Learning robotics right from school
Schools are increasingly encouraging students to learn robotics as part of the curriculum or even as an extra curricular activity. Start-ups are beginning to perceive this trend as a business opportunity despite private equity and venture capital investors shying away from this space. According to 6wresearch, a market researcher, the total global market size for robotics in education is under $500 million. Mint has profiled four start-ups that have taken an early leap in the robotics-education industry
Kits that help in stem education
COMPANY: Robotech Labs Pvt. Ltd
ENTREPRENEUR: Vaibhav Agrawal (26)
LOCATION: Noida, Delhi-National Capital Region
Agrawal showed a keen interest in robotics, right from his college days. After working on a few projects on robotics in South Korea, he launched his own company Robotech Labs, with an initial investment of Rs.10 lakh.
The company provides students of Classes IV-XII with robotics kits that help them in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.
“The kits for senior classes are such that they help students develop sensors, create robotic arms and other kinds of robots. This includes creating the hardware and the software,” said Agrawal over the phone.
However, for the junior classes, the software is in place and the focus is on building very basic robots and learning basic science concepts. The kits are priced at Rs.3,000 per student.
The company has also trained over 20,000 students through its workshops that it organizes at the Indian Institutes of Technology campuses and other engineering colleges.
“We are looking at raising Rs.1 crore to fund our expansion plans, as we want to reach out to more schools,” said Agrawal.
Incidentally, Robotech Labs has a partnership with Intel Corp. for the latter’s certified development boards, called Intel Galileo, that are designed for manufacturers and users of education communities. While Intel developed the hardware for these boards, it uses its partnership with Robotech Labs for software and the training services in a few regions in India.
Agrawal is planning to diversify into manufacturing of light-emitting diode (LED) lights. According to him, LED lights produced by leading brands are extremely expensive and the Chinese ones are poor in quality.
COMPANY: Jay Robotix Pvt. Ltd
ENTREPRENEURS: N. Mohan Krishna (29), Sudhir Reddy (29) and Sundeep Reddy Rajula (29)
While doing his Master’s in the US, it struck Sudhir Reddy that robotics could enhance the learning process in children.
“The robotic kits available by LEGO are priced between $450 and $600. This I thought was too expensive for kids back in India. This is when I decided to come back and launch the company,” said Reddy over the phone.
The three founders started the company with an initial investment of Rs.35 lakh, but first got into manufacturing technology products for the defence sector. They launched the first robotics kit, Robox, for students of Classes VI-X in 2010.
Robox is a combination of hardware and software—the software development is carried out by students in higher Classes and is transferred to the robot using a USB device. Over the years, the firm has upgraded the technology in this kit and is releasing the latest version of the Robox by the end of this month. The firm designs, manufactures and retails its kits, and also organizes training modules for engineering students. “We have tied up with over 45 schools that use our kits and we have trained over 15,000 engineering students through various workshops,” added Reddy. Students learn basic concepts of mechanical engineering using Robox. The company is looking to charge schools Rs.10,000-15,000 for a kit per year. As part of its growth strategy, the company plans to raise funds.
COMPANY: Robotix Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd
ENTREPRENEUR: Aditi Prasad (28) and Deepti Rao Suchindran (32)
To realize this dream, his daughters decided to launch Robotix Learning with the aim of robotics being a part of school curriculum.
“We have access to the syllabus for all standards across various boards. We develop the content of the curriculum in a way that it maps the syllabus and also teaches new concepts,” Ramanaprasad said over the phone. The company has a set of trainers to teach students of Classes IV-XI across seven schools in Chennai. In addition, it organizes post-school workshops and camps.
When a school chooses to include robotics in the syllabus, Robotix Learning provides the necessary kits, trainers and support services. The kits are a combination of hardware and software. “While the hardware products involve making robots, the software services enable students to create application that can operate robots,” said Ramanaprasad. The working of levers, pulleys, hardware and software design is what the students ultimately learn. The company encourages the use of free to use, drag and drop robotics programming software as part of the syllabus so that students can practice and learn concepts at home as well.
Robotix Learning organizes two major challenges each year—one is a racing car challenge and the other is the destination zero-carbon challenge, a contest held in partnership with a Singapore firm, wherein finalists are sent to Singapore to showcase their products and take part in an international contest.
COMPANY: Edurobo Pvt. Ltd
ENTREPRENEUR: Sreekar Reddy (35)
After spending considerable time working in the IT industry, Reddy realized that the next shift in technology would be through robotics.
“Since robotics is still not at an advanced stage across the globe and is going through rapid changes, robotics in the space of education in India was a good area,” said Reddy over the phone. He started the company with an initial investment of Rs.75 lakh.
EduRobo provides robotics learning to students from Classes II-XII. It also has training programmes for engineering students.
“Junior grade students are taught basic fundamentals of physics and robotics, senior grade students are introduced to advanced programming. They are made to work with industrial prototypes,” said Reddy. The company provides these programmes as one-month or three-month ones after school hours in 13 schools. The schools are charged between Rs.2,500 and Rs.5,000 per student depending on the programme.
“We are looking to expand to more schools across the country. There is a lot of interest in introducing robotics as part of the curriculum,” he added.
EduRobo is also the knowledge partner for robotics for the Engineering Staff College of India, a Hyderabad-based institute that provides consultancy services to government agencies and industry.
Manufacturers in countries like China and Taiwan have created economies of scale in robotic products and parts, hence Indian companies are hoping to do the same. There is a strong possibility of growth, but start-ups need to grow beyond a trading mindset. Application of robotics and augmented reality in creating product kits is so far mostly a hardware sourcing and distribution play, with scale of individual companies not enough to attract VC (venture capital)/PE (private equity) interest. If the play continues to be hardware sourcing and distribution, the big thing start-ups have to worry about is lack of differentiation. Those start-ups that go beyond hardware and build intelligent learning platforms that use technology will succeed.”
—Ravi Kiran, CO-FOUNDER, VENTURENURSERY, A MUMBAI BASED START-UP ACCELERATOR
“Robotics has always been part of curriculum in school education, but has seen growing interest recently as industry has started adopting to new development in this space which has increased the interest at school education level. The market is quite small and adoption of home-grown robotics and augmented reality was negligible hence VC or PE couldn’t find any scalable opportunity, but the recent development and low-cost innovative products in this space has generated interest in home-grown companies, which in turn made VCs to look at this sector. However with the Make-in-India drive, the automation sector will offer great opportunity and may make it over (a) billion-dollar industry in (a) couple of years.”
He, however, pointed out that robotics is capital-intensive and needs lot of R&D (research and development) to make a product relevant to the growing and changing needs of the industry, hence “start-ups will definitely need decent funding to be relevant in industry and for growth. Also talent plays a great role, and attracting and retaining good talent will be always a challenge”.
—Anil Joshi, VENTURE PARTNER, UNICORN VENTURES