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Transforming educational facilities for robotics and automation

Amol Gulhane, Co-Founder of Robolab Technologies Pvt Ltd, speaks about his Hot 100 2017 award winning startup that provides technical and executional support to institutions wanting to include robotics in their curriculum. By Satyaki Sarkar

Taking inspiration from the robotics activities, courses and centre of excellence in their college, Amol Gulhane and Pratik Deshmukh decided they’d build a better platform for robotics and automation that would provide students (future engineers and innovators) precise training and know-how needed to succeed in the domain. The two met during their initial days at College of Engineering, Pune (COEP) and bonded well when they were selected for the Robot Study Circle, a student managed club for technical activities. Over the next few years, they developed a variety of application-specific robots viz Fire Extinguisher Robot, a robot for the Pune Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad, a cost-effective electronic voting machine system that’s still in use in their college and represented COEP in countless competitions

The thought behind it
“In our final year, during placements, we secured lucrative jobs in reputed companies,” says Amol Gulhane. “Pratik and I started discussing our scope of work and realised that if we took up these jobs, all our knowledge and expertise gained from the course would be replaced and shelved away for a very restricted work role. We wouldn’t be able to continue our passion for robotics either. Then around March 2013, we came across a research article on the number of institutions with quality and state-of-the-art laboratories, their condition, and the number of students that got access to good robotics facilities in India. That number was ridiculously low, which was the deciding factor for us. We realised very few colleges are investing time and resources in exploring this wonderful aspect of engineering and developing this particular platform as an asset. Institutions want quick and efficient solutions and expect quality output from the investment. With this in mind, Robolab was incorporated on September 13, 2013.”

“The then director of COEP Prof Anil Sahasrabudhe supported us tremendously and connected us to Sanjay Inamdar and Narendra Kale co-founders of the BHAU Institute of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Leadership, the startup incubation cell of COEP. Their guidance and support have been very helpful.”

What they do
“We provide a highly advanced and state-of-the-art centre of excellence in robotics and automation for institutions and universities in India. The technology existed, but there were no aggregate providers that could supply them to these colleges, or provide the training necessary for the development of the students’ skills. Robolab provides all the hardware and operational support that an institution needs, along with long-term support in the form of exhaustive training, lasting at least two weeks. Whenever we develop a lab we provide as many as six training courses (throughout the year) at the end of which we guarantee that no matter what branch or field the student is from, he/she would be able to implement their ideas on their own.

“In the last three-and-a-half years we have had tied up with more than 15 institutions spread across eight states. We follow a customised approach for each customer. We recently had a client who wanted robotics as a compulsory subject in their curriculum. So we designed the entire curriculum, including practical experiments, and provided all the instruments and tools needed. Our robotics labs have several separate sections, including Electronics, Mechanical, Pneumatics, Vacuum, 3D Printing, Miniature Industrial Production Systems, Industrial Robots, and Internet of Things, etc.

“The entire lab installation is a one-time service that has a single payment, but our revenue model is repetitive, due to the services and support we provide. After setting up the labs, the institutes are free to obtain the materials and support from others or continue to avail our services, which are chargeable based on the package they choose. We started out with a two-person team in 2013, which has increased to 18 with a strong network of distributors spread across India. So far we’ve associated with 15 institutes and this year our target is to increase that tenfold.”

 Future plans
“The future will see Robolab diversifying to different market segments, bringing innovations and products from institutions to the market. The increasing presence of automation around the globe is a good sign. We recently also added IoT to our repertoire and are planning to democratise this knowledge. We’re looking to partner with professors and institutes to reach even more students and future robotics professionals (roboticists). Over the next three to five years we would like to completely transform the Indian education sector when it comes to robotics and automation.” 

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