By Srinath Srinivasan
Talk about robots and what comes to mind immediately are the cute, doll-like robots made by Japanese companies or the heavy machine-like German robots. However, a start has been made in India, too, with several companies getting into this field. One such Indian company is Hi-tech Robotic Systemz, founded by Anuj Kapuria. It has been commercially making robots and autonomous vehicles for around four years now. However, Kapuria started laying the foundation for this when he returned to India in 2005 after completing his PhD from Carnegie Melon University (CMU). “On returning, I sought to set up the technology base here. For the next seven years I was involved in the design of military applications like unmanned ground vehicle systems which helped my cause,” says Kapuria.
Today, the company provides robots for applications such as industrial and warehousing mobility and autonomous and driver assisted systems which enable driverless cars and driver attention and behaviour monitoring. “While military applications are based on ruggedness and high performance, industrial ones are more about automation, scale, cost savings and ease. The market for that in India is huge today,” says Kapuria.
The company has over 500 robots in the market currently. It is also testing autonomous vehicles. The advent of such new-age businesses means the coming together of supply chains, talent and new policies. “For us, hardware, sensor fusion and software are three important pillars,” says Kapuria. “We have full ownership over our IP. Crucial sensors and components are imported from advanced markets. Everything else is done in India.”
The assembly of vehicles happens at the firm’s own facility. In terms of software, there are dedicated teams to work on navigation, deep learning and fusion of various sensors on board the vehicles. “While a formal degree is not the only criterion based on which we hire, we look for deep technical skills and strong passion,” explains Kapuria. According to him, skills in embedded electronics, AI, deep learning and hardware-sensor fusion will be in great demand as the market for such products also expands in India.
Kapuria has close ties with top talent in autonomous mobility at CMU which has resulted in intern programmes, sharing of projects which in turn help the talent here. “In India, we have set up collaborations with universities. We have an autonomous professor chair at IIT Delhi which is in the nascent stage,” he adds. The company also works closely with IIT Kanpur, IIT Madras and IIIT Hyderabad for scouting talent and encouraging technology and research.
Kapuria believes that India should give more importance to not just make-in-India but also design in India. “We may be self-sufficient in terms of software but we are still dependent on other countries for sensors and components. We need policies to incentivise the R&D of such components and to make them here, locally,” he says.
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