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Funding for Real Innovation in India! UNAVAILABLE

If you look carefully at the blue fish in the water below, you can discern INDIA written faintly on the body. Well it is not a fish but India’s first indigenous designed Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). I have a story about it for you.

I first met Ammar in Delhi after he reached me through the India Brand Equity Foundation. I travelled to the Delhi College of Engineering campus and met the larger team of 8 students.  You should have been there with me to see the kick ass energy this team has. They have gone ahead and built a 4th generation AUV that has been the only Indian participant at the prestigious annual competition hosted by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centre, San Diego.

They have not won yet. They lost to the Israelis and the Americans. One reason – the US team has the support of an entire fab for the circuitry right inside the university. The DCE team was building it themselves on a circuit board using a solder.

The kind of applications for such a thing is amazing. It can travel 2km on its own. Can identify objects. Follow a path intelligently. And all onboard, right from the power to the brain. Applications range from security to fish patterns. In any other country, they would have received funding, or would have been kidnapped by the armed forces months ago. In our case, this team is struggling to raise a fund of just Rs. 20 lakhs to buy equipment.

They footed my bill at the College Canteen! So I got them over to meet a couple of international angel investors who were speechless after the meeting about how they were able to see something like this without an NDA. It would be very difficult for the team to raise professional funding as the IP is university controlled. The Dean of Research, Dr. R.K. Sinha is wonderful and has got the Institute to be more outward looking but for those benefits to reach innovators within will still take years after the IITs first get their act in place!

So what happens in the meanwhile? Ammar and his eight muskeeteers will graduate in a year and get picked up by some software company. VCs will continue funding social community startups. Angels will never get to know.

I wonder how we could change it. We have adopted the AUV DCE team as our mascot. I am speaking to every friend, every one I know to get these guys 20 lakhs over one year. If any of you can help, and it is not only money that they need but equipment in kind and mentors, please get in touch with Ammar and the team at auv@dce.edu/9873999040 or me at sanjukt.saha@onebillionminds.com.

At One Billion Minds, we are trying to see if team like this need not go a begging.

  • http:///roboticsindia.com FreeLoader

    A whole lot of Robotics Is happening in India, though most follow no sharing model and living under a rock situation –

    Somehow IURS did do AUV’s long time back , so how are these guys the first ???.

    As for other stuff mentioned in the comments like UAV@ideaforge , there is nothing great about it . Ive seen students on RoboticsIndia do same kind of robots for a fraction of a cost.why these guys get the news is cause of IIT/DCE (its the mindset of Indians i think). Also DRDO has huge range of UAV’s … why they collaborated … maybe media attention :) .

    And as for Fab for circuitry, India is cheapest place to get it done , for very little money people are willing to not only do a Fr4 PCB but also mount it for you !!! these guys should have visited Lajpat Rai.

    The only problem in India is of high end sensors and chips, But most US Shops deliver to India in under 5 days. And with such huge budgets as these guys i dont think it would be a problem.

    Anyhow Such People should start collaborating more on relevant forums.

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  • http://auv.dce.edu Ammar

    @ VelaSwami: Thank you sir. It means a lot to us.

  • VelaSwami

    Guys, great work! I don’t know if my efforts will result into anything – I just wanted to let you know that I believe in you guys and I am going to try and raise funds.

    Wishes.

  • http://www.vocabbuilder.net Vineet Dwivedi

    I am always skeptical about claims of â…“ or 1/5 of the cost when all you have is only a PoC (I am sorry, but thats what I will call it at this stage). The story of Simputer is well known. Now real laptops from HP, Acer etc are available at around 15k.
    What is the innovation here?
    It can go to a larger distance because of better radio design…it can can go deeper because of better design and sealing..it is much more intelligent in identifying the path

    If answer to any of the above questions is in yes, the first thing we should do is protect the IP by patent. Otherwise, copying something and saying we can make it cheaper sounds chinese to me.

  • http://auv.dce.edu Ammar Jilani

    Thank you Sanjukt for the wonderful article!
    On behalf of DCE AUV – oue website is

    auv.dce.edu

    It is nice to read the mails people have sent us and the comments made here. The AUV as rightly mentioned in by someone is an exotic technology today but its applications are myriad and some of them are very critical. The only reason why AUVs are not used extensively is lack of a good wireless underwater communications system.

    Some technical aspects which make AUV an inevitable tech for the future are:
    1) Autonomous- Dont require human control/monitoring
    2) Operate underwater- No other form of surveillance except active sonars which are giveaways of one’s presence.
    3) Intelligent- can be programmed for surveillance, ship hull maintenance, monitoring pirate movements, can deliver small payloads etc. The applications are numerous.

