We are on this mission to sort of intelligently automate certain workflows which are human centric. We always keep humans in the center and make sure that we increase human productivity. We are not trying to replace the human; we are trying to augment the human!
May 2022: So far we have been looking at automation as either replacing humans or there is no automation. But now we have to take the middle path where humans and automation coexist in a collaborative manner, says Anuj Kapuria, Founder and CEO, ‘The Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz Ltd’ in conversation with Niranjan Mudholkar, Editorial Director, Pro MFG Media.
Give us a little background about yourself.
From a very young age, I was interested in computer science and robotics. That’s why I sought out an engineering degree in robotics. Subsequently, I went to England and completed my engineering from there. Then I went to Carnegie Mellon, where I enrolled for a PhD in robotics. At that time, I was also part of the DARPA Grand Challenge, which is aimed at accelerating the development of autonomous vehicle technologies. Then I decided to come back and start this organization here in India. I believe robotics and AI are technologies that will have a profound effect on us as a society, on us as humans. So with this start-up, I am just trying to make a small dent through our organization here.
Is there a reason why you named the company as High Tech Robotics Systemz?
Actually, the name comes from our parentage. My father started High Tech Gears as a first generation entrepreneur. It’s a well-known gears and transmission maker in the country. In fact, it’s one of the largest. That’s where ‘High Tech’ comes in. Robotic Systemz is what I brought in. Although there is no other formal relationship between the two organizations, except for the fact that we are from the same family. But that’s the Genesis of the name.
Give me an overview about the robotics market in the country.
Robotics is a very decent market in India but it’s still trying to crawl. The industrial robotics market, which you would traditionally look at, is very small in India. The traditional robotics market has players like Kuka, ABB, Fanuc and others. Their solutions are basically robotic arms which are very rigid and they work on a program.
When we started out, we aimed at looking at industrial robotics differently. I personally come from the background of AI and autonomous navigation. So basically, with our robots, we are trying to perceive the world around us and then take some intelligent actions. It is not just doing a particular task that has been hard programmed into the robot and it just does that. We are essentially seeking integrated intelligence and autonomous mobility. The use cases that we target are very different from the use cases that the traditional industrial robotics is targeting.
From here on, I think the evolution of robotics is going to just explode. There are some reasons for it. Let’s start with the Amazon effect. I am sure, even though we may not understand it as the Amazon effect, we are all living it. Essentially, the Amazon effect is that we want instantly what we want. We are not good with any kind of substitute products. What Amazon has done really well is that they have made the process entirely transparent. So you know where your order is at any instant in time. Has it left a particular warehouse? How long will it take to get to you and so forth? Now this Amazon effect is having, of course, an impact on the warehousing and the logistics market. And it is also seeping down all the way to manufacturing. There is a trend called mass personalization that is happening. For example, there are a trillion combinations of any large selling model of a vehicle today in the automotive industry. It could be different seats, different engine configuration, different dashboards, different stereos, and so on. This is having a profound impact on the industry. That is the reason why AI and intelligent robotics is just going to proliferate and that is what we are seeing. Despite Covid-19, we have grown more than two X, and I think we are going to continue on that journey, probably more three X, four X over the next couple of years.
Don’t you think that the Pandemic has actually accelerated the adoption of robotics and automation in the manufacturing industry?
Yes, that’s right but the Amazon effect existed in the pre-Covid period. The Covid-19 pandemic kind of accelerated it because people were not able to travel out. They wanted their stuff delivered at their homes. Also the entire supply chain was disrupted. So you wanted some kind of resilience in the supply chain. Humans were not able to go into factories or warehouses during the lockdowns. So at that point, from a good to have proposition, automation became a must have solution. Today, to run your business, you need automation. That is a massive change. And that is triggered by Covid. Once you make that transition, I don’t think you can go back. It’s not like you want to go back to pre-Covid days. Even if you settle anywhere, it’s going to be a post Covid or a Covid normal world. It’s never going to be a pre-Covid world ever again.
Can your robots be called collaborative robots?
So far we have been looking at automation as either replacing humans or there is no automation. But now we have to take the middle path where humans and automation coexist in a collaborative manner. I think that is the only way to be. Hence all of our robots are collaborative in nature; they work alongside humans. Humans are good at certain things, and humans are very bad at certain things. If you give me 10 million calculations to do a second, I can’t do it. No human can do it. If you give me a nonlinear optimization problem to do every second, I can’t do it. What about pattern recognition? I can have my own biases in it. But humans are great at certain things. They can be very adaptable. You give them a new situation, they will figure out a solution creatively to it. But they are very bad at these tasks, which computers and robots are very good at. Besides the dull, dirty, dangerous, difficult, and repetitive jobs, there’s another category where robots and computers can really do well. And they were limited by this non-intelligent, hardwired programming that we were doing so far. This is what we have sort of broken away from. Now, there’s no explicit programming needed. The system learns on the go, and it’s able to perform well. And that’s really unleashing this new wave of productivity. But again, it is all to augment human productivity. I will give you another stat. Indonesia, China, and Korea all of them have two X to four X more productivity than India. They are, of course, much more automated. India has less productivity. This is the only reason. Now, either we can go the traditional way and just replace humans with automation mindlessly. Or we can go this collaborative route where we have a collaborative way of unleashing human capabilities or augmenting human capabilities. We feel that this is the way to go.
From early ages, humans have always created tools to become more productive. Robotics and artificial intelligence too are tools. There’s no need to be worried about it. Of course, you need to use it carefully like any other tool. When you make an arrow tip, you can use it to carve something or you can use it to kill someone. It is all dependent on humans. This is the profound path and mission that we are on. We are on this mission to sort of intelligently automate certain workflows which are human centric. We always keep humans in the center and make sure that we increase human productivity. We are not trying to replace the human; we are trying to augment the human!
Where is your manufacturing facility? What kind of presence do you have currently?
We are located in Gurgaon and we have other facilities spread across India. We are in Bangalore, Chennai and Pune. So we are able to cater to the entire length and breadth of the country. We have expanded globally as well through a dealer distributor network. We recently started a US based operation through a partner, which we will expand quite a bit. Our main R&D center is in Gurgaon and that's where we have our assembly facility.
What kind of outlook do you have for the next two years?
We will continue to grow over more than 100% over the next few years. In fact, we are seeing about three X growth happening next year, and probably that is going to be a sustained growth. That will last us for the next three years or four years. This growth has happened across industries, automotive, pharma, FMCG and warehousing.
There is a perception that automation and robotics would take away human jobs. What do you have to say about it?
This narrative has been there for quite some time now. But I think that era is of the past. The intelligent robotics era as well as the intelligent AI era is now upon us. It is absolutely clear to the new tech providers that humans have to be kept in the center. These are tools to improve their productivity and efficiency. Having said that, will jobs transform? For sure! With any technology change, jobs will transform. When the horse carriages went out of business because cars came in, people said that the horse carriage drivers would lose their jobs. Actually, the jobs just got transformed. There was reskilling needed. But the jobs didn’t go away. Unlearning, re-learning and taking risks are all part of evolution.
We are also discussing with the government to ensure that we are doing our bit in this regard. So, we ourselves have a mission in which we intend to up-skill people to be able to use this new technology. We are also tying up with certain educational institutions to be able to effect that change.