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Dream Robots

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Rajasthan-born Pulkit Gaur has always had robotics on his mind. The 30-year-old industrial engineer started making robots while still in school and continued his passion into college. His earliest break in the field of robotics came while he was studying at MBM Engineering College in Jodhpur. In his final year, he designed a programmable hybrid vehicle, which won him a gold medal in a technical competition. Not surprisingly, Gridbots Technologies, the industrial and consumer robotics company Gaur founded in August 2008, has more than 10 varieties of robots out in the market.

The Journey
After graduating as an industrial engineer, Gaur took up a job as an R&D engineer with US-based Meditab Software, a company that makes software solutions for the healthcare industry. But after two years he decided to break free and follow his passion. "I talked to my parents who gave me the nod and I started Gridbots," he says. Subsequently, Gridbots found a place at IIM Ahmedabad's Center for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship. The incubation also brought along Rs 10 lakh in angel funding, which was in addition to the seed capital that Gaur had raised through his own resources. 

The company launched its entry-level product, Turtle, in May 2009, at Rs 5,000 apiece. It belongs to the company's portfolio of educational robots and comes in a do-it-yourself kit designed to help people create a robot of their own. Once the 40 pieces of the kit are assembled, the robot can be made to follow some basic instructions — follow a black line on the floor, avoid objects while moving on the floor, follow or retract from a light source — via mobile phones, infra-red remote controls, etc. Along the way, the company has also launched products such as Gridsurv, a surveillance solution that uses algorithms to analyse real-time video content and provide alerts against threats; and Autogrid, a robot that can do mundane domestic tasks such as mopping, and double up as a surveillance system.

The Business Model
Gridbots' value proposition, apart from the intellectual property that is built into each product, is its pricing. It recently launched SaUsR, acronym for smart autonomous underwater service robot, which is a waterproof industrial robot that can be used for cleaning deep-water tanks. The robot comes in two variants. The domestic variant costs Rs 7.5 lakh and the industrial one retails for Rs 12.5 lakh. "Jobs that are dirty, dangerous and dull are not meant to be done by human beings and can easily be done by robots," says Gaur.

The company's range of products and applications gives it a wide customer profile. Small manufacturing units engaged in painting, pickle-making, mechanical parts assembling and the like, for instance, can use its robotic manipulator, a robotic arm, to automate some of their work. Similarly, SaUsR can be used by the defence sector, industrial units that use a lot of water and residential housing societies.

Rank: 2 (Category A)
Name: Gridbots Technologies
Sector: Robotics
Founder: Pulkit Gaur
Year of inception: 2008
HQ: Ahmedabad
Capital invested: Less than Rs 1 crore
Investor: CIIE (IIM Ahmedabad)
Employees: 45
Key customers: Indian Navy, Wipro Technologies, Ministry of Home Affairs 
Key competitors: iRobot, PARI Robotics, Foster Miller 

Gaur thinks that the company's indigenous approach to solving problems that are specific to the Indian market give it an advantage over competitors. "We do generic research in the field of robotics, machine vision and artificial intelligence," he says. Peers active in the Indian robotics market include iRobot and Pune-based PARI Robotics.

The Outlook
So far, the company, which has moved out of the IIM Ahmedabad incubator, has done reasonably well in terms of revenues and profits. The revenues and profit numbers have been shared confidentially with Businessworld. The company has been profitable since its first year of operations. It expects to hit Rs 100 crore in revenues in three years.

Expansion plans in the immediate term include reaching out to all Tier-1 cities. It currently has a market presence of more than 10 dealers and 100 customers across the country. The roadmap that the company has drawn up is quite detailed. In the current fiscal, Gaur plans to set up marketing and sales offices in Tier-1 cities, and ramp up headcount to 45. This will yield revenues of Rs 5 crore. The following financial year will see it grow into Dubai and Australia, racking up the headcount to 75 and revenues to Rs 25 crore. The big push will come in 2013-14  when it will expand operations to other Asian and European markets. "The headcount will reach 125 by then and revenues will be at Rs 100 crore," he says. He also plans to raise about Rs 5 crore from venture capitalists so that the company can go into mass production mode. About 20 per cent of the capital will be channelled into R&D, while the remainder will be used to set up operations facilities.

The addressable market for robotics in India is estimated at Rs 10,000 crore, according to the company. That's plenty of room for Gridbots to grow, especially given the rate at which its inventive founder has been rolling out new products in the past couple of years.


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-06-2011)

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