India is better known for its software than hardware, so it seems counterintuitive that the country can become a hub for robots
Miko is an Indian robot that has entertained children in Asia and educated them. Now she wants to make friends with American children. Its creator based in Mumbai, Emotix, announced a $7.5 million financing round in August.
Butler is a robot from Gurugram’s factory. Its manufacturer GreyOrange has customers from Japan to Latin America. After a $140 million series C round last year, GreyOrange is the best-funded startup in this region.
Mitra and Mitri are humanoid robots that welcome tourists to India’s banks, cafes, and tech events. For West Asia and China, they are now getting their act together. Their maker, Invento Robotics based in Bengaluru, is looking for a series A round to grow into new markets.
India is more known for its strength in technology than hardware. It seems counter-intuitive, therefore, that the nation can become a center for robotics. But it is increasingly software that distinguishes robots, as AI, natural language processing and computer vision are making rapid progress. By the day, robots become more sophisticated in the way they think, hear, move and adapt. This creates new cases of use for them.
“India has a lot to offer when it comes to data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning,” says Arvind Vasu, ABB Technology Ventures senior vice president. “We are beginning to see more startups working in the B2B space with industry. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the next few years.”
DAVID VS GOLIATH
In addition to GreyOrange, India’s robotics startups are still at an early stage, although a number of them have been founded over the past five years. It takes time to create a competitive value proposition for a global market with robots. Investors are still in a state of wait and watch.
“It’s not because we haven’t met good start-ups from Indian robotics. Others are still at a stage where they are still evolving and finding out which way to go, “says Vasu, whose company, Swiss-Swedish giant ABB, is a leading industrial robots manufacturer and invests in start-ups when there is potential for collaboration.
The relatively emerging robotics start-up funding scenario in India makes it a David VS Goliath battle as they take baby steps into global markets. UBTech Robotics, a Chinese startup whose humanoid robots hold the world record for most robots dancing simultaneously, had a $820 million funding round last year, overshadowing the total funding for all robotics start-ups in India so far.
As with any other field, before making large investments, institutional investors want to see scaling potential. This is more the case with emerging tech such as robotics, which with long gestation times is capital-intensive.
As with any other field, institutional investors want to see future scaling before they make big commitments. This is more the case with emerging tech like robotics, which is capital-intensive with long gestation periods.
GreyOrange rode on BITS Pilani alumni support before proving scale with automation of the warehouse. For others such as humanoid, educational or medical robots, it’s early days.
Tracxn data shows that while industrial robotic startups in India have raised $216 million, financing for consumer robotics is heavily skewed towards the US and Japan, with Israel and South-East Asia beginning to make inroads.
But perhaps India is at the cusp of transition. “More than 25 venture capital funds and companies selected robotics as one of their focus areas in 2019 to find start-ups on the Excubator platform, which is higher than last year,” Kumar says.
The ecosystem is at a formative stage apart from funding, because robots have yet to be adopted.
But this is changing as Indian engineers in global companies are introduced to various parts of the value chain of robotics, see what is lacking, and start up startups.
“With new technology they are pushing the boundaries of robotics,” says Arun Raghavan, Arali Ventures ‘ co-founder, who has invested in two robotics start-ups.”CynLr, based in Bengaluru, solves a fundamental problem facing robots in picking up objects that are randomly aligned. They use computer vision to pick up an object from a robotic arm, see what it is, and place it in a slot.”
Those who made early bets, such as Bay Area investor Raju Reddy, who wrote GreyOrange’s first check, see the potential to gain momentum from India’s large pool of engineering and tech talent. That’s because robotics require multi-stream talent pooling.