History has witnessed that true love is omnipotent — it comes back much stronger every time it is shunned. Balaji Vishwanathan loved machines ever since he could remember, but after obtaining a PhD degree, he realised that there was little interest in the market for machine learning or Artificial Intelligence (AI). This made him move on to Microsoft where he spent the next 10 years of his life.
He almost forgot his dream of making it big in machine learning — but the beginning of 2016 saw the rise of AI, machine learning and robotics, which rekindled his love for the sector. Balaji started prototyping at the makerspace in Boston, which made him think of starting a makerspace in India and build the ecosystem for robotics in the country. He eventually convinced his parents about his decision to return to India with his wife and a one-year-old child.
Through Quora, Balaji connected with people who had similar interest in the field of robotics, AI, and machine learning. On more research, he found that there were no production grade robots other than toys being produced in India. His wife Mahalakshmi, who knew her husband to be an entrepreneur at heart, supported his idea; hence, ‘Invento’ took shape.
Since its initial days, Invento has believed in revenue generation rather than fundraising strategy — this has made it a bootstrapped company, with focus on high standards of production. The team relies on its three core elements: speech-recognition, face-recognition, and navigation algorithms.
Invento’s robots’ speech recognition algorithms are customised to a particular domain and language. “Mytrabot, one of our product placed in Canara Bank, can answer simple questions in Kannada, such ‘lift yellide?’ and other such queries of the bank environment. For our project in a mall in Mumbai, robots can understand and respond to Marathi, Hindi, and English,” says Balaji Vishwanathan, CEO, Invento.
Invento’s second core element, i.e. face recognition, is under development. The company wants to build strong analytics to recognise frequent customers at a mall by their faces and suggest them their favourite movie or shopping store to make their experience at the mall more interactive and engaging, and thus bring in more customers to the mall.
Talking of the challenges, Balaji remarks that navigating accurately in large office or warehouse premises has been a huge problem for robots. “There is a big gap in what works in a lab and what works in a practical environment. We are building the navigation algorithm that would work in a very accurate form; this is the third aspect we are focussing on,” says Balaji.
Starting a company in the space of robotics, which itself is in its nascent state, was not easy for the founders. Yet they are keen to roll out new age robots by September this year. “We did the R&D for the last 10 months and we learned a lot. We hunted in China’s local market and sourced couple of good things from there. We will run a completely different bot by end of September,” says Mahalakshmi Radhakrishnan, COO, Invento.
“We are still struggling a lot to convince people. Malls and banks are more open to new innovative products; they have a new arena for these things,” adds Mahalakshmi.
The founders of Invento and its team are not shaken by competition — they are rather happy that the masses are becoming more aware of robots and their uses, thus increasing their value in the market. In the coming years, the company aims to grow both domestically and internationally, mainly focussing on India and the Middle East.