Whether using data and algorithms to power ride-sharing or technology to power the next driverless cars, some of the world’s most popular future mobility trends rely heavily on the use of AI. But if there is one area that is less mainstream than others, it’s most definitely the use of robotics in the mobility space.
Singapore-based start-up Botsync brings together robotics and mobility to offer infrastructure-independent mobile robotic solutions.
Speaking to Auto Futures, Co-founders Rahul Nambiar and Singaram Venkatachalam (also Chief Operating Officer) tell me more about the company, its products, the recent round of funding and what robotics can do in the mobility space.
“Botsync is a robotics company that specialises in building autonomous mobile robots for the logistics and manufacturing industry. At the same time, we run an academic division called Botsync Labs, that builds robot platforms for academic and research institutes. Our primary vision is twofold; foremost to enhance the adoption of automation solutions with our products that are designed to be implemented and deployed in minimal time and with minimal disruptions to the existing infrastructure. This would allow companies to adopt automation without having to stop their existing operations while allowing them to effectively increase their throughput.
“Secondly, being roboticists ourselves, we are extremely passionate about spreading and supporting robotics learning in Asia with our research-oriented products, which is the drive behind Bostync Labs,” says Nambiar.
“The founding team worked together for multiple years on various drone and ground robot-based projects in university before coming together to start Botsync. When we founded the company, it was a means for us to turn what we loved to do, into a business that would allow us to continue building amazing robotic products to solve real world problems for our customers.
“The business has evolved over the years and become more focused as we matured as a founding team, but the underlying passion for building robots still drives the energy of the company,” he continues.
We are quite humbled to have the support of such amazing investors who have placed faith in our work and ability to scale the company.
As our conversation moved forward, we got talking about Botsync’s products – its heavy-duty autonomous mobile robotics solution, as well as Volta and Copernicus. Volta is a sleek, compact mobile robot with the performance characteristics of an industrial mobile robot.
On the other hand, Copernicus is a rugged outdoor robot that can be used for multiple applications in harsh environments for use cases like surveillance and environment monitoring.
“Our focus for MAG products is primarily in the logistics and manufacturing industry. However with our Botsync Labs products, Volta and Copernicus, we see relevant use cases in multiple other sectors such as hospitality, security, environment conditions monitoring, etc.,” says Venkatachalam.
“MAG is a 500 kg mobile robot that is primarily designed to move pallets, but can also be customised to move racks, conveyor loads, etc. It can also be configured to move 1000 kg payloads if needed while maintaining the same design framework and footprint. Through MAG, what we are enabling companies is a means to automate their horizontal material movement processes with a safe and collaborative robotic system.
“The technology is designed in such a way that the robots can be deployed and commissioned with minimal changes to the existing infrastructure allowing users to use the product on the go. The usage of MAG, therefore, allows warehouse and factory operators to reduce the time spent by their workforce on low value adding tasks such as moving pallets, used items, etc and instead focus on the more critical functions such as picking and packaging.
“Volta and Copernicus are our educational products sold as part of Botsync Labs. Both are designed to be open source robot platforms that allow users to develop complex autonomous tasks without the difficulties of building a ground robot to do so. This would allow researchers to significantly cut short their development time,” adds Venkatachalam.
Scaling-up the Company
While Nambiar and Venkatachalam make it sound so effortless, being a company in this space is a lot of hard work. For starters, you have your everyday challenges of running a company – funding, scaling up and so on, but there are a specific set of challenges that come with working with an emerging technology like artificial intelligence.
“We faced multiple roadblocks along the way,” says Venkatachalam. “Lack of strong financial backing at the start slowed down a large portion of our work but it also forced us to be creative and work around our problems to move forward. Many of the technical challenges we faced in our initial customer trials were overwhelming especially since we did not have a lot of support resources to turn to.”
“But we had the fortune of some amazing advisors and partners who supported us in the early to continue growing and support us even to this day, for which we are extremely grateful,” he notes.
Earlier this year, Botsync raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding to expand its operations, and I asked Nambiar and Venkatachalam to tell me more.
Nambiar says: “We recently raised a seed investment round led by Wong Fong Industries and Enterprise Singapore’s Seeds Capital, and joined by Artesian Venture Partners and Angelhub. We are quite humbled to have the support of such amazing investors who have placed faith in our work and ability to scale the company.
“As part of the round, our primary objectives is the commercialisation of our MAG solution and the expansion of our Botsync Labs sales regionally. We are looking to complete 2 major pilots this year with MAG500, and will be in a position to actively commercialise in Singapore from the start of 2021.”
Finally, I was curious if at all the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on Botsync.
Nambiar explains: “Covid-19 has presented both challenges and opportunities for us. The situation has shone the headlights on robotics and the positive impact that it could have if used the right way. We hope that this will set the tone for many years and companies will embrace automation as a tool to augment their workforce.”
“On the other hand, our operations have been affected with many of the supply chain disruptions. But we are eased back into normal operation with the essential social distancing rules enforced and hope to be back on target for our Q3 and Q4 objectives soon,” Venkatachalam concludes.