    It is true that there are international sellers of AUVs but our technology can surely compete with them as proven by the AUVSI results which placed us above MIT and US Naval Academy among others (2008). All that while our budget was about 1/5 of the others.

    I hope that we can take this endeavour to the levels we have visioned for it, for which we require support.

  • http://www.oniodesign.com Prakash

    I totally agree with Krish as I am aware of the way such products are evaluated and assessed on the tough functional specs.
    However a similar story about students from IIT Mumbai, but that has only beginning in common. The graduates did not join any ‘established’ software name, but cherished their dream project into a startup.

    Now a similar product (Unmanned Arial Vehicle)from this start-up is about to be inducted into defense and homeland security application.
    Pls. check their website http://www.ideaforge.com

  • rv

    First of all I would lose that negative tone of fate against them because of Indians. Get real, Please!
    What exactly do you conceive to be the applications for this thing? Do they have a technical overview that they could publish somewhere without having to sign an NDA?

    Sure 20 Lakhs is not big but for a project like this, but trying to get that on the basis that it is the first project of that kind made in India, with very little help from anyone is not the way to pitch a business. I hope you know this stuff already. The link on the one pager leads to a stub website, pls. check.

  • http://nileshtrivedi.in Nilesh Trivedi

    Or try the Technopreneur promotion programme under Department of Science and Technology (DST). Somewhat bureaucratic but they are genuinely interested in funding such innovations.

    http://www.dsir.gov.in/tpdup/tepp/tepp_tpb.htm

  • http://www.kmonyb.wordpress.com Krish

    Have the DCE team run some early checks on what they are going after? Were they aiming at some real innovation or have they unwittingly settled for what I call “spray paint innovation” on competition? That’s what I think is hurting them here.

    I find that even though hundreds of different Automated Unmanned Vehicles (AUV) have been designed over the past 50 years, only a few companies sell vehicles in any significant numbers. There are about 10 companies that sell AUVs on the international market, including Kongsberg Maritime, Hydroid, Bluefin Robotics, International Submarine Engineering Ltd. and Hafmynd.

    First off, to achieve the ranges and endurances required to optimize the efficiencies of operating AUV, a multi utility, larger diameter vehicle (over 10 meters) is preferred by Defense establishments. The market is evolving and designs are now following commercial requirements rather than being purely developmental. The next stage is likely to be a hybrid AUV/ROV that is capable of surveys and light intervention tasks. This requires more control and the ability to hover. Again, the market will be driven by financial requirements and the aim to save money and expensive ship time. Also, ultra-low-power, long-range variants such as underwater gliders are becoming capable of operating unattended for weeks or months in littoral and open ocean areas, periodically relaying data by satellite to shore, before returning to be picked up. Potential investors would certainly scratch the surface to see how this product is stacking up in that context. Perhaps some did and came away unexcited. No way to know.

    Startup founders should focus on reducing complexities even if they don’t add up features – if they have to be serious contenders. Passion for tech is one thing, enterprise building is yet another. Let commercial acumen rule over their instincts no matter how exotic the technology may seem.

  • Santhosh

    Sanjukt
    do not be skeptical from the beginning (regarding UNAVAILABLE in subject line.) See a doctor if required. Best wishes!!

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  • venkat

    Try contacting folks at http://www.i2indiaventures.com
    I heard they are interested in investing in commercializing innovations like these from colleges, R&D labs etc.

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  • Deepu

    I am not sure how strong DCE alumni community is. But that will be a good place to start spreading the word.

  • Avtar Singh

    True and disappointing to read. Such things keep repeating. I don’t think that the supposed ecosystem has the stomach for even such a small risk capital.

  • http://mixdev.posterous.com mixdev

    It is such a nice thing to see. I can guess the passion they have and can see the strong feelings YOU have. I wish them all luck.

    What you said about the kids going to software companies is the ultimate truth. And yeah it is not good. But what makes them do so? Even with education, people look for establish ways to prestige — and for us, the easiest is to become a software engineer for an MNC. When these guys were kids, these standards were set by their parents. Again reinforced by parents of their prospective spouses (I personally know some great guys who’ve joined Infosys/Microsoft because they were planning to get married). Anything unconventional gets defended here: we have such a big insecurity feeling. The economic boom didn’t really help us recover from that. Ultimately, in this complex world, the only benchmark of success is how much money one can manage to possess.