Smartron bets on a made-in-India story with AI-powered TronX
Smartron is batting for Indian startups’ ability to own intellectual property in software and hardware with TronX, a next-gen OS designed to run seamlessly across devices.
Karan Chougule, a retail manager in Mumbai, works in a retail store of a large conglomerate. He has a new device to toy around with. As Chougule walks through an aisle of the store with his Smartron device, he can use gestures and voice to switch off lights, scan inventory and figure out sales in his store on that particular day. All this is connected to the TronX cloud, which controls everything in the store. There is very little hardware integration in the form of wires at the store; a few sensors, security protocols, and software applications are running the business.
Mahesh Lingareddy, 44, Founder and Chairman of Smartron, has flipped the game and is forging a balance between the hardware and software debate raging in technology circles in India. These two schools of thought have been in conflict for over a decade now. But Mahesh believes in India’s ability to create intellectual property and own designs.
“We can design systems, own intellectual property in software and hardware, and get these products manufactured from other parts of the world,” Mahesh says.
Believing in India’s software prowess
However, the world Mahesh is thinking about is caught between two thoughts. There has been a deep divide in Indian intelligentsia that India should not be a manufacturer of hardware. Technocrats like Nandan Nilekani and Narayana Murthy come from this school of thought and believe in India’s software prowess. Conglomerate promoters like Kumar Mangalam Birla and Mukesh Ambani support manufacturing within India.
While these two schools of thought lock horns over the future of India, a group of youngsters believe in change, in owning IP in design and software. Subrat Parida, of Racetrack.AI, Vivek Rajkumar, of AIBONO, and Atul Jalan, of Manthan, are just a few of the individuals who believe in the Indian IP story and, like Mahesh, have sunk in large amounts of money to make Indian a dominant force in the world of technology.
Naganand Doraswamy, CEO and founder of IdeaSpring Capital, says, “The reason that global firms are successful is because all their IP is built in their home countries and Indians provide the software and design to them.”
Mahesh wants to change things with TronX, a cloud operating system platform which plugs in services from several Indian internet-of-things companies and delivers services to corporations and consumers.
Think of TronX as an intelligent ecosystem that helps connect a range of devices. It allows instant access to profile, data, content, services, Cloud, care, community and other IoT devices at home, in the car or at the office.
To illustrate this with an example, say a company is building software that can track robots across several manufacturing locations. Smartron can help this company reach out to corporates and use the TronX platform, as the cloud provider, to run these workflow applications and also use Smartron devices to be delivered to engineers on the shop floor.
How a community-based approach can help
“This community-based approach frees up a small company’s resources because they need not invest in hardware and saves them money, otherwise spent on marketing and sales,” Mahesh says.
Smartron now works with 10 such partners in smart health, consumer and enterprise play.
Mahesh says India can become a global leader in the IoT business with this community-based approach because there are several small companies with the ability to design system architectures.
“All they require is support,” he says.
Owning IP is the key to great valuations and brand building. If one looks at the Apple phone, they can’t fail to see what’s embossed on the smartphone cover package - designed in the US and manufactured in China. Smartron wants TronX and its several capabilities to make India a global brand. The question is: will it be easy?
The company has invested Rs 200 crore in the business and Mahesh has the backing of investors because he sold his previous company SoftMachines for $500million to Intel in 2013. His current investors include Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and a slew of global investors.
Mahesh confirms that only 25 percent of the investments come from India.
The birth of Smartron’s TronX
Three years ago, Smartron began to sell devices, smartphones, and tablets and reached a turnover of Rs 50 crore in the financial year 2016-17.
But in early 2016, Mahesh began to realise that selling devices alone would not make the business formidable. He asked 400 of his engineers to build a cloud-based operating system that could integrate several technology services in the enterprise and consumer IoT. In a matter of months, his company readied a cloud experience centre that showcased to clients how IoT would work without changing electrical systems of the house or enterprise.
TronX allows an enterprise to secure premises at a command of the voice or gesture. The TronX cloud is powered by AI, voice, and gestures, and provides dashboards on how the entire HVAC and security systems are working in the building.
“The objective is to offer the best experience at the best cost,” Mahesh says.
Legacy systems are expensive because one needs to set up hardware and data backups on the premise of the enterprise along with dedicated internet lines. The cost to maintain these systems along with their warranties would run into a $1million for a one million square-feet building, depending on the number of nodes that need to be secured. In a cloud-based system, the sensor connects to a data centre away from the enterprise and is controlled by smart devices via several communications protocols such as WiFi, Thread, 6LowPan, GSM Cellular, NFC and SigFox.
At its heart, TronX competes with IBM, Honeywell, and Siemens. The experience centre at Smartron is like a sci-fi movie where everything is handled by smart bots. A person can command the structure to start charging the electric car/bike or play music. It can even specify when the person is running out of cooking gas and make coffee.
“To build a company with this home-to-enterprise solution will take a decade and a thousand crores as investment,” Mahesh says.
The future is bright
The consumer segment is the largest user of connected things with 5.2 billion units in 2017, which represents 63 percent of the overall number of applications in use. Businesses are on pace to employ 3.1 billion connected things in 2017.
Peter Middleton, research director at Gartner, says, “Aside from automotive systems, the applications that will be most in use by consumers will be smart TVs and digital set-top boxes, while smart electric meters and commercial security cameras will be most in use by businesses.”
Gartner already predicts that 8.4 billion devices will be connected by 2017 and this number will reach 20 billion by 2017. Boston Consulting Group predicts that the spending on IoT will be $267 billion by 2020.
In India, enterprises are still taking baby steps to get there and Smartron is showing the way. Smartron is already working with more than five global corporate companies, it expects to with TronX reach more than a 100 customers by 2020.