Rajeev Karwal never imagined it would take a lockdown to find buyers for a robotic back massager that had flopped at its launch six years ago. The founder of Milagrow HumanTech, a consumer robotics company, says there’s been a 3,000% increase in demand for floor cleaning robots since April.
Mobility restrictions, safety concerns and lack of house help have created a huge demand for tech fixes at home, and startups have found ways to address concerns people have about sanitization and maintaining physical distancing.
“Earlier, it used to be bought by working couples and young people, but now, a quarter of end users are senior citizens. More than 70% of this demand is from homes. Earlier, commercial clients were the ones who bought cleaning robots," says Gurugram-based Karwal, who has only been able to fulfil 15% of the demand due to supply-chain constraints caused by the lockdown.
The renewed interest in robotic back massagers has come from people facing chronic back pain and unable to visit physiotherapists, and professionals working from home for long hours from chairs not designed for such work.
To retain customers for the massager this time, Karwal is using a crowdfunding model to bring down the price by more than half. The massager earlier retailed at ₹11,990. “We opened it for two weeks and sold over 1,000 units for ₹2,990. Once the customer pays for the product, we take a week to a fortnight to assemble and deliver the product. Although the margins are low, it’s a win-win situation for us," says Karwal.
Since people spend a lot of time sanitizing items, Bengaluru-based Log 9 Materials, a nanotechnology company commercializing graphene use, developed a CoronaOven that uses ultraviolet-C, a type of ultraviolet radiation, to disinfect smaller items placed in it. “Many people have bought it for their aged parents, and people use it to disinfect vegetables and groceries. It takes just four minutes to disinfect any item. Housing societies are also showing interest in buying it," says co-founder Akshay Singhal. The company built the product within a few weeks of the lockdown and opened it for sale from April. It has sold 3,000 units till now.
Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport, police stations and hospitals are also using CoronaOven, and the startup has got an order for a 40-litre CoronaOven from the Élysée Palace, the official residence of French President Emmanuel Macron. “That was a pleasant surprise. We double-checked with our channel partner in France to ensure the order was genuine," says Singhal.
The pandemic had Piyush Sahni, co-founder of Green Grapes Devices, whose core business is providing LED display and 3D hologram posters for advertising, worrying about handling currency notes. He and his team created UV sterilization boxes for currency, mobile phones, watches, rings and masks. “In the last two weeks, we have sold 2,200 pieces. It has a USB cable and can be kept even in a car," he says.
Going into crowded public places is another worry that people have. To address this, parking space discovery app Park+ has partnered with Aarogya Setu to let a user know how many people are in a particular building, mall or market at a time. “When someone goes shopping, they want to know how many people are in the vicinity. The app can tell you how many people are in a store," says founder Amit Lakhotia. The app shares details of the user’s temperature with guards, and ensures contactless parking. By scanning a QR code at a pay-and-park area, the user gets a bill and pays through the app, which is being piloted in two offices in Gurugram, six malls across India, and a west Delhi market.