[Tech30] How these IIT-M alumni, professors are bringing research out from the labs and onto the field
There are many top-notch research institutes in India doing some high quality work. But as is often the case with research, it stays where it comes from - the labs and research papers. This group of five alumni and professors from IIT-Madras, though, are bucking this trend and have actually started up a company from a research project.
The seeds of Planys Technologies were sown way back in 2012 when a team of students including Vineet Upadhyay and Rakesh Sirikonda decided to represent IIT Madras at an international autonomous underwater robotics (AUV) competition held annually at San Diego. After two years of hard work and perseverance, they won the national round organised by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) and thus represented India at the international competition.
Taking inspiration, Tanuj Jhunjhunwala took up a Master's thesis on underwater robotic inspection under the guidance of Dr. Prabhu Rajagopal (also co-founder at Planys and Faculty at IIT Madras). After a year of research, they demonstrated pipeline inspection by an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) using ultrasonic guided waves. Prof. Krishnan Balasubramanian also came in as a co-founder and advisor and Planys had a solid team working on an idea that had created huge excitement in the industry, especially Oil and Gas. “We demonstrated this to various industry professionals and they came back to us with their specific pain points and requested us to develop solutions. This was the Eureka moment!” says Tanuj. Few months from that Planys started to take shape, where they aimed to design and manufacture customised underwater robots for submerged robotic inspection and survey solutions.The passion for robotics and the ‘joy of building’ products were the main ingredients to start Planys.
Vineet shares that an ageing infrastructure is a burning problem worldwide, and regular inspection of offshore structural assets is essential to avoid catastrophic failure as well as to devise life extension plans. Currently, underwater inspections are done by human divers, with limitations of depth, hazardous conditions and limited endurance.
There are work-class ROVs but they mostly are bulky, weigh in tons, have high mobilisation time, require various other support systems and thus are cost-intensive. For inspection of many other structures such as dams, ship hulls and port structures compact and portable underwater robots are attractive. “To be viable, such solutions need to be economical and at the same time work more efficiently than manual inspection. And that is where we come in,” says Tanuj.
The Planys solution and traction
Planys Technologies provides underwater robotic inspection and survey services using indigenously manufactured compact underwater robots. Planys' technology spans the domains of marine robotics, advanced Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), and post-inspection analysis tools. Planys ROVs are typically used for submersed asset inspection for maintenance, repair, construction, survey or exploration.
Incubated at IIT Madras Incubation Cell (IITM IC), Planys was officially incorporated in June 2015. Planys has two modes of revenue generation- ‘service’ by Planys using their manufactured ROVs: Hardware as a Service – HaaS and ‘R&D as a Service’ by their product development team in developing newer technologies for the industry. Planys has completed over 15 projects in the Indian subcontinent across various sectors – ports/terminals, offshore platforms, desalination plants and dams.
The road ahead
Bootstrapped to begin with, Planys raised Rs 1.75 crore through an angel round of investment in December 2015 through Keiretsu Forum (Chennai and Singapore Chapters). Within a year of incorporation, Planys has released various products in the market. One of the first product, ‘Mike’ is a compact electric ROV that has done more than 600 hours on the field already. Mike is specifically built for robust and calibrated visual inspection of offshore immersed structures. A new ROV ‘Beluga’ is due to be commissioned, which has many more add-on features. “We plan to scale up in future along three axes – technology, geography as well as market sector,” says Rakesh. Planys is presently operational in India and has received promising response from Singapore market.
A solid research-led team that has a proven product on the field earned Planys a place in YourStory’s Tech30 of 2016. There are a few hardware success stories from India and Planys promises to be a shining star in the times to come.