Manoj Sahi, Co-founder, Robots Alive: “We’re probably the only startup in India having a robot as an employee”

22nd Feb 2011
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It’s not often that one comes across a startup making a claim like “we make robots which can be operated by the common man.” So when we at YourStory heard of this business idea called Robots Alive, we were very excited. And the excitement only grew when Manoj Sahi, co-founder of Robots Alive, told us that his seven-member team included a robot. In this exclusive chat with YourStory, Manoj speaks about proving a point as an Indian company in the robotics space and where their solutions can be applied.

If someone asked you to tell them about Robots Alive in about three sentences, what would you say?

Robots Alive is a dynamic team of robotics and automation enthusiasts. We focus on identifying and eliminating the pain points of small and medium enterprises by using modern robotic technology at an affordable cost. With our proven technical ability and innovative approach, we are converting new ideas into standards, especially in plastic industries these days.

How is Robots Alive different from other robotics firms?

If I were to put down a list, the differentiation factors would be:

a.    Human-centric: We develop robots which can work together with humans as a team member, rather than a dumb machine.

Futuristic: Focus on products of tomorrow instead of rebuilding products of yesterday.

Energy efficient: We believe in saving energy and most of our robots are highly energy efficient.

Design approach: We employ design thinking and innovative approaches involving deep research on product feasibility, desirability and usability.

How did the business idea for Robots Alive come about?

To be honest, when we (Abheek, my co-founder and I) started the company, we did not have a solid product idea or market research or anything like that, which most startups focus on these days. We were not even aware of the startup culture then.

It was during my first meeting with Abheek that we figured out that we had the same vision, i.e., to build one of the best companies in robotic technologies, in India. I firmly believe that the timing was perfect, as real robotic technology was flying over our head and nothing was happening here. That was the time for some serious action.

Our first challenge was to build a technically-sound core team and Abheek did that, in no time. We developed a fully functional robotic arm within three months of start, using service-oriented architecture and successfully exhibited that in Hannover Messe, Germany. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcyM54h6eC8]

This was probably the first time it was happening from India. It was an acid test and at some level, a defining moment for us. We quickly realized that our robot was lagging behind other international players, in terms of human-touch factor and ergonomics. Again, the timing was perfect. We got incubated at NDBI and some amount of design support from NID, along with funding from DST. Morpheus was the next good thing that happened to us [Robots Alive is a The Morpheus portfolio company]. Their knowledge and experience is helping us in our business strategy and approach.

Tell us about your background.

I am techie, with a lot of passion for robots and the technologies of tomorrow. I did my engineering in Mechatronics with a specialization in Robotics. I used to do a lot of research on robotic companies around the world.

During my college days, I found out some disappointing facts with respect to the robotic and automation companies working out of India. The kind of robotics work being done here was based on outdated technology when compared to the western world and this was when we ignored quality and other aspects.

It was an adverse scenario and I found that to be an excellent opportunity. So, I started Robots Alive with Abheek and I’m now chasing (and catching) my dreams. Becoming an entrepreneur was a life-changing move. Before moving into this venture, I worked with Infosys for some time and learnt quite a bit about software technology, management and a few do’s and don’ts.

Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. Is there acceptance for your concept?

We have collaborations with reputed organizations like Fraunhofer IAIS, National University of Singapore, National Institute of Design, National Instruments etc. We collaborated with NI and successfully integrated LabView into our robot. We did an award-winning project with an engineering student from VJTI, Mumbai. We’ve developed some cool animatronics stuff for Vivek Kumar Fashion and exhibited it as a part of his winter collection at the Lakme Fashion Week last year.

Where do you see robotics and Robots Alive five years from now?

Robots have already started making a huge impact on the life of the common man. You will find lots of things like security systems, industrial machines, cars, UAVs etc. around us with robotic technologies, at their core. I see Robots Alive working on various robotic products and applications not just for industries but also for education, defence (surveillance) and health domains. We have already started a project called ‘The Robot Xperts’ (roboxperts.com) in this direction.

What is Robots Alive's revenue model?

Right now, it is pure B2B. with the launch of a few consumer products we’ll enter the B2C domain soon.

As an entrepreneur, what are your joys? What are the challenges?

The joys are in doing something new every day, meeting different kinds of people, sharing our experiences, creating opportunities, solving unconventional problems, changing the common perception about robots and making impact.

The challenge lies in keeping up with constantly-evolving robotic technology, proving our capability each and every time with limited support from governing bodies in the robotics domain and slow-moving Indian hardware industries.

How big is the Robots Alive team? Are you looking at hiring?

The core team consists of seven people and one extraordinary robot. I take care of research work. Abheek looks into business development. Harsh is the lead programmer, specializing in vision and controls. Jyoti is "the design guy". Bhala is into electronics and consumer product development. Subhash works on cross-platform technologies and mobile robotic systems. Navnish handles production, supply chain and customer support. And the star is DHii [the robot] who works as our brand ambassador. In short, we’ve developed a team where everyone comes in with a special skill.

We are always open to people who are passionate about working on robots and associated technologies. We prefer highly practical and motivated people in our team. We strongly believe that an ounce of practical experience is equal to a ton of theory.

How has the journey been so far?

Well, there are many SMEs across India and abroad who come to us, asking for solutions to problems related to skilled labour and quality production. Nowadays, many more are opening up to the idea of flexible automation and intelligent robotics in their factories because it is so much more economical.

 

Let us know about your expansion plans.

We plan to have more development centres, more talented people and many more intelligent robots in our team. We’re also looking at international presence, collaborations with world-class research centres, developing robotic products for unconventional usage and putting robotic technology in day-to-day products.

We at YourStory wish Robots Alive all the best and look forward to the day when people across India can boast of having a robot as a co-worker. To know more about this exciting startup, check out http://www.robots-alive.com/. Also, do let us know what you think of this story. You can write to us at feedback@yourstory.in.

Sriram Mohan | YourStory | 22nd February 2011 | Bangalore

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