Mumbai: Cameras that raise an alarm if someone parks a car illegally or leaves something behind in it, help combat vehicles avoid obstacles and potential explosives, and even assist in displaying advertising appropriate to the audience—these are some of the devices Serial Innovations India Pvt. Ltd (SITPL), a three-year-old, Bangalore-based start-up, has been working on.
SITPL builds visual sensing systems that sense, analyse and control complex environments, catering primarily to the defence, security and media industries. The intelligent cameras are of various kinds— multi-sensor, three-dimensional (3D) stereo vision, night and panoramic vision—all constantly relaying information about the immediate environment.
It is looking to raise money by the end of this year from either strategic or financial investors. “Finding IP (intellectual property)-strong companies in India with different technology is rare,” said Manik Arora, founder and managing director of venture capital firm IDG Ventures India Advisors Pvt. Ltd. “However most products need to have more than just technology to succeed; good start-ups succeed if they pick the right market.”
The company is technically not a start-up—it was a Sarnoff Corp. subsidiary that Arvind Lakshmikumar and Timothy Mitchell bought out in 2007. The duo had no rights over the products they had helped develop for the former parent and had to recreate the expertise from scratch. “The idea was to build this technology indigenously here because the Indian defence industry and other users of high-end imaging equipment import it from Israel or the US,” said Lakshmikumar, adding that such imports are both expensive and hard to configure for local use.
Stereo vision: (from left) SITPL’s Arvind Lakshmikumar, Sudeep George and Ankit Kumar are targeting the $200-300 mn, global speciality camera space. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Traditionally, camera images need to be interpreted by a human for actionable follow- up; smart devices can do most of this work on their own.
The biggest taker for the technology is the Indian military: SITPL’s major clients include the research laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, part of the ministry of defence. These include the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment in Chennai, the Research and Development Establishment (Engineers) in Pune, the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and the Aeronautical Development Establishment, the last two of which are based in Bangalore
The firm, which Lakshmikumar said has had an average turnover of Rs10 crore in the past three years, is targeting the $200-300 million (Rs900- 1,350 crore) speciality camera space worldwide, he said.
The Pune lab has already run a pilot with SITPL and plans to use a 3D stereo camera in one of its products, Daksh, a remote-controlled robot that can X-ray and defuse bombs. “With conventional cameras, you don’t get depth perception, so we use stereo vision, which helps the robot see the object and gauge distance,” said Alok Mukherjee, joint director and a scientist at the institute, about the camera’s utility.
In?contrast with regular cameras, SITPL devices offer a view that’s close to what the human eye sees. “Only three companies in the world provide this technology,” said Mukherjee. “We already got an order for 20 such robots from the Indian Army and will incorporate SITPL’s?camera in our next batch.”
SITPL’s technology also has uses in the media and ad industry, and is currently running a pilot project in Amritsar with Cinepolis multiplex, a Mexico-headquartered cinema chain.?“We?have made a system which analyses people watching a display and can tell you how many people watch this screen or how many of them are male, female, children or adults,” said Lakshmikumar.
In theory, the camera analyses the information and automatically displays advertising tailored to that demographic, a business that the company has branded stickyPiXEL.
“It’s real-time, proactive advertising and we make the core technology for that,” said Lakshmikumar. The firm has had some feelers from prospective investors. “There is an Indian company?and a European company which have shown interest,” he said, adding that the technology could be of interest to some of the country’s big firms, while overseas firms could use this route to enter the Indian market.
Globally, the firm faces stiff competition from well-entrenched firms, such as Elbit Systems Ltd and Point Grey Research, Inc. in defence, Honeywell International Inc., Mobotix AG and Cernium Corp. in security and Tru-media Llc, Quividi and CognoVision Solutions Inc. in media.