According to the World Robotics Report-2020, India features among the top 10 countries with the most annual installations of robots in industries. The global robotics technology market size was valued at $62.75 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $189.36 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13.5% from 2020 to 2027. As automation increases across industries, the number of such machines in India too continues to grow. The number of industrial robots has doubled in the last five years, although the country still lags behind others like China, Japan, US, Germany, France, Italy among others.

To understand the Global Robotics Trends and Implications for India’s Digital Future, GTX recently held a panel discussion with eminent personalities from the industry and academia. One of the key points that all the panelists agreed to was that the pandemic has accelerated the growth of the domain with increased adoption. Industrial robot manufacturers including Asimov Robots Pvt Ltd, Milagrow HumanTech, Invento Robotics, and Persapien Innovations came up with unique robotics solutions for applications such as disinfection and sanitization, patient screening, remote treatment, and delivery of food and medicines. Furthermore, the unavailability of human workers owing to the lockdown encouraged players in the automotive and logistics sectors to implement robotics in their daily operations.

How are Indian industries using robotics?

Indian industries are rapidly moving towards automation for increasing production volume, accuracy, and safety. In terms of annual installation, the industrial robotics market in India stood at 5,000 units in 2019 and is estimated to reach 11,760 units by 2025, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.41% during the 2020-2025 period. 

The automotive, healthcare, pharmaceutical, plastic, metal, electrical, and electronics sectors are the major end-users of industrial robotics in India. The automotive industry has been the leading end-user of industrial robots, accounting for ~48% of annual installations in 2019. Automotive manufacturers have been keen to adopt automation solutions in their production plants to improve productivity. The strong presence of various international and domestic automotive manufacturers has fueled the demand for industrial robotics in the country. Various automotive manufacturers like Tata Motors Ltd., Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd., and Maruti Suzuki Ltd. have strengthened on indigenous production of robots.

The demand for industrial robotics from general manufacturing industries including plastic, metal, electrical, electronics, food, and pharmaceutical is also picking up. The healthcare industry has also emerged as one of the prominent users of robotics, especially in the areas of hospital applications, surgery, diagnostics, and rehabilitation.

Automating supply chain with robotics 

One of our esteemed panelists, Pranav Saxena, VP Product & Engineering at Flipkart - Head of COE Robotics & Automation, shared how Flipkart is streamlining its supply chain for faster deliveries and serving its quality conscious customers at scale through the use of robotics. 

Saving lives through automation

Dr. Shrutin Ulman, Director Clinical Affairs at Philips, and one of our esteemed panelists shared how Philips and the Indian healthcare industry, in general, is using automation and robotics to serve patients. Though the healthcare industry in India is a late adopter of technology due to governmental regulations, the pandemic saw the democratization of technology to a certain extent when common people were using apps for vaccination bookings and downloading vaccination certificates. 

In India, robotics is gaining momentum in areas where automation is required like disinfection and sanitization, patient screening, discharge of nuclear medicines, and rehabilitation. Robots are also being used as medical simulators to train new surgeons. There has been considerable development in areas of the human-bots interface. As surgeons age, they gain a lot of experience but their physical ability goes down. So for high-precision surgeries, robots are being used where the surgeon is near the patient but the surgery is done by the robot. Experiments are also being done to develop robots that can function when the surgeon is geographically away. These robots are however not fully automated and need human intervention.

When it comes to the usage of robotics in clinical development and decision-making, the government is extra cautious as to how the AI models are developed and has stringent regulations in place (and rightfully so) so as to not benefit a particular section of society. Finding the right use cases and making them sustainable both for the business and the planet are the key challenges of the industry.

Adding precision to efficiency 

One of our distinguished panelists, Sanjay Gupta, Vice President Engineering at NXP describes how robotics and AI are playing a pivotal role in the Indian semiconductor industry. The efficiency of semiconductor manufacturing depends on runtime, a single hour of downtime can cause a huge loss as well as supply chain break up, so the plant has to run 24/7. To add to this, the precision required is of the highest order. So they have to rely on something that does not get tired while working, has the judgment ability even after 24/7 working and accuracy. By far, semiconductor manufacturing is one of the most automated industries where high precision, high-resolution cameras using computer vision technology, connected machines, and efficient automation is a necessity.

With the government’s push for Make in India and its ambition to emerge as a semiconductor hub, the availability of highly skilled labor on how to design, manufacture, install and use these miniaturized robots will be success criteria for the industry.

Automation across the board

One of our eminent panelists, Pankaj Sharma, Head of Technology| Head Makers Lab | SME Cloud, Blockchain, IoT, AR/VR, Enterprise Applications, Drones & Robotics at Tech Mahindra, describes how robotics and AI are finding usage across the spectrum in the Indian automotive industry. Being one of the pioneers in using automation to its advantage, the automobile industry has now grown by leaps and bounds in its usage scenarios of automation. Earlier automation was primarily used in the welding side but today processes like painting, welding, assembling, alignment checking, part replacement and even manipulating cameras to take images of vision AI to figure out testing and quality control are all automated. There are companies that are developing robots that can have envelopes for different degrees of freedom and will do precision-based tasks.

