India in 10 years: The bots are coming, and it’s good news

Robots will do all the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks and create a new wave in the economy with a million new things that were not possible earlier

Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

To look into the future 10 years from now, take a step back and see where India or, for that matter, the world was 10 years ago. There were no smartphones, no taxi apps and no mobile wallets. Now, almost every part of our lives is touched by smartphone technology. If you ask me what the next big wave in technology that will change our lives 10 years from now will be, it’s going to be robots: They are going to do everything from fighting wars on borders to providing companionship. They are going to be ubiquitous, or, as I have named my company, they are going to be omnipresent. Furthermore, their impact on our lives will be unlike that of any other technology so far, because they will interact with us in a manner similar to the way we interact with other humans, holding conversations, working together, playing together and learning from one another. They are going to solve some of the biggest problems humanity is facing, including pollution control, food and energy production, tackling incurable diseases, and strengthening defence.

Talking about defence, the Indian Army has announced that it wants to run a third of its operations through robots in the next 10 years. This may be an aggressive goal, but even if 10% of the operations are run by robots, this would translate to 100,000 robots. This is quite achievable, considering that the US army is already using over 20,000 robots and similar numbers are being used by the Chinese. Omnipresent Tech recently flew drones (basically flying robots) as part of Border Security Force (BSF) and army trials and we learnt that the defence and security sector is expected to use over 100,000 drones in the coming decade. In addition, robotic boats and submarines will be used by the navy. The robotics market for defence in India is expected to touch over $10 billion (around Rs68,000 crore) annually in the next decade.

Another growth sector is factory and warehouse robots. We have already seen one success story in India in this sector: Grey Orange Robotics makes warehouse robots for Flipkart and several other e-commerce companies. A few years ago, Amazon had bought Kiva Systems (now Amazon Robotics), which provides factory robots to Amazon globally, for $775 million. We are also going to see revolutionary changes in factory automation—some of the assembly and repair works that earlier required humans will be done entirely by robots. This sector itself could create a $5 billion annual market in India.

Recently, multiple annual contracts were signed by Omnipresent with India’s largest oil sector company, which processes over 100 million barrels of crude every day. By periodically surveying their civil installations with our drones and automatically generating intelligent reports, we were able to save the company several days of shutdown time and loss of productivity. This model is applicable not only to oil companies but to all companies which run a factory 24x7 and cannot afford shutdown time. These include cement, fertilizer, paper, chemicals, sugar and textile factories. This sector is poised to be a market worth over $10 billion annually in India for robotics products and services.

Another major change will be that robots will enter our homes and do most of the household chores, including cleaning and folding clothes, washing dishes and driving cars. They will also clean our polluted land, air and water, a big problem in India. Recently, we built a river-cleaning “Ro-boat” for this purpose and deployed it in the Yamuna river. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, has recognized “Ro-boat” as one of the top 20 innovations in India.

The big change will be in the agriculture sector, where drones and robots will boost yield and save damage by as much as 40%; this would have a great impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Lastly, nanorobots are going to bring about a revolution in medical treatment—think of them as tiny artificial cells, they will run in our blood and attack pathogens, tumours and blockages, effectively boosting life expectancy by 30-40%.

So how has all this suddenly become possible? The answer lies in the revolution that has taken place in machine learning—the machines are now able to learn like humans if you give them enough data to train on. Recently, Google showed that its machine-learning algorithms can write poetry, create paintings, identify any bird or animal, even dream. We effectively used this technique to automatically identify vehicles and chase them via drones.

Are machines going to take over our jobs? Similar questions have been asked time and again from the time the first printing press came, to the time the first computers arrived. I don’t think jobs are going to vanish but the quality of jobs is going to improve, from repetitive work to more creative activity. Robots will do all the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks and create a new wave in the economy with a million new things that were not possible earlier. If you are planning to start a company in robotics or invest in this sector or take it up as a career, now is perhaps the golden time!

Aakash Sinha is founder and CEO of Omnipresent Robot Tech.

This is part of a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here

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