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Robotics start-ups come of age in India

Last updated on: September 11, 2009 

Robotics start-ups come of age in India

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Shivani Shinde in Mumbai

Robots by Indian entrepreneurs are being developed at less than half the cost of imported ones.

Robotics start-ups in India are finally making their presence felt. Be it the education or industrial and commercial segments, these start-ups are standing up and getting noticed for their inventions.

Consider this. Blue Star, a leading air conditioning and commercial refrigeration company, uses over 20 robots for its duct cleaning services which have been bought from Mumbai-based Robosoft Systems.

"We have been providing the duct-cleaning services to our customers since last four years. Over a period of time dust gets accumulated in these ducts and makes the air polluted.

"These ducts needs to be cleaned on a regular basis, but they also need to be inspected. For which we need robots. Earlier we were importing them but now the same is being provided by Robosoft Systems," confirms a senior executive at Blue Star.

Robosoft System, started by five friends, is perhaps the first firm that started with a product in the industrial segment and then diversified into the education sector.

"It was in my last year of engineering in 2004 that we were approached for a project on a problem of duct cleaning. Since then we have been doing this. Our first customer was Dubai-based EPSCO," says Fahad Azad, managing partner, Robosoft Systems. The firm, incorporated in 2008, now plans to develop robots that can to sewage cleaning.


Image: The QRIO robot performs a dance at a New Delhi school.
Photographs: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
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The company also works with Blue Star India and German Star. "We have been invited to showcase our products for firms in Muscat, Italy and Spain," adds Azad. One of the reasons, he points out, is the cost of these robots.

"We have been able to develop the same quality and deliver the same services for almost half the cost. The Duct Cleaning robots cost anywhere between Rs 300,000-600,000 in international markets. But we provide them for as low as Rs 75,000 to Rs 100,000," he asserts. Robosoft System's revenue for FY2008 was Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million).

This year, the company is expecting a 100 per cent growth in business.

Firms which started with a focus on the education system are also reaping the benefits. Take, for instance, The Robotics Institute which was started in December 2005 by three friends and incubated at the Society for Innovation and Entreprenuership, IIT Mumbai.

From catering to engineering colleges and conducting workshops, TRI has moved on to set-up two training centres and expanded it's foray into embedded education systems. For TRI consolidating its education offerings will be the focus for some years. The company achieved revenue of Rs 1.3 crore (Rs 13 million) last year. This year, it is targeting Rs 4 crore (Rs 40 million).


Image: A robot kicks a ball.
Photographs: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
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TRI has one each training centre in Mumbai and Bangalore. The centre provides courses on robotics, they span from a period of 10 day to a diploma course of six-months. The fee for a 10-day course would be Rs 10,000, whereas for a six-month course would go up to Rs 40,000.

Currently, there are 3-4 batches running at both the centres with a total student base of 120. Moreover, last year the company sold around 2,000-2,300 robotic kits.

"We were successful in raising $1 million from Seed Fund and are now scaling up our business as well as the research and development activity. From a 30-member team we are now 75 people and most importantly we have experienced people from the field working for us," says Gaurav Chaturvedi, VP institutional sales, TRI.

He adds that "earlier we were focused on engineering colleges and workshop but now we have diversified into schools as well. We are also helping colleges set up labs. So far we have set-up 10-12 labs in colleges.

Robotics-Alive is yet another start-up that started with the education sector, but has a clear agenda to enter the industrial sector. "We want to provide a platform for robotics which is much beyond education. Our focus will be on the education sector and small and medium enterprises. We are providing a full platform for colleges and schools to build curriculum around it," says Abheek Bose, founder Robotics-Alive.

The firm, incubating at the National Institute of Design, is being mentored by Moerpheus Venture Partners.


Image: Blue Star uses over 20 robots for its duct cleaning services.

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