Robotics in the public space

While India has made considerable progress in deploying robots in the private sector, it is also taking baby steps in automation for the public sector:

  • Thiruvananthapuram-based startup Genrobotics joined hands with the Kerala government to deploy a spider-shaped robot named “Bandicoot” to clean sewers and manholes in the city. 
  • Robocop – It is a police robot to assist in handling the law, order, and traffic management deployed in Hyderabad. It is designed to protect and secure places like offices, malls, airports, signal posts, and other public spaces and can take care of security if deployed autonomously. It can diffuse bombs too. 
  • KEMPA- It is a special robot assistant built to suit the needs of the Kempegowda International Airport, which will answer queries of confused passengers in English as well as Kannada.
  • INDRO- This is reportedly the tallest humanoid robot built in India. It is an autonomous robot that was made inside a house with easily available low-cost materials like aluminum, wood, cardboard, plastic, etc. It can be used for lightweight tasks like entertainment, education, and a few household works.
  • Manav, India’s first 3D-printed humanoid robot, has an inbuilt vision and sound processing capability and is primarily meant for research purposes and is made available to research institutes that offer robotics as a subject of study.
  • DRDO’s Daksh- This made-in-India robot is primarily designed to detect and recover Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). It was inducted by the Indian Army around 2011. Reportedly, 20 Daksh robots are already being used by the Indian Army. Using its X-ray vision, Daksh can identify a hazardous object and can diffuse it with a jet of water. It got an upgrade in 2015 and has been equipped with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazard detection mechanisms. 

Innovation & Investments

One of the most successful Indian robotics startups, Grey Orange has raised funding a couple of times in its nine years of existence. The most recent was in September 2018, when it raised US$140 million in Series C funding at a reported valuation of US$400 to US$500 million. The company uses its deep domain expertise with world-class hardware and software engineering to optimize logistic and supply chain processes across the world with its products. Their solutions include Butler, an AI-enabled autonomous robot that speeds up the supply chain process from inventory storage, replenishment to order picking; Sorter, a conveyor belt-based system that segregates packages according to zip codes, weight, and volume, and their latest product, Flexo is an AI-enabled modular sortation system useful for postal and courier firms. 

Besides Grey Orange, several robotic startups have attracted investors. In March 2019, TartanSense received US$2 million in seed funding. The startup plans to scale its first product, BrijBot, a weed spraying robotic solution for small cotton farmers with this funding. In August, Emotix, which makes the companion robot Miko raised around US$7.5 million in its Series A round. In September 2019, Pune-based Nocca Robotics, which provides an automated, waterless and shareable solar panel cleaning solution raised US$1.7 million from the early-stage fund – Indian Angel Network.  

Bengaluru-based CynLr, which recently raised US$790,000 in funding, is solving a fundamental problem that robots face in picking up randomly aligned objects. CynLr uses computer vision to enable a robotic arm to pick up an object, see what it is and place it in a slot. 

Strengths & challenges faced by the industry

Robotics requires talent in multiple streams like computer science with electrical and mechanical engineering and Indians have a rich genetic pool in subjects like mathematics and physics. The experts on the panel opined that software such as AI, natural language processing, and computer vision that provide differentiation drives the industry. When it comes to data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, India has a lot to offer. 
The impediments identified for the development of robotics in India are a lack of a robotics hardware ecosystem, resulting in imports of most of the components for robotics. In addition, regulatory issues and bottlenecks in customs as part of the permission-driven environments, are also posing a challenge. India also has many financial disincentives built-in. Lack of quality human resources with the necessary skills and expertise to work with advanced manufacturing technologies negatively impacts the ability to undertake cutting-edge R&D in India. There is also a significant mindset shift required in order to grow the industry. In spite of the Government’s focus on robotics lately, the notion that robots will destroy jobs severely hampers an enthusiastic adoption of the technology and growth of the market.

The need of the hour is to skill up and work together. Subir Kumar Saha, Professor, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Delhi, and one of our distinguished panel members, highlighted how there is a need to come out of silos and encourage sharing of knowledge - between institutions, between corporate and academia, between enterprise and startups. Experiential learning for both teachers and students is also the key to bridging gaps and skill up.

Another eminent panel member, Sudeep Srivastava, Head - Robotics and Intelligent Automation at Schlumberger, highlighted how Indians have to transform from an “order-taker” mindset to an “initiator” mindset to drive the technology revolution in India.
Several steps have been taken by the government to overcome these challenges. One of our esteemed panelists, Rajkumar Sharma, President, All India Council for Robotics & Automation (AICRA), shared how Atal Tinkering Labs in schools are giving early exposure to students in STEM. Higher education institutes like IITs are offering programs in Robotics and have set up state-of-the-art Robotics Research and Teaching Laboratories. Even ITIs are starting or have already started courses in robotics and mechatronics.

AICRA also has an initiative called the ‘Tech Startup Program’, which acts as an incubation environment for startups and other early-stage adopters working on Robotics and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) in India.

The Government of India is pushing investments to establish an AI ecosystem. The Union electronics and information technology ministry also plans to boost robotics and manufacturing under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme.

So can India be the global hub in Robotics?

We have definitely come a long way from the walking-talking gizmos we played within the 80s. Though we are at a nascent stage in robotics, we have all the necessary ingredients to take it to the next level and beyond. With the right push from the government, the necessary awareness and mindset change, and the essential upskilling, India is definitely poised to be the game changer in robotics in due course of time. For the skilled talent in robotics wanting to return to India, this is the time to get back home. The future of robotics is here and India is waiting for you to spearhead the robotics movement.

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