Date: 25 January 2018
EIT Digital Master School
Subject: Letter of Motivation
Steve Jobs said “‘Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” These lines have had a deep-rooted impact on my soul and mind and are at the very foundation of my belief system. I feel that the combination of technology and entrepreneurship is extremely beautiful and possesses the true ability to push the human race forward hence, my aim is to build technology companies that provide innovative and efficient solutions to real-world problems and make engineering deliver more to mankind. My zeal for entrepreneurship and childlike excitement for innovation pushed me to start my first company QB, a robust queue busting platform, during the third year of my Undergraduate Degree. I built and led a team of four and eventually, our startup was selected for the funding and incubation from the Government of Dubai. I became the youngest ever CEO of a startup to have received this prestigious incubation. QB was also recognized as one of the top 10 startups by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, beating more than 350 startups from the GCC region. For my work with QB, I was also awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year award by my alma mater, BITS Pilani Alumni Association (BITSAA International).
As a trained electrical and electronics engineer, my interests relate to research in advanced areas of EEE applications where other disciplines merge. Among the many things that I feel interested in, robotics is quite prominent. While the demand for autonomous systems and robotic devices is on the upswing, I see a number of challenges being faced by robotics startups like Invento, the maker of India’s very first Mitra range of robots. Most of these relate to hardware acquisition and supply chain and very clearly, the ecosystem that is need is building up much slower than we need it. I want to explore the possibility of setting up a lab that designs chips and electronics assemblies for robot-makers on demand. Even giants like Honda and Boston Dynamics demand high-tech component supplies as they are looking at launching their bestselling concept robots, as well as scaling up the production of the bestsellers like Asimo and the Big Dog. I also feel I can supply to the energy industry, which is perhaps the biggest playground today for AI and analytics.
I want to work in areas where I can combine AI with multiple other technologies to build Intelligent systems powerful enough to balance smart grids, manage demand, negotiate actions, enable self-healing and also enable hosting of new products and services. I believe that AI has the potential of not just helping in the energy transition, it will also make utility operations more efficient and effective by mastering rapid analysis of unstructured data, which is a whopping 80 percent of an organization’s total data typically. Also, I feel very attracted towards the Blockchain technology since it has the potential to redefine extremely important things like trust and security in technology.
My interest in commercial robotics was kindled while doing my undergrad projects on Wireless Transfer of Battery Power; Voice Controlled Ground Robot; MEMS Based Heart Sensor and a Robotic System to Aid differently-abled. Though I could not exactly work on IoT applications during my undergrad coursework because of obvious constraints of scale and budget, I did do a fair bit of work to the extent I possibly could, inspired by my interest in the position industry applications. My reading of various reports and papers convinced me that the world is ready for more advanced robots deploying narrow AI, but the costs had to be brought down.
The Problems I wish to Address
A 2015 report by the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) identified five challenges common to all categories of commercial robots we see in action today – ranging from Industrial, personal, and service robots to Medical robots to the more advanced Robotic vehicles, Space robots, and Humanoids.
Robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communication (M2M) – all these related fields suffer from similar challenges to widespread adoption including safety, security, privacy, and costs. But I do not intend to look exactly at the demand side when I say this. My intent to point out that these challenges are a result of the structural problems robotics faces in its supply chain around the world.
My belief is that the way connected things are built currently is all wrong. First, we start with a computer. It can be something cheap and simple like an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, or really high end – eight core Intel computer with dual video cards – and every specialized creation in between. I believe there are THREE fundamental challenges debilitating the robotics industry, and I would want to address all of them simultaneously.
The Challenge of Fragmentation
The first is Fragmented Platforms. Practically none of these existing “platforms” were built to easily connect to a variety of parts that make interacting with environments easy. Some are low energy but lack processing power. Some are powerful but are heavy, hot, energy hogs that require large batteries. Almost none are modular and none are standard. None are designed specifically for building devices that collect data from and interact with the environment.
The Challenge of Programming
The second major problem is Ease of Programming; which is so low in Robotics. A simple example of this is that even school children today can easily develop and design mobile applications thanks to the availability of so many plug and play tools; it’s extremely complicated to do this in Robotics. As a robot manufacturer, one requires a team of people that understand robot design, electronics, circuits and wiring – one also requires software developers who can build and deploy firmware effectively, people who are experts in computer vision, machine learning, deep learning, security and wireless networking. The software that people are trying to build to help with this is too decoupled from the hardware – for now. Despite open-source libraries like ROS, OpenCV, Eigen etc., there’s still lots of extra work required to get an actual robot working.
Challenges of Interoperability
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is interoperability. None of the products we see today are built to work with one another or talk to each other. We simply don’t have one unified platform that manages all our automation needs on its own – all alone. If we want to build a team of robots that have to work in a factory, for example, we need to think a little more hardware-centric. Smooth and quality connectivity between these machines is extremely important. They should be able to effectively communicate with each other with or without the internet. Another example is a team of robots for disaster struck area (both natural and man-made), the search and rescue bots. Latest reports suggest that the USA military is also strongly pushing defense companies that specialize in robotics for interoperability. The conclusion is that an inbuilt, robust system for communication between at least closed range robots should be worked upon.
The Startup Idea
For the past many months, I have been seriously thinking about starting with creating something that I call the RoboBrain. It will be work like a unified control system for the entire robot and all power, sensing, kinetic, communication functions can be operationalized through this one single hardware chip system – pretty much like a “motherboard” for a pc – as shown in the figure below. The idea is to develop “a Mother of all chips” that helps us overcome all the three problem or challenges I mentioned above. This is quite in contrast to what is available today – robot makers have to buy different chips for different sets of functionalities and there are huge calibration and synchronization issues. I have been successful in locating chip and ECB makers in China who can contract-manufacture for me in very small numbers at affordable costs.
In the next stage, I would think of making modular robots, that can be easily assembled by clients. Though I can count at least half a dozen manufacturers globally for this, they are all very expensive, primarily because almost all of them have been designed for full-function humanoid use including 25 degrees of freedom. My idea is to restrict the degrees of freedom and reduce the movable parts in my kit and make them just for very simple use cases like home cleaning, and I think I can make them in very low costs leveraging the very strong presence of fabricators and molders in India. My only investments are going to be in the development of molds, which I will give to a 3rd party injection molder companies to make my robot parts and components.
I strongly feel that the program by EIT is one of its kind and will help me learn, grow and excel as a technopreneur.