Excerpts from an interview with Nikhil Ramaswamy, Co-Founder & CEO – CynLr, a Bengaluru-based deep tech startup that has fundamentally reinvented a dynamic robot-enabled vision to make possible the ‘global factories’ of the future.
What is the innovation of CynLr in contributing to the visual object intelligence of industrial robots?
Today, most industrial robots perform “dumb” tasks such as tracking along a predetermined set of coordinates. Any task that requires a robotic arm to be versatile needs human intervention.
We at CynLr want to turn these mindless machines into conscious robots. To this end, we are building a visually intelligent robotic system capable of understanding, selecting, and manipulating (orienting, positioning, and moving) any physical object placed in a cluttered environment or presented with random arrangements and orientations. While this sounds simple (a human child can do it intuitively), this problem has puzzled the robotics world for over 40 years now and is often described as the holy grail of robotics.
CynLr is currently engaged in research collaborations with beacon manufacturing and giants from the automotive and machine tool industries, to build the next generation of autonomous and intelligent robots. We envision this visual object technology to change the way factories work.
What do you think of the landscape of cutting-edge industrial robots in India over the years?
India is at an emerging stage when it comes to factory automation using industrial robots.
However, with recent global dynamics in manufacturing shifting to the disadvantage of China and with many such opportunities slated to shift to India (including the likes of Apple ramping up its iPhone manufacturing in India), we are bound to see accelerating adoption of robotics. Thus there are clear winds towards making India the industrial center of the world.
The real transformation of India as a manufacturing powerhouse will only happen when the problem of perception surrounding robotics is resolved. Currently, bots are a tool to reduce and reduce costs. Rather, they are tools to create value and increase people (not just replace them) by enabling them to be more productive. A simple case is the point of using a screwdriver. A person with an electric screwdriver can produce 10 times more output than a person with a regular screwdriver.
This wisdom is lacking in the manufacturing ecosystem, but it is changing rapidly with a few people and companies leading the market from this perspective.
What are some of the challenges/obstacles you are currently facing?
Unlike most deep tech startups, we are unique in that we have customers’ ears. Every customer we’ve interacted with, within the first few minutes, understands what we’re building, and they’re eager to get into the PoC conversations. So, for us, customer acquisition is not a challenge at all.
However, on the technical and organizational front, we are facing some barriers that are hindering our ability to serve those customers who are queuing up to work with us!
For starters, on the investments front, we are forced to live with what the venture capital world calls discount India. Investors value us as much as they value an Indian company that caters to the Indian public. They assume that our input costs are relatively lower compared to our global counterparts. But they’re missing the nuances we still need to import from over 400 suppliers in over 20 countries. Therefore, we need almost as much capital as a company based in the US or Europe.
This problem is exacerbated by the lack of overlap between the investment ecosystem and the manufacturing world. Most venture capitalists, associates, analysts, and others come from a software or business background and therefore have a superficial understanding of the challenges posed by the manufacturing industry.
On the other hand, on the team front, we are facing talent challenges. Our visionary set is built on a deep understanding of many basic sciences such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience, physics, and more. Thus, we need people who are fundamentally strong, understand the nuances of what we are trying to build, and have the patience to solve the problem for years. In our experience, such people are hard to find! Therefore, our selection rate is still very low (this year, we had over 6,000 people applying to us in just 10 roles).
However, on both fronts, when we get pilots running (as we speak, we have ongoing pilots with customers all over the US, Germany, and India) and we get global customer validation, we’ll see people change their minds and agree that the holy grail of robotics can actually be solved!
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