This Bengaluru-based startup wants to be ‘Apple’ of robotics in India
Invento Robotics recently raised ₹2 crore seed funding round led by Windrose Capital and ITI Growth Fund.
You probably may have seen or read about the indigenous 'Mitra' robot. The humanoid became an overnight media sensation when it made an appearance at the 2017's Global Entrepreneur Summit which had visitors like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Advisor to US President Donald Trump Ivanka Trump. Since then, Mitra has evolved to become much smarter and has a new companion, Mitri.
In case you didn't know, Mitra has been developed by Bengaluru-based Invento Robotics. Started in October 2015, Invento Robotics has been founded by Balaji Viswanathan, a former Microsoft executive and Silicon Valley veteran. The company recently raised ₹2 crore seed funding round led by Windrose Capital and ITI Growth Fund.
Invento Robotics is now looking to expand the prospects of Mitra and other robots under its wing. This includes deployment in the real-world environment. For instance, a Sakhi robot is working at a co-working space called iSprout in Hyderabad.
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Viswanathan believes his company can become 'Apple' of the robotics industry. To achieve this, one will "require a focus on sustaining revenues and profitability. It won't be like becoming a unicorn in just two years but how we can be in for a long game in the market," Viswanathan told Hindustan Times.
When asked about the comparison with Apple, Viswanathan gave an elaborate response - "How can we make robotics practical that is usable, and so on. That is fundamental. The second thing is the strong play of hardware and software coming together. So, the robot upholds the outer shell and other things, but at the core of it is a software element that has to be able to do self-driving abilities, to be able to convert. The hardware and software have to go back and forth in a complex dance. Most companies do either hardware or software, but we do both of them together to achieve that quality. Third, this being able to get the mindset of being able to be a very tangible product..."
Viswanathan also highlighted some of the new and smart features that the company has started to use in its robots. He revealed that the company is implementing LiDAR-based autonomous navigation. He said that the goal is to make the robot smart enough to go around autonomously in complex environments such as retail.
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One of the focuses of Invento Robotics and technology companies, in general, has been making the AI and hardware on top of it more natural in how it converses with humans. A recent example is a Neon that is capable of conversing like humans. Viswanathan, however, admits there are some challenges in achieving this. He also revealed his company approaches this challenge differently.
"Can a robot talk everything like a human in all subjects? Not possible. So, what we are doing is in a specific context. For instance, you're walking concierge of ITP, you're going to be asking a range of things. Can you book a cab for me or can you book this table for me or what do you recommend? This will be very structured and contextual. We're trying to build structured conversations specific to particular domains rather than the generic problem. We are very much interested in the workflows," he added.
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On building a completely home-grown robot, Viswanathan said that the majority of hardware is in-house. But the company does look for suppliers outside India if the technology is unavailable, for instance, processors and LiDAR. He pointed out that the cost of the total imported items in the final product is less than 10% of the cost of the device. The company also uses TensorFlow for underlying model building among other cutting edge technologies.
Invento Robotics' next big bet is 'Spody robot', which the company claims, has received enormous interest from China. The humanoid was supposed to launch in China in January but got delayed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The robot is now expected to launch in April this year. Viswanathan revealed that the AI-enabled Spody will be like a shopping companion which will go around autonomously, look at users, recognize and guide them about the products in retail.
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