We invest in people who build cool stuff: Umakant Soni,CEO of robotics incubator

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What does the future look like? It looks like collaboration. The best ideas will likely come not from one company, one individual operating alone, or indeed one government. The way forward is visible, for instance, at ARTPark in Bengaluru.

This is a first-of-its-kind AI and Robotics Technology Park supported by AI Foundry, a venture studio; promoted by the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, on whose campus it is located; and supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which operates under the union government’s Ministry of Science and Technology. With total seed funding of 230 crore, ARTPark is also a not-for-profit venture.

“We want to invest in people who build cool stuff,” says co-founder and CEO Umakant Soni, also co-founder of AI Foundry. “The idea is to convert research into products, companies, and inclusive access to AI and robotics.”

ARTPark was launched in September 2020, and is currently working with 15 start-ups with a focus on applications in mobility, healthcare and education. “We want to be backing over 50 AI and robotics start-ups in the next five years,” Soni says.

The Aero108, also being developed at ARTPark, aims to be an autonomous air ambulance that can provide emergency transport even when no pilot is available.

The start-ups supported so far are building drones made entirely in India, autonomous service robots, STEM-related educational curriculums, and more.

ARTPark was in the news during the first year of the pandemic for developing Asha (Hindi for Hope), a robot nurse with the potential to communicate, administer medication and perform basic medical interventions. Asha is currently being developed to work in nursing homes and palliative care centres, by Avtaar Robotics, one of the start-ups being incubated at ARTPark.

Another product being worked on is an autonomous air ambulance called the Aero108. It is being designed to fly, unmanned, up to 100 km, with state of the art facilities on board to resuscitate and stabilise patients as they are ferried to the nearest medical facility. “We want to connect patients to medical treatments and professionals, particularly in rural areas, even when a pilot is not available,” Soni says.

ARTPark also conducts workshops and competitions for children. “It’s interesting to get children involved because they think of things that we don’t,” says Soni. “During one of the workshops, a kid developed a scanner that would tell him which books to take to school on which day, because he could never figure it out. That was a problem that was important to him and he found a way to solve it.”

ARTPark’s role in the robotics ecosystem is primarily funding and creating a space for new technologies to be developed and tested. “For a long time there has been little in terms of a robotics-enabling ecosystem in India,” says Soni. “Through this park, we are offering the capital and support.”

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