The next wave of start-ups

Flight simulators, smart parking and more from the Intel India Maker Lab


AerX Labs is the first Indian company to build from scratch their own flight simulators, which are used to train pilots and engineers
AerX Labs is the first Indian company to build from scratch their own flight simulators, which are used to train pilots and engineers

In the start-up world, buzzwords are passed around, from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs, from successful entrepreneurs to budding ones. The latest one is hardware. After a wave of investments in e-commerce and software companies, venture capitalists seem to be putting their faith in hardware innovators. This makes the Intel India Maker Lab, an accelerator programme for hardware and systems start-ups, an interesting place to spot promising products and companies. Last month, the programme held its first conclave, at which the participating start-ups could display their work. What was common among many of the entrepreneurs was that their businesses had been inspired by personal stories.

Jayalaxmi Agro Tech

Hailing from farming families in Karnataka’s Bellary district, Shivaprakash L. and his cousin Anand Babu C., after more than a decade of working in the IT industry, have built Android applications that give farmers information on how to grow their crops. Their apps are in Kannada and in a simple format, so that an illiterate person can also use them.

Jayalaxmi Agro Tech’s applications are rustic. The icons are blurry photographs, and there’s a separate app for each crop, which seems ridiculously outdated.

But there’s a reason for this simplicity. They use separate apps for each crop because most farmers only need one or two and don’t have space on their phones for more information. By using simple photos and voice-overs, with no written material, Jayalaxmi makes their apps accessible even to the uneducated. A farmer can simply click on an icon and get information about pesticides, irrigation, micro-nutrients and more.

Farmers were finding it difficult to download the apps, which run offline once on the phone. So, Jayalaxmi used Intel hardware to build devices they call agripoles and placed them in villages. All the apps are stored on the agripole, and it creates a Wi-Fi Hotspot from where they can be downloaded.

Shivaprakash says that 150,000 farmers are using the apps in Karnataka. The next step is to build versions for other states.

GreenOcean Research Labs, Asha +

It takes a brave man to step into the medical equipment industry, full of big-money players, with a bootstrapped start-up. But Chennai-based Sai Ram Mannar believes his product Asha+, set to be rolled out in January, offers enough unique features to find takers.

Asha+ is a handheld remote monitoring device that can measure your temperature, heart-rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and glucose level. It can also give you an electrocardiogram (ECG) and act as a stethoscope. The device uploads the data captured on to a cloud, so you can easily send it to a doctor.

Mannar founded GreenOcean Research Labs in 2012, after 15 years of working in the electronics industry, with the idea of making an easily portable device that can perform several functions. His father, a doctor and head of the emergency department at a hospital, had mentioned that paramedics needed such a device so that they could begin treating patients before they got them to a hospital. Mannar also thought a similar device would be useful in homes, where different members of a family might need to monitor different things.

He is still awaiting European certification for the product, which will be vital when trying to sell it to hospitals and emergency services.

AerX Labs

In a nondescript bungalow in Bengaluru sits a fully functional Airbus 320 simulator. AerX Labs is the first Indian company to build from scratch their own flight simulators, which are used to train pilots and engineers. Sumit Rishi, the founder and CEO of AerX, worked for 12 years as an engineer at Honeywell Aerospace, an industry leader in avionics. He, along with co-founders Priyank Sharma, who did a 15-year stint with Honeywell Aerospace, and Kartavya Gupta, who spent four years at Honeywell Technology Solutions, wanted to use their experience to build simulators that would be cheaper than those made by foreign companies and also have additional features.

They started by building single-engine simulators, then multi-engine ones and have now built fixed-base simulators, which are used by airlines for early-stage pilot training. The next step is to build full-flight simulators, which cost upwards of Rs80 crore and are used in advanced pilot training.

AerX’s products cater to flight schools, universities that provide an aviation elective, airlines, and companies working on avionics, such as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and UTC Aerospace Systems, which can use simulators to give their engineers domain knowledge.

So far, AerX has managed to sell 10 single- and multi-engine flight simulators. An important step for them now is to get a certification from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for their systems, as flight schools need to train student pilots on DGCA-certified simulators before giving them their commercial pilot licence. Rishi says the paperwork for four of their simulators is ready to be submitted to the DGCA.

AerX’s main strength is their cost. They sell single-engine simulators to universities at one-third the cost of competitor’s products, multi-engine ones to flight schools at one-fifth and is planning to sell their fixed-base simulators to airlines at one-eighth to one-tenth the cost they are currently buying at.

They managed to do this by not simply importing parts and putting them together but building individual parts from scratch. Some of this has proved hard, in particular making controls that vibrate and react as they would on a real aeroplane.

They are also working on innovations, such as using machine learning in simulators to judge a pilot’s proficiency and spot patterns that will help him correct mistakes he is repeating.

AerX is yet to sell a fixed-base simulator, but has tested one at the Air India training centre in Hyderabad and is hoping to find an airline client soon.

Meanwhile, they are also partnering with a well-known German engineering company to pitch for making a full-flight simulator for one of the aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Building full-flight simulators will be a big step, Rishi says, because costs are so high and they will need to import some parts. But he is still confident that they can sell them at lesser rates than
competitors.

Parkzap

If you’re near the Spaze i-Tech Park in Gurgaon, near Delhi, open the Parkzap app and you will see a figure pop up on the map. It indicates the number of parking spots currently available in the park. Once you get closer, you’ll see the numbers split up, telling you exactly which part of the park the available parking spots are in. In around a week, you’ll even be able to pay for parking using the app, through an e-wallet, which will be quite helpful in these cash-scarce times.

The brainchild of Pranay Sharma, Parkzap is a solution that hopes to make managing parking facilities easier for their owners and also finding and paying for parking more convenient for car owners. It is only available at Spaze i-Tech Park in Gurgaon right now, but Sharma hopes to bring several other parking spaces in the National Capital Region into the network in the next two-three months and then expand to other cities.

Sharma, while completing his masters in electrical engineering in Taiwan, researched intelligent transport systems and found that you could use people’s smartphones to locate their vehicles, rather than relying on car GPS systems, which many vehicles don’t have.

Parkzap’s benefits begin with the owners of parking facilities. Right now, most facilities use expensive imported equipment and local servers to issue parking tickets and keep track of how many vehicles use their space. With help from Intel, Parkzap built a system called the Park Box that is cheaper than the current equipment and does the same job. This system also stores all details of vehicles entering the facility on a cloud, making the information easy to share. Which is how people with the Parkzap app are able to view where parking spots are available

Terrablue XT

There are around 50 million people with epilepsy globally and around 10 million in India, according to the World Health Organization. One of those is the son of Rajlakshmi Borthakur, a professional with over 18 years of experience in the IT industry. Determined to protect her son from epileptic attacks, she began researching the condition.

The result is Terrablue XT and its product TJay, a glove for epileptics that can warn them and their caregivers of when they are about to have a seizure. The glove has sensors that track medical information from the palm. That information is then transferred to a gateway device that is personalized for each patient. The device learns the patterns of every patient and begins to warn him and his caregivers whenever he is about to have or is having an attack. It also clouds the data, allowing a team to analyse it and doctors to see live updates on epileptics they are treating.

The success of TJay will depend heavily on clinical trials, which it is currently undertaking.

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