Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, is in a hurry. He wants to quickly transform the country.
As a result, since taking office in May 2014, Modi has simultaneously launched several schemes, like “Digital India,” “Make in India,” and “Accessible India.”
One of those initiatives is called “Clean India.”
The prime minister wants his nation of more than 1.2 billion people to make — and keep — India clean.
For that, people in India currently use a broom to clean their homes and streets.
Could a robotic vacuum cleaner become the next broom in India?
It is not just possible. It is already happening.
Six companies — Netherlands-based Philips, Germany-based Vileda, U.S.-based iRobot and Neato, and India-based Milagrow and Exilient — are targeting Indian households. They are selling different models of their robotic vacuum cleaners.
While Milagrow Business & Knowledge Solutions Pvt. claims that it has the world’s most advanced mopping system as well as the largest dustbin in its models, Vileda (a brand of Freudenberg Home and Cleaning Solutions GmbH) is selling a basic model for just $60 on Amazon India.
IRobot Corp. is also gung-ho on India. Its calculations suggest that “robots” represent only 20 percent of the global vacuum cleaner market (including India).
Do the 300,000 households represent a fad or a fact?
Why are the robotic cleaners needed in a land where the minimum monthly wage of the informal laborer is 165 rupees ($2.45)? And what has informal labor got to do with robots, anyway?
Until recently, tradition, convenience, and affordability allowed many Indian households to hire a maid — informal labor — to do various household chores, especially cleaning.
However, finding a reliable maid who will show up daily on time or do a proper job was harder than pulling a tooth.
Tradition and technology
Now, two shifts are taking place.
First, lifestyles are changing. People are busy. Work hours are odd. Most modern families want Western-style comforts.
Second, labor unions are putting pressure on the government of India to raise the minimum monthly wage of informal laborers to at least 15,000 rupees ($225).
Consequently, tradition and technology are intersecting and supporting each other. That’s why consumer robotics companies like iRobot, Milagrow, and others see a huge opportunity in front of them.
Beyond vacuum cleaners
But India’s robotics story goes beyond vacuum cleaners.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the city of Meerut (43 miles northeast of New Delhi) wants to deploy robots as traffic police at various road crossings. The goal is to not only reduce the workload of cops, but also push local engineering colleges to develop innovative solutions with robotics.
India’s largest private-sector bank, ICICI Bank, is using a “smart vault” in New Delhi. The vault uses a robotic arm — made in India — to bring lockers or safety deposit boxes to consumers in a secure lounge. In addition to saving money on staffing and security, the bank is also offering its customers around-the-clock access to their valuables.
If efficiency is one side of robotics, the other side is empowerment.
In its 2011 census, 2.1 percent of India’s population was identified as disabled — approximately 12.1 million people. By 2018, India wants all government buildings across all state capitals to provide access for disabled people.
Israel-based ReWalk Robotics Ltd. is hoping that its wearable robotics technology will help nearly 800,000 paraplegics in India.
A high school student has developed India’s smallest robotic arm — just 6.5 in. long. He did so in just five days — just with researching on the Internet.
The Apollo Children’s Hospital in Chennai, a southern metropolis in India, has done 65 robotic surgeries on children from India and abroad.
Manav (meaning “man” in Sanskrit) is a 3D-printed humanoid robot, another “Made in India” creation. It weighs just 2kg (4.4 lb.). It can walk, talk, and dance by responding to human voice commands. The robot is designed to help the engineering and research institutes in India that cannot afford expensive robots from abroad but want to fast-track the development of their robotic capabilities.
In 2018, Notion Ink Design Labs Pvt., a startup in Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, plans to launch a robotic device called Eve. Weighing just 100 grams, Eve will allow users to interact with the device and create their own apps without programming.
More on Robotics in India:
- Drones Fly High Despite Ban in India
- India’s Asian Dilemma: How Best to Grow Robotics Industry?
- Robotics — the Indian Way
- Warehouse Automator GreyOrange Gets $30 Million to Expand Globally
- Robots to Rise in India for Different Reasons Than in China
- High-Flying India Has 7.4 Percent GDP Growth and Is Robot-Ready
Instead of Linux or Microsoft, Eve’s operating system will be driven by artificial intelligence.
What is India’s consumer robotic story saying?
First, don’t think of India only as the land of coders. The maker movement — hardware development — is fast taking root.
Two, if this is the state of union in 2015, what will it be like in 2020 and beyond?