conditions of the winter roads is literally the next step.
We heard that the Institute is not only creating models of unmanned vehicles, but also an android, that is, a human-like robot...
There are three centers of robotics at our university: the one we have at IRIT, one at the Institute of Fundamental Education and one at the Institute of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Ours is more “hands-on”, assembling electronics. The other two institutes have their own key competencies. The primary task we are working on is to unite efforts, synchronize processes, gather competences, so that a synergistic effect can occur. In addition, we involve school students in such projects: eight students of our Specialized Educational and Scientific Center (UrFU Lyceum) will participate in the development of an erect-walking robot.
Created / Updated: 16 March 2019 / 18 March 2019
© Federal State Autonomous Educational Institution of Higher Education «Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B.N.Yeltsin»
Portal design: Artsofte
Engineering School of Information Technologies, Telecommunications and Control Systems
32, Mira street, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Directorate: +7 (343) 375-97-00