How four QDIC startups are driving innovation in India's industrial robotics and automation sector
Today, businesses are well-aware of the potential and impact of emerging technologies in industrial robotics and automation in improving process efficiencies and transforming business operations. While the initial high cost of infrastructure and complex operations have been key deterrents, the foray of startups into the sector have helped address some of these challenges. Studies suggest that India’s industrial robotics market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.41 percent between 2020 and 2025. While the pandemic has brought to the fore the relevance of robotics and automation solutions for industries across sectors, the steady adoption and growth of Industry 4.0 is expected to play a critical role in furthering the demand for industrial robotics in India.
Twelve startups across sectors were selected for the fifth edition of Qualcomm Design in India Challenge (QDIC). The cohort included four startups driving innovation in the area of robotics and automation. Here’s a quick look at how the programme is enabling startups to up their innovation game and drive impact.
Planys was incepted to address the global aging infrastructure crisis for underwater structures. “Standard inspection solutions like divers, heavy duty ROVs and off-the-shelf mini ROVs come with challenges of hazardous conditions, technology overkill, excessive cost, inaccurate data analysis and human limitations,” shares Tanuj Jhunjhunwala, Co-Founder, Planys Technologies. Planys’s unmanned inspection solutions offer capabilities like HD marine videography, inspections in murky waters and robotic cleaning. Its Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), Ultrasonic, Magnetic and SONAR sensors offer extremely unique insights into the definitive health of underwater structures. In the last five years, the startup has successfully developed six products, filed 30+ patents and executed 125+ projects across eight industries like and expanded its geographical footprint to four countries. “Planys’s solutions are not only safer, digital and cost-effective but also help end users transition from a time-based inspection protocol to a risk-based inspection protocol, thus increasing their efficiency and helping them forecast maintenance and repair,” says Tanuj.
After revolutionising underwater inspections, the startup is now working towards developing an Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT) enabled platform for underwater drones for the marine industry, with support from Qualcomm. “(IoUT) will create disruptive applications in industries like defence, scientific research, offshore energy, aquaculture and disaster planning,” shares Tanuj. “We are now working with the EC25 Quectel IoT modem platform that uses Qualcomm’s MDM9207. The reason for choosing this platform is that it provides us with optimal features of cellular connectivity such as 3G, 4G, GNSS and other embedded communication peripherals, along with the ease of integrating them with our current systems. This will enable the platform to provide real-time and deeper insights.”
The startup believes that the opportunity to connect with the larger ecosystem is bringing significant value to their journey. “Qualcomm brings together an ecosystem of startups, scaleups, corporate partners and mentors who work collaboratively to boost innovation. And, we are tapping into this ecosystem to boost innovation and business,” says Tanuj. He adds, “QDIC is focused on impact-driven startups aiming to solve global challenges and those that are shaping the technologies of tomorrow. With India actively shifting gears on boosting innovation, this is the ideal launchpad for impact-focused businesses.”
Aubotz Labs (Peppermint)
Aubotz Labs has developed an indigenous commercial floor cleaning robot – Peppermint Pro. The startup began production of Peppermint Pro in September 2020 and has deployed them across customer locations in Pune and Mumbai. “Today we have started the process of scaling our production facility in Pune. We are also working towards exporting our made-in-India robots for overseas customers,” shares Runal Dahiwade, Co-Founder Peppermint. Peppermint Pro helps address challenges of unpredictability and accountability in housekeeping operations in larger commercial and public spaces, shares Runal. He says, “With the proprietary autonomous navigation, dynamic triple-action-cleaning, and 8-hour battery life, Peppermint Pro cleans the floors better, faster and more cost-effectively.”
Joining QDIC while the startup was finalising its pre-production prototypes saw two major impact areas - tech and Intellectual Property (IP). “Qualcomm’s platform enhanced the solution’s IoT and connected features and made it ready for worldwide deployments. We chose the SC20 IoT board from Qualcomm for our telematics and IoT features on Peppermint Robots. The platform has compatibility for global GSM support which allows us to launch our robots overseas in 2021.” The startup has also been able to develop a clear path to IP filing and certifications. “One of the key learnings has been to make the product global-ready through the development process. We have started CE certification of our robots as a stepping stone to starting overseas deployments.”
The startup is on a mission to make service robots for public and working spaces. “We are also looking into expanding into housekeeping robots and Inspection & surveillance robots in the time to come.”
It is understood that an Industry 4.0 smart factory or warehouse will require autonomous material movement robots. “But the penetration of autonomous material movement robots is quite low in India, since the current solutions are expensive or cumbersome,” shares Janakiram Annam, Co-Founder, Hachidori Robotics.
In contrast, Hachidori’s Autonomous Mobile Robots doesn’t require any expensive infrastructure like magnetic strips or QR codes on the floors. “Our vision is to provide Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) that are easily deployable and affordable at the same time thus giving best value for money to our customers. Our patent-pending Precise Location Technology is a big leap compared to the existing solutions,” says Janakiram. Not only can the robots be deployed in live factories and warehouses without any interruptions to operations, their life cycle costs are just one third of those of imported autonomous intelligent vehicles.
The QDIC programme was instrumental in accelerating the product development journey of the startup. “During the QDIC journey, we moved from a very early version of Hachidori's AMR to a production version,” shares Janakiram. He adds, “Qualcomm’s leading-edge technology is enabling obstruction detection and avoidance features in our Autonomous Mobile Robots - a very critical feature of the product.” The startup leveraged Qualcomm® SDM660 System-on-Chip (SoC) to develop a stereo vision subsystem for Hachidori’s Autonomous Mobile Robot.
The startup has also filed two Non-Provisional Patent Application (NPA) using the QDIC patent filing support. “The IPR sessions gave us the push to finalise the patents sooner than later,” shares Janakiram. The other big impact of the QDIC programme was being able to understand the expectation of investors, he says. The learning was instrumental in helping the startup finalise its pitch deck. With an impactful product at hand, the startup is looking at raising funding in 2021.
“Industries are going through this fundamental shift from predictability to adaptability, and current automation solutions are not flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements,” shares Rishabh Agarwal, Co-Founder, Peer Robotics. It is here that Peer Robotics’ collaborative mobile robots called RM100 come into play. “RM100 was initially developed for warehouse automation and material handling in manufacturing facilities. It can learn from humans in real time, bridging the gap between how humans and robots work together and providing flexible and adaptable solutions. It can seamlessly navigate through complex environments without any change in the existing infrastructure.”
At QDIC, the startup is developing a healthcare module on its RM100 for assisting humans in the healthcare and hospitality sectors. “We are using the Quectel’s LTE SC66 Smart Module based on Qualcomm’s SDM660 SoC.. The platform comes with ample computation and IO capabilities allowing us to use a single board for the integration of multiple features.” In addition, the support from Qualcomm experts was instrumental in accelerating some key features for our modules - this includes features like human detection, conversational AI, telemedicine, and access management for the healthcare staff. “The goal of the platform is to assist the existing staff by supporting them in mundane and connected tasks like the movement of goods as well as maintaining and keeping track of patients' status.”
The existing pandemic has also shown the gaps in the existing healthcare system and the need to adopt new technologies so that the healthcare workforce can focus on critical decision making rather than cumbersome and mundane tasks. The goal of Peer Robotics with healthcare attachment is to provide a ‘peer’ to the hospitals which they can rely on for their 24x7 operations.