How QDIC 2020 Cohort startups EmbedSense, Vacus Tech, Sensegrass, and Prakshep accelerated product development amidst the pandemic
In its fifth year, Qualcomm Design in India Challenge (QDIC) continues to enable startups with technology and mentorship support to address key product development challenges. This year saw 12 startups across multiple sectors being selected into QDIC’s 2020 cohort. We are taking you through the product development journey of these startups in these difficult times of the pandemic and how QDIC team has been able to support them. .
Rail and road transport infrastructure are high-value and critical assets that need periodic maintenance. However, depending on quality of construction, age, seismic activity, and other contributing factors, the physical load-bearing capacity of these assets degrades. But manual monitoring of these assets is a huge challenge. It is here IoT-based solutions make a perfect fit. EmbedSense Solutions, a startup that develops high-impact industrial IoT (IIoT) products and solutions, has been building a product to address this need. “As part of QDIC, we are building a highly advanced product that will continuously monitor structures and provide a comprehensive report on their health. IoT based structural health monitoring will be a solution that will transform the maintenance of public transportation infrastructure in India by making passive structures smarter,” shares Venkatesh Prasanna, co-founder, EmbedSense Solutions.
Established in 2015, Embedsense developed a strong foothold in the IIoT space especially for the manufacturing industry. “Given our expertise, we found we could foray into infrastructure monitoring products as well.” But their initial assessments of the product, cost and the lack of an integrated communications solution emerged as the key factors that could limit their scalability. “That was when we decided to apply to the QDIC programme.,” shares Venkatesh. Getting into the programme not only provided access to mentorship from industry experts but also critical technologies. “It would have been almost impossible for a startup to get component samples or technical details of communication modules manufactured by third party vendors. But today, with QDIC’s support we were able to accelerate our product development.” Venkatesh explains that the solution architecture is complete, the dashboards are up and running and the hardware components are in place. The startup has used Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ platform as a reference design. The startup is looking to perform integration testing in the coming weeks to prepare for field data collection by mid-January 2021.
Vacus Tech is a wireless indoor positioning and tracking technology company offering a patented technology for accurate accountability of assets and people, across industry segments including data centres, smart buildings, hospitals, warehouses, manufacturing and logistics, among others. “What makes the solution stand apart from other industry surveillance and tracking solutions is the accuracy of our proprietary indoor positioning technology to the tune of 30 cm,” says Pratik Magar, co-founder. The QDIC engagement for Vacus Tech has brought in the benefits of enabling faster deployment. “The use of the Quectel SC20 (featuring Qualcomm® MSM8909 SoC) was a game changer. Not only is the overall solution more stable today, the overall time to deploy a gateway has reduced from two days to a couple of hours. This will enable us to drive business growth and thereby scale faster.”
In addition, the access to the workshop interventions helped the startup up its growth curve. Pratik shares, “One of the product sessions helped us refine our GTM strategy which helped us onboard two customers.” In addition, the opportunity to participate at Qualcomm and industry events and showcases further enhanced the startup’s market reach. “Qbuzz, Qualcomm’s annual conference which was held virtually this year, gave us a lot of exposure and insights into our target market segments. We also saw a couple of validated enquiries which we are looking forward to leverage.” Interestingly, the pandemic saw the startup leveraging its tech expertise to launch an accurate social distancing and contact tracing product suite in June 2020. The suite has already benefited 10k+ people in the last 100 days.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that around 65 percent of excessive nitrogen and fertiliser used in agriculture remains in the environment. This results in poor soil health, crop degradation and other environmental and economic issues. AgTech startup Sensegrass is developing a soil intelligence system for fertiliser management and detecting crop diseases to improve soil efficiency and crop yield by leveraging its patented first-of-its-kind IoT and AI algorithm for soil precision. “The wireless nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) soil sensors with proprietary patent-pending technology detects, measures, and analyses NPK and soil nutrients in real-time and our AI prediction engine recommends best sustainable practices to improve crop yield. Then our AI Agronomist optimises the crop and soil data to inform users to get the right decision to use nitrogen at the right time, right place in the right quantity. This helps users to reduce excessive usage and dependencies on fertilisers, improve crop yield and increase farm income,” shares Lalit Gautam, the Co-Founder.
Deciding to pick the Qualcomm® MDM9206 IoT Modem startup platform (Quectel BG96 module) as one of the key components of their soil intelligence solution enabled Sensegrass to enhance its efficiency. “With it we are now able to cater to global markets across the world in the most affordable way,” says Lalit. At QDIC, Sensegrass was also able to develop the prototype of its new hardware product - a modular soil sensor with Qualcomm hardware. “We are heading towards the industrial version of the product with the support of Qualcomm mentors.”
The startup is now looking on strengthening the product market fit and scaling up. ”Today we have a presence in the US and European markets and have been able to strike partnerships with leading companies. We are looking forward to deployments and paid POCs in the coming months.”
Monitoring of agricultural land for timed crop growth is a growing challenge for farmers and agriculture landowners. Prakshep, an agriculture data science company, is helping progressive farmers to better manage their small landholdings. With support from QDIC mentors, the startup has developed GAJA - a live autonomous farm surveillance solution that provides real time hybrid hyperspectral imaging backed by the pool of neural networks. “Through GAJA, we intend to provide the power of our satellite-ground hybrid neural networks to farmers and field operators on location and monitor farm activities live,” shares Sameer Kumar, Co-Founder Prakshep. The startup has been working on developing meaningful automation solutions for spraying, harvesting and land preparation.
The team leveraged Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 (SD660) for GAJA. “With SD660, we created an autonomous real time hybrid of multispectral images augmenting satellites to enable a larger area of vision. In addition, the platform scores high on feasibility and durability when it comes to the solution being easy to comprehend by the farming community.
Close to 1.4 million agricultural farms today leverage Prakshep’s live autonomous farm surveillance system, given the mobility challenges brought about by the pandemic. The startup is working towards creating a super model where all the agricultural land of India is monitored and reports of the stressed or damaged crops is shared with farmgate operators in real-time to ensure controlled and timely spraying of fertilisers and pesticides. “They are also able to leverage our logistics planning services to optimise the cost and input planning for lesser input requirements per acre. Timed availability of autonomous surveillance helps in faster control actions, increasing yield while limiting the residues”, concludes Sameer.
The potential and on-ground challenges for hardware and IoT startups in India
While the pandemic has provided a momentum for hardware IoT startups addressing key challenges across sectors, the startups say the challenges continue to persist. “Startups in the sector are still required to do the heavy lifting. In addition to the lack of awareness of the nuances of different offerings, risk capital, skilled engineers, the reliance on imports continues to be a key challenge,” shares Venkatesh. Lalit agrees, “Even to build a small prototype, there is reliance on import.” However, he adds, “In spite of these challenges, we are witnessing the growth of startups offering impactful hardware and IoT products and solutions.”
It is here that Qualcomm, with the Qualcomm Design in India Programme, of which QDIC is a part, has been playing a pivotal role for the last five years. By providing access to tech platforms, financial grants, industry exposure, IP support, QDIC has been positively impacting the product ecosystem of design and enhancing the manufacturing capabilities of Indian startups and businesses.