Taking a bold step in the field of swarm robotics, a Pune based startup ANTfarm
Over the last few months that I have been writing on startups, once in a while you come across products or startups that amaze you. What amazes us about these ventures is the extent to which they push themselves to do something unique. We met one such venture recently at Mumbai TechSparks TruTech, who are taking the fluid motion technology to a whole new level. Another such venture that has left us open mouthed is Pune based ANTfarm Robotics. ANTfarm is a start-up in the robotics domain with a main focus on embedded system design for robotics and automation. The startup is currently working on developing, Custom Embedded Systems, Custom Firmware for the aforesaid systems, Custom RF Stack on IEEE802.15.4 protocol for process automation, home and office automation and medical sensing and creating autonomous toys (smart toys) for children about the age of 10.
Founded by Subhojit Basu and Anant Chaubey, ANTfarm is a three year old venture that has had its fair share of ups and downs, but hung in there because of their firm belief in what they do. “We faced a lot of hardships during pre-prototype stage. It took us 3 long years to get the prototype ready, which is a very long time, and most startups would die out in that period because of lack of funds,” says Subhojit. Support from his friends and family and conducting workshops on robotics, has kept the startup afloat. However now with the prototype ready, Subhojit and his team is aggressively looking for partners to help make their technology mass.
Their technology helps set up a proprietary network at 2.4GHz Band and is a low power wireless technology aimed at industrial process automation, home and office automation and medical sensing applications. But before they can get into these sectors, what ANTfarm is targeting is the $2 billion toy market in India, which Subhojit says is growing at 20% YOY. In this space, ANTfarm is targeting the remote controlled toy market through its swarm robotic products.
Subhojit’s interest in robotics goes back to his days in IIT Kharagpur, where he built the robotics club in his college ground up. After graduating, Subhojit worked with Intel, Mentor Graphics and Docomo labs, USA before he enrolled for his PhD with Maryland Universtity College Park in 2007. However a tough economic situation meant he stopped receiving grants for doing his doctorate and subsequently had to drop out of the course. When Subhojit came back to India and was discussing the road ahead with his friends, they encouraged him to take up robotics full time. Once that was decided, Subhojit decided to move to Pune because he realized companies that supported hardware had more presence in Pune than anywhere else.
In Pune they joined Venture Centre, a technology business incubator and from there the startup began its journey in the field of robotics. Coming to Pune also helped them reach out to a lot of companies who were interested in what they did, but ANTfarm had to fend them off till they could create the prototype to demonstrate their technology. “We were entirely self-funded during this period, because of which our progress was very slow, but until someone sees the prototype nobody would fund us, which was also the bottleneck,” says Subhojit.
Their main product at present is Sumobot DIY robotic kit – which is a toy. The Sumobot uses swarm robotics technology. The swarm robotics technology helps toys work together in a collaborative way. “This technology is useful in a scenario where one product can talk to the other in an authoritative way, or collaborate with other robots, move together to a location, find opponents, attack the opponent and such. That is the type of toy behavior we are trying to build, it is not a single product, but a technology that we have built,” explains Subhojit. The Sumobot is an offshoot of their parallel venture called Hobbykits, which the duo started to generate revenue to fund their main interest. They currently have four products in Hobbykits, which is currently sold through the various workshops they conduct as well as through Venture Centre.
The products are built using a wireless sensor network – a technology which is priced very high in the market. Subhojit says he wants to bring down the cost to ten percent of what is currently prevalent in the market. “Toys we are making will mostly be in the edutainment space – educative as well as entertaining. The way we envision this going forward is, we will be the technology partners for toy manufacturers like Mattel or Funskool, they will be our manufacturing and sales & marketing partners. So the win-win situation is to license our technology to major toy companies and co-brand the toys to reach the market,” explains Subhojit.
Check out the product explanation of ANTfarm here:
Since the development of the prototype they have received favourable response from investors. “Getting funds is important for the growth of our business, because what we want to do is capital intensive, but now we are ready with our execution platform and all that we need is the right partner to join hands with,” he says.
So if most startups we know are solving day-to-day problems, we need a few like ANTfarm to take that leap of faith and do something which is out-of-the-box and bold. We wish ANTfarm all the best in its endeavour.