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Robotics In India Suffers From Heavy VC Underrepresentation, Say CynLr’s Co-Founders

The co-founders reveal how they have to furnish proofs of the tech, even in its initial stage, to secure a discounted source of capital, as they are playing in a market that is constrained

Robotics In India Suffers From Heavy VC Underrepresentation, Say CynLr’s Co-Founders
NA Gokul and Nikhil Ramaswamy, co-founders of Cybernetics Laboratory (CynLr)
POSTED ON March 06, 2023 4:41 PM

Robotics and deep-tech start-up Cybernetics Laboratory (CynLr) recently launched a new research facility, Cybernetics H.I.V.E., in Bengaluru. Spread across 13,000 square feet, the R&D facility can accommodate 16 robot research cells, 25 robots and an electronics, camera and vision laboratory with the requisite infrastructure to train over 50 engineers. 

Founded by Nikhil Ramaswamy and N A Gokul in 2019, CynLr eliminates the need for tailored machines to handle objects. The inability to adapt to variations has stunted the robot automation market to $48 billion, while global manufacturing alone is a $12.8 trillion industry. 

Its vision to change these dynamics helped the Bengaluru-based start-up raise $4.5 million in a funding round last year led by Speciale Invest and growX Ventures, along with Anicut Capital, Info Edge, Java Capital, Venture Catalysts, and Arali Ventures. Following Cybernetics H.I.V.E.’s launch, CynLr’s co-founders Ramaswamy and Gokul tell Outlook Business how every hardware tech built for the global market suffers from the India discount problem, including robotics.

Edited excerpts: 

How has CynLr used the $4.5 million it raised last year in a pre-series A funding round led by Speciale Invest and growX Ventures?

We have deployed these funds in two significant aspects. The first is capacity building, where we have grown from an 8-member team to over 35, which we will increase to 50 soon. We have expanded our senior leadership team, and a new chief financial officer (CFO) will join us shortly.

We also developed a more industry-ready camera platform and stabilised our algorithms to be 2x faster. Moreover, we scaled our robot systems by 8x and added a few more robots.

We have built robust operations backed by SAP infrastructure to manage our 400-strong vendor ecosystem. We have also scaled from 1,600 square feet to build a 13,000 square feet Advanced Research Lab that can host this activity and work with customers to realise applications for their problems. 

When do you plan to go for the next funding round? 

We will begin to raise during the next quarter, as this is a hard deep tech space. Usually, this is less explored and poorly understood amongst the VCs and other capital markets.  

Has CynLr encountered the challenge of ‘India discount’, which many indigenous robotics start-ups are battling?   

Every hardware tech built for the global market suffers from the India discount problem, not just robotics. This is driven by the fundamental assumption that its tech adoption and relevance is limited to the Indian market. We have been told this on several occasions in much harsher words.  

We had to wait for the buzz around the software to go down with time and for VCs for hard tech to emerge. We must show customer proof, even at the early stage of the tech, to secure a rather discounted source of capital at the cost of distraction at a very early stage of tech development. We are playing in a constrained market, and that’s how it works. 

The feasibility of genuine global tech coming out of India must be well propagated and must figure better in the popular narrative. There is heavy underrepresentation in the VC world from the robotics, manufacturing and hardware product and research labs. This scene won’t change unless the capital market becomes aware of how to visualise opportunities in the hard tech market. 

The industry has also lagged in promoting the opportunities they host—the hard tech industry has an inferiority complex combined with denial towards software.   

As global companies contemplate a China Plus One strategy, can the adoption of robotics help India pole-vault into becoming the world’s manufacturing hub? 

While the world is ‘Made in China’, China was made in Germany as its manufacturing infrastructure is built upon German technology. China took over 30 years to build this fundamental ecosystem that made manufacturing feasible by using its vocationally trained human resource capital as the foundation for this bedrock.  

Conversely, India became a software phenomenon around the same time with an engineering and tech-savvy demography. Rather than competing with China’s manufacturing strength to emerge as an alternative global manufacturing hub, India should compete with Germany to offer next-generation tech by leveraging its engineering advantage.  

Adopting robotics will help India give a paradigm shift in quality and flexible manufacturing, break the minimum order quantity conundrum that limits product innovation and relieve design and innovation from manufacturing limitations. These ‘Universal Factories’ will lead to the cutting-edge idea of object computing rather than simplistic manufacturing, which will lead to consumers getting personalised products while standardising manufacturing infrastructure. 

While organisations currently look at robotic adoption to reduce operating costs, can robots help them create value and better deploy human talent to increase productivity? Especially for mid-scale companies?   

There was an interesting case of robot automation. An engine component manufacturing with 15 stages hosted 22 people per shift. They first automated three stations, and productivity fell by 30 per cent, as syncing the activity between people and robots was troublesome.  

However, once more than 50 per cent of the lines were automated, the productivity was higher than manual production. The manufacturer went on to automate the whole line, and the productivity grew from ~1,600 to over 3,000 parts. This is despite a 4x slower robot system, where the robots worked the same hours as humans.  

This productivity is because of synchronisation. While a human can do an activity within six seconds, they are inconsistent; when the person from the first station is most productive, the person in the second station is not. So, the average production is between the overlapping efficiency of each person belonging to that station. This asynchronicity is the reason behind value leakage. 

How will the Cybernetics H.I.V.E. facility contribute to the evolution of how operations are currently conducted across robotics and manufacturing industries in India? 

A fundamental technology needs a whole ecosystem to succeed. We need infrastructure that enables us to co-develop with the ecosystem, bring awareness, train talent and support heavy research.  

A facility for advanced robotics research, like Toyota Research Institute, MIT Research Labs or Open AI Labs, does not exist in India. We have the tech, but the customer needs a solution. Any tech that hasn’t found a customer utility will remain premature.  

We need a space where customers can come in, invest their resources and translate our tech into a usable solution. That is why we have built one of the highest-density robotics labs dedicated to visual intelligence. 

Have you established your base in the US as planned?   

This quarter, we will have our legal presence in the US and EU. The US market is to leverage customer proximity for business development. EU will focus on technology partnerships and business development as most of the components we use originate from the EU. 

What is your existing customer base in India’s manufacturing, logistics and warehousing sector?   

Our predominant inbound customers are from the US and EU. We are engaging with two of the five largest automotive car manufacturers globally and a large part supplier from Europe. While manufacturing is the most accommodating industry for robotic adoption along with warehouses and electronics assembly, we are talking about some industrial kitchen and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) use cases. 

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