Umakant Soni, Cofounder & CEO, ARTPARK.NEW DELHI: The AI & Robotics Technology Park ( ARTPARK ), a non-profit foundation, said it is incubating six pre-ventures in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and 5G technology.It has set up a testbed with Finnish telecom gear maker Nokia and the Indian Institute of Science ( IISc ) in Bengaluru for drones, autonomous vehicles, and other use cases.
“We have incubated around six pre-ventures as part of ARTPARK and supported another 15 startups through our in house program.These startups are already formed.And these six are, again, further getting incubated,” Umakant Soni, Cofounder & CEO, ARTPARK, told ETTelecom.
ARTPARK is supporting startups across three cohorts including Astrome (telecom), CDSPACE (UAV), Vengage (AI), Tropgo (drone insurtech), and Datasetu (data privacy).
Additionally, ARTPARK is working on an air ambulance with a range of 50-100km for use in rural India, said Soni.He added that another company which is associated with ARTPARK and started by ex-Airbus executives and IISc professors is developing cargo drones that could carry up to 300kg loads for mid-mile logistics.
Bhardwaj Amrutur, Cofounder, Research Head & Director, ARTPARK outlined the foundation’s role in a program by the Ministry of Heavy Industries (MHI) on a program to promote indigenous manufacturing.
“One of the things we are also doing is to align with that program, where some of the startups we are supporting are actually part of the technologies, it’s not just pure software, but hardware too.
Robotics involves a lot of hardware, and diagnostics, whether it’s a drone or an actual robot.In fact, they [MHI] are putting in about Rs 80-90 crores, and then ARTPARK is putting out 20%,” Amrutur told ETTelecom.
Soni added that ARTPARK and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) are exploring ways to increase the penetration of connectivity in rural areas.
“We’ve been working with them [DoT] on how do we spur innovation, especially to enhance the reach of connectivity in rural areas.
Now 5% of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) will be diverted towards promoting innovations, which will be focused on bringing connectivity to rural areas.We are trying to support some of the startups that we are incubating to apply for such funds because it will allow them to get embedded into the ecosystem directly,” the chief executive added.
ARTPARK is promoted by the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru with support from AI Foundry in a public-private collaborative model.It has been seed funded with Rs 230 crore from the Department of Science & Technology under the National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems (NM-ICPS) and from the Karnataka government.
It has established a $100 million venture capital fund, now approved by the capital markets regulator SEBI, for investing in technology startups .Some of the large limited partners have shown serious interest in adding to the corpus, Soni said.
“We do see a very healthy pipeline of close to six to 10 companies, which could benefit from our fund.In December-January, we would be able to disclose names.”
Focus on 5G, testbeds, collaboration with telecom companies
As a non-profit, the executives said, ARTPARK is in discussions with various telecom companies to establish indoor as well as outdoor testbeds to offer them to the entire startup ecosystem.
Bhardwaj Amrutur, Cofounder, Research Head & Director, ARTPARK “We are interacting with a bunch of telecom-related companies.One of them is Nokia.We are also very much connected with DoT.For any rollouts, especially related to private 5G that the government is seriously considering how to make that happen, we’ll need to partner with these companies.We’d like to actually create testbeds that can enable the entire ecosystem startup from outside to come in.
We are discussing with other companies where to set up both indoor as well as outdoor testbeds,” said Amrutur.
He added that premature talks with Airtel are underway for a testbed, but did not share further details.
ARTPARK, IISc Bangalore, and Nokia have already demonstrated two 5G-powered use cases of robotic telepresence and Network-as-a-Third Eye for warehouse automation.
“We see that this [robotic telepresence] could be the future of jobs, and it could generate as many as 10 million new jobs if we are able to break through and you have this remote way of working not just for it and BPO where jobs are already digitized, but also physical jobs,” Soni said, adding that private 5G could help with connecting micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in rural areas and generate employment opportunities.
“If you take a resource and you lock it up, right, then it doesn’t get used very efficiently… If you have the resource and you allow the resource to be used more efficiently, without locking it up, which makes it more useful,” commented Amrutur, on the issue of spectrum for setting up private 5G networks.
India’s top telcos and technology companies though have been at odds with each other over the assignment of spectrum to enterprises for setting up 5G captive private wireless networks, while the former favour the auction route for spectrum assignment, the latter has vehemently supported administrative allocation.
The telecom department following the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s recommendations, has allowed enterprises to lease out airwaves from a telecom service provider or directly purchase from the government to set up a non-public network for its captive or limited use.
The new norms allow the department to only put a processing fee of Rs 50,000 for the allotment of spectrum to enterprises willing to connect their facilities.
Read also Airtel selects Nuronics Labs, Enthu.Ai, Chimes Radio for accelerator programme Innovative 5G use cases to develop in 1.5 years: Airtel’s Rahul Vatts In-depth: Growing Indian telecom startup ecosystem: Hype or real? Govt support to help space startups achieve ‘next level of development’: ISpA’s AK Bhatt
‘Not competing with startup incubators by telcos, corporates’
The executives during the interview pointed out that ARTPARK does not compete with startup incubators by telecom operators such as JioGenNext by Reliance Jio and Airtel’s Startup Accelerator Program, as the foundation provides support at the pre-venture stage through industry connect, talent, research, and domain expertise compared to corporates that help existing startups.
“What we are doing is completely complimentary to all these.We feed our ventures which can get into an incubator like Reliance or Airtel,” said Amrutur.
“I think we’re not competing with anyone, we are supplementing the ecosystem,” Soni echoed similar views.
“Deep tech companies in India have a challenge because you need four fundamental things that are data, talent, domain, and research apart from the infrastructure.We looked at almost 400 plus companies and if they did not have three or more of these, then they would typically either die or get bought out by somebody.They don’t become big.If you really want to build their foundation properly, we need to provide all these four things.”
The JioGenNext program does not invest in startups, but rather helps in building an engagement with key stakeholders in the Reliance Industries/Jio ecosystem.
In contrast, Airtel’s accelerator program invests in early-stage startups engaged in developing solutions based on new-age technologies.
Jio is currently working with Aarca Research, Janitri, Niroggyan, ATOM360, and seven other startups, while Airtel earlier this year selected Neuronics Labs, Enthu.Ai, and Chimes Radio for its accelerator program following an innovation challenge the telco conducted in association with Invest India..