How electro-optics startup Optimized Electrotech is strengthening national defence and homeland security
In an increasingly unforeseeable world, it is vital for a country to maintain national safety, strategic security, and tactical superiority in the face of any type of threat. Over the last few years, India has been encouraging innovators to focus on new-age technologies to empower the country’s defence sector.
Numerous startups have risen to the challenge to help the government maintain homeland security. One such defence tech startup making a mark is Ahmedabad-based Optimized Electrotech.
Founded in 2017 by Sandeep Shah along with Anil Yekkala, Dharin Shah, Kuldeep Saxena, and Purvi Shah, Optimized Electrotech aims to solve surveillance-related challenges with its long-distance imaging systems. The make-in-India electro-optics surveillance startup aims to serve the defence, paramilitary forces, aerospace, airports, critical assets, and other industries, along with a huge export market.
Spotlight on defence tech
As defence and security priorities rise across the world, the market demand – in India and abroad - is clear.
In November 2019, media reports revealed that the Indian government was looking to fund at least 250 defence startups over the next five years to come up with new, cutting-edge solutions for the armed forces. The Indian Ministry of Defence earmarked Rs 500 crore for its Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) initiative to find new technologies to help the Indian armed forces.
Sandeep launched the startup after working in defence and space for more than 15 years. He roped in his cousin, Dharin, an IISc Bangalore alum who’s spent almost 20 years of his life in Electronics R&D, as co-founder and head of electronics and product design at Optimized Electrotech. It took Sandeep almost one year to meet the other co-founders and build the core team.
Speaking to YourStory, Sandeep, Co-founder and Managing Director, says, “Electro-optics has various applications, including surveillance for smart cities, satellite-based imaging, border surveillance, medical imaging, access control, machine vision, automotive (advanced driver-assistance systems, i.e. ADAS), and consumer electronics. Our technologies help us address many of these markets in entirety. However, the idea of being able to serve our country led us to focus on enhancing homeland security and defence capabilities.”
How electro-optics works
Sandeep says an electro-optics system captures information by converting data from photons into images that can be automatically interpreted and coupled with other sensors for a better understanding.
“The technology requires knowledge of mixed-signal electronics, materials science, optomechanics, optics, software, and artificial intelligence. The quantum of data generated by an EO system requires deep learning and edge intelligence to make it autonomous, else post-facto forensic surveillance becomes a needle in a haystack, like one would typically see in case of CCTV footage,” he says.
According to the co-founder, the products offered by the startup work on the 400 nm to 12μ range, the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum (range of all types of EM radiation), and are equipped with different types of optics to enable several applications.
The startup’s first line of products, the InfiVision series, works on VIS+NIR wavelength and has been designed to detect a tank in more than 30km range. The MistVision series works on SWIR wavelength and provides a long-range electro-optics system for fog penetration. The ClearVision series works on VIS NIR and MWIR spectrum and helps in high spectral-range surveillance in all weather conditions while the NoctVision series works on VIS NIR and LWIR wavelength to carry out surveillance at night.
The upcoming line – the OmniVision series - will include capabilities of all the four wavelengths - VIS NIR, SWIR, MWIR, and LWIR. It will be able to monitor a long-range area amid any weather obstacles such as smog, smoke, fog, and darkness.
“In autonomous mode, the system alerts the authorities with more information than just a trigger of the presence of a person. For example, if a person is found lingering at a location where people are generally not present or if there seems to be a gathering of people at a location, the system counts the number people, checks if they are in uniform, looks for weapons, reads licence plates of their vehicle, and matches faces with a database of possible suspects. All this is passive and makes the system less susceptible to discovery,” Sandeep says.
Last year, Optimized Electrotech was announced as the winner of IDEX (Innovation for Defense Excellence), Make-in-India for Defence challenge, and received a grant of Rs 1.5 crore.
Enhancing national security
As the focus of the company is enhancing national security, the first line of products has been deployed for border surveillance and defence purposes. The upcoming lineup of products will also be used for smart city surveillance, automotive, and other sectors.
Sandeep says the defence tech startup is currently working with the Indian Air Force to help build a long-vision system that will allow officers to locate missiles from a longer distance and help them aim more precisely.
“We work with Homeland Security (MHA) and Defence (MOD). Our products are useful for CISF to guard strategic assets; for BSF, ITBP, AR, and Coast Guard to keep a watchful eye on trespassing at borders; for CRPF and all Central and State Police forces for better law implementation within cities, and finally to Army, IAF and Navy for ISR,” he adds.
According to the MD, the startup has also received inquiries from some Indian and foreign OEMs apart from railways and ports.
Speaking about the use of technology for defence purposes, Sandeep says defence tech has actually been a “pivotal innovation engine” for consumer technology across the world.
“The internet, for example, was made for Defence. However, of late, consumer tech has surpassed the imagination of many defence scientists. Since the software is dominant in all new technology development, it allows for iterations and brings in agility to adapt to different adjacent technologies. This has brought faster innovations in consumer tech, which can be brought back to Defence. AI and ML advancements, low-cost high-yield sensors, and plastic materials that can withstand extreme environmental conditions are all revolutionising the way security is approached.”
Business and future plans
According to the co-founder, in the initial phase, the startup took support from Optimized Solutions, the first venture founded by Sandeep, and completed their journey till prototyping. Following this, the startup received its first VC investment from GVFL and a fund grant of Rs 1.5 crore from the Indian government as the winner of the iDEX challenge.
He adds that working in the defence sector requires patience and persistence, and thus not many VCs take an interest in the sector. “However, we’re seeing good interest from some VCs and family offices apart from a few foreign OEMs for investments,” Sandeep says.
Speaking about the business model, the co-founder says: “Our go-to-market is three-pronged. We serve Defence OEMs and system integrators with our products as raw material in their larger systems. We serve end users looking at only EO surveillance such as day or night imaging. We also build custom products for clients who are not in the defence sector. Our over-the-air upgrades available on some products enhance our customers’ ROI for our product by continuously adding more capabilities for a small annual subscription fee.”
The startup competes with other Indian players such as Bharat Electronics (BEL) and Tata Aerospace & Defense among others. On a global level, the startup also faces competition from Elbit (Israel), IAI (Israel), Thales (France), and Safran (France), and among others.
Optimized Electrotech is currently testing a few products aimed at the export sector and is now looking to get necessary certifications and create new products for non-defence sectors.
Talking about their long term goal, Sandeep says the startup aims to become “one of the top three surveillance companies in the next decade”.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)