[Startup Bharat] Inspired by Iron Man, Kochi-based Sastra Robotics wants to put 500 robots to work in the next 18 months
Computers changed the world, be it the way we work, communicate, or shop. Years later, we're at the cusp of another transformation. A 2017 International Federation of Robotics report states that sales of robot technology went up in 2015 by roughly 15 percent from earlier years. The federation estimates that companies across the world will by 2019 employ 2.5 million industrial robots. Make way for the robot revolution!
Kochi-based Sastra Robotics is one of the many companies hoping to tap this demand and save corporates time and money. How and why? Every year, in any global excellence centre or automobile/aviation R&D centre, hundreds of people spend endless hours testing Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) with advanced touchscreens, alternating between buttons, knobs and toggle switches, voice commands, and hand gesture-feedback testing.
On an average, they spend 250 days and 2,500 hours to ready for launch and commercial operations. This is what Sastra Robotics wants to change by reducing the time needed to test the product to 250 hours.
See the Sastra Robotics’ robots at work in this video:
Aronin P, Achu Wilson, and Akhil A realised while at college that working for a corporate wasn’t for them. The boys, who had built hardware systems while studying, graduated in 2012 and decided to start up.
In 2013, they built a robot tele-presence platform and a robot arm to operate complex tasks. They sold the latter to a company for an undisclosed amount – this was the beginning of Sastra Robotics’ journey.
In this video interview, the founders reveal how they incorporated their company with an investment of Rs 1 lakh from their parents, the lessons they learnt along the way, and their plans for the future.
“When we incorporated the company we did not know what valuations meant and what it meant to have share capital in the company. When the company secretary told us that we could incorporate for Rs 1 lakh, we literally took Rs 1 lakh to him,” says Akhil A, Co-founder of Sastra Robotics.
This Rs 1 lakh was the cash they used to build the first two robots.
The early days
The trio’s work was noticed by a global automobile giant in Bengaluru in 2016. That led to an order for a robot that could touch a screen 1,000 times in a minute. The average human can do close to 300 touches a minute and needs breaks; a robot, on the other hand, can continue without any rest.
However, the screens need to be tested for resiliency and the software had to work under high work conditions. The robot helped the R&D centre garner impressive results and gave them an order worth Rs 10 lakh. Soon after, the trio sold a few robots of an international company in India to earn extra cash. The Rs 36 lakh they received from that international company was pumped in to build their own robots. Alongside, by 2016, the automobile R&D company purchased a few more robots. And the trio continued to work harder.
Today, Sastra Robotics has revenues close to Rs 1 crore and their robots have been deployed in five companies. Over 137 companies have approached Sastra as of now, and business is brisk. Over the next 18 months, they will scale up to 500 robots to be sold in 13 industrial complexes across Mexico, Germany, and China.
Over the years, they have received grants of Rs 25 lakh from the Kerala Startup Mission.
“Our core competency is to build control systems, robot hands, and communication hardware. We are, over the next two years, going to build a neural network interface in a robot with five fingers,” says Aronin, Co-founder of Sastra Robotics.
But this company is not just a hardware company; it enables engineers to get data on the durability and resilience of the software they build in R&D centres. Their client list includes Honeywell, Bosch, and HCL.
What about their business model? Sastra Robotics works with a sale and annual maintenance fee. The team is also experimenting with a subscription-based robot service by adding analytics to the qualitative data gathered by the robots.
Grand View Research says the global robotics market is going to be $41.23 billion by 2020 and is growing at 7 percent CAGR. India comprises less than 2 percent of the world’s market when it comes to robots, and the market is wide open for startups like Sastra Robotics, whose founders claim inspiration from Marvel Comics’ superhero Ironman.
The success of their robots has brought recognition. Aronin is often invited for tea by marquee investors, and the founding trio are set to close a big round of funding from a well-known Mumbai-based investor in the next few months.
The founders plan to move to Bengaluru soon to support global expansion and sales; Kochi will continue to be the R&D centre for robots that can test HMI in global excellence centres.
The Government Engineering College in Palakkad must be proud of the Batch of 2012. For, three of the graduates have launched a a startup that will help build the future of Bharat.