If Gridbots has its way, artificial intelligence will take over our lives one day. For now, this Ahmedabad-based company's robots are finding application in the defence, space, nuclear and industrial sectors
It can storm burning buildings, rescue lives and even capture video footage on the go. And since our trooper can venture deep into a blaze, it can potentially save more lives than the Fire Department. A burning need of the hour in industrial environments, this machine-with-a-mind is just begging to play hero!
Apart from industrial and consumer applications, Gridbots' man-machines are used for research in the areas of defence, space and nuclear science. They plan and navigate autonomously thanks to an engine called the Grid Eye. So, for instance, the underwater robot can clean an water tanks, in homes, large buildings and in industrial settings.
There are robots that perform tasks in radioactive environments which are lethal for human beings. There’s also India's first telepresence consumer robot, which can be remotely managed and moved via an iPhone or iPad or a similar device, and can keep an eye on ageing parents at home and also perform simple household chores.
The company's young and visionary founder Pulkit Gaur had robots on his mind when still in his teens and built 23 of them before he earned his Engineering degree. After he graduated in 2004, Gaur worked with a multi-national company as technical manager. But an innovator to the core, he finally invested in Rs 10 lakh in setting up Gridbots in 2007. "At the time, there wasn't any other company in India working in robotics. I wanted to build robots that could solve real-life problems and I want them to reach the common man one day," says Gaur, who was named 2011 Innovator of the Year by the MIT Technology Review, and a TED Fellow.
With no business background, Gaur was on the horns of a dilemma. " had technologies, products and concepts that were wonderful but I did not know how to commercialise them," he confesses. So he signed up with the incubator at IIM Ahmedabad's Centre for Innovation' Incubation and Entrepreneurship.
Lack of talented workforce works in their favour
Another big challenge was lack of a talented workforce. Since robotics has not yet come of age, it is difficult to find people suited to this field. True to form, Gaur came up, with a unique solution. "We established robotics labs in schools and colleges' where students paid us to learn our technology. After 4 years, we recruited these students! It was win-win for both." Gaur also set up a separate company called Edubotics Innovation Labs, through which he and his team were consulting and providing hands-on workshops. This helped raise sufficient funds.
Gridbots spreads its wings
Set up only five years ago, Gridbots' client list is already formidable - Ministry of Home Affairs, Indian Navy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation and the Gujarat Police, among other large government and private organisations.
The fire-fighting robot is the latest innovation from "Maybe the government will be the biggest buyer. But a lot of large companies who maintain large infrastructure can also use this robot," says Gaur.
Considering that robotics is still nascent in India, Gridbots boasts an impressive 50 products in its portfolio and is growing 100 per cent year-on-year. With a 1,000-sq ft manufacturing facility in Ahmedabad, the company has a team of around 50 people and is present in six cities.
Prices range from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore, depending on the degree of customisation. The company sold around 100 big robots across categories in the last year, excluding the 3,000 educational products it sold during the same period.
*Around 80 per cent of revenue is ploughed back into R&D
Selling the robots right
"I do not pitch products; I pitch the technology. I then develop a robot and customise it to suit a client's needs. Around 60 per cent of the products we sell to the government are based on suggestions that came from them," says Gaur.
"As an entrepreneur, I have learnt that one must be prepared to sometimes even say 'no'," affirms Gaur.
With his father as his mentor, the young entrepreneur says one must learn to steer clear of temptation and keep one's sights focused on the distant horizon. "You should be able to see yourself 5-10 years from now."