Long before drones were popularised by the Bollywood mega hit 3 Idiots, Venkatesh and his father were deeply passionate about these mechanical marvels. Venkatesh would enjoy long sessions of aeromodelling with his father even before he stepped into an engineering college. In 2007, when Venkatesh was 13 years old, and still in school, the father-son team decided to turn their hobby into a full-fledged venture named Sree Sai Aerotech Innovations Pvt Ltd. (SSAI). Since then, there has been no turning back.
The father-son duo’s first home-grown product Mr MOSS, an entry-level product for learning aeromodelling, won the Falcon competition at the IIT-Mumbai Tech Fest in 2009. This was followed by a lot of publicity and sales close to 3,000 machines. SSAI has also successfully completed drone projects in collaboration with National Aerospace Labs (NAL) and DRDO for defence applications.
Venkatesh is now a third year engineering student at Loyola ICAM College of Engineering and Technology (LICET) in Chennai. His father Sai Pattabiram has an MBA from Symbiosis. SSAI consists of a team of seven and is based in Chennai. Venkatesh’s technical mentor M.P.Saju, the head of R & D at Toshiba Machine (Chennai) Pvt. Ltd, has been guiding Venkatesh from his high school days. Saju related the science Venkatesh learnt at school with his aeromodelling activity at home.
These practical applications of science at an early age formed the basis of the technology developed by Venkatesh. Saju also introduced him to the world of embedded systems through Arduino. Venkatesh’s experience now includes hands-on working knowledge of over 17 computer languages, apart from Arduino.
Saju also motivated the team to create their own controller for drones instead of importing off-the-shelf products from the market.
Last year, the father-son duo took a long morning walk to discuss the future of SSAI. They realised that their company could be a global player only if they could make the drone a user-friendly and app-expandable gadget. The lack of a universal drone controller handicaps many enthusiasts from building their own machines. Drone controllers that were available in the market were extremely complex to operate and had to be ‘tuned’ to the recipient drone. Tuning a drone controller to recognise its operating drone, and work in sync with it perfectly, is a hard task, which can take more than a month.
The founders discussed the possibility of fashioning the core technology of the drone like that of a smartphone, such that applications could be added to the controller through APIs. This could allow users to inject a greater degree of customization into their drones. Thus, Eazypilot was born.
Eazypilot is one among a handful of drone controllers available globally that converts any drone into a user-friendly gadget around which applications could be developed. Eazypilot also helps eliminate some common problems associated with buying different components off-the-shelf and trying to integrate them into a separate drone.
SSAI has received a grant from the Tamil Nadu Small and Tiny Industries association for 2013-14, which was a shot in the arm for the development of Eazypilot. SSAI even has an MOU with NAL to take their technology further. Currently, Eazypilot’s APIs are on embedded boards but will soon be processed by high level processors enabling integration with cameras by the official launch scheduled for end of July. Eazypilot now has around 60 beta users and is in the trial phase.During a recent visit to Hubli, Venkat got a student to fly his drone with just three-four hours of instructions.
Eazypilot has an OS called Aileron (like Android), which permits integration of multiple sensors depending on the application needed. Although, only a single sensor can be used at a time while operating the drone.
The makers of Eazypilot want to be known globally for their drone control electronics and drones.Venkat’s indigenously developed technology of High Speed Distributed Parallel Computing (Aileron RTOS) has been evaluated and recognised by experts from TIFAC (the innovation and emerging technology organisation of the Department of Science and Technology), and SSAI’s application for soft funding from the Government of India has also been approved.Although SSAI makes custom drones, sensors, and other accessories, Eazypilot is a vertical all by itself. It facilitates the creation of smart vehicles – mobile, intelligent objects.
The journey has not been without its challenges. Drones are built using multiple components which are expensive. Looking for funding sources has been difficult, but so far, SSAI has been fortunate. The team also needs to hire in-house programmers. Unfortunately, the startup payscale has posed a rather significant entry barrier.
The entire family works for the company: Venkatesh handles the technology division, his father looks at business development and finance, his mother handles office administration, and his sister looks at partnerships and legal compliance. Of course, this means that most conversations at home revolve around SSAI.
Venkatesh signs off saying: “We want to become a global company and for that you need to work hard. Even when Eazypilot was made, the idea was never about how much Eazypilot could earn but more about the next big thing we would create.”