June 26, 2015      
Made in India” no longer means shoddy outdated products made for a protected market as global heavyweights like Toyota, Volvo, Honeywell and Walmart look at India as a manufacturing hub.” –Siddharth Srivastava, Made in India: Retooling a Brand

Beneath the surface of things? In 2014, India, a continent of a country with a population of 1.2 billion people, purchased 1,900 industrial robots, which were 100 more than the 10.5 million citizens of the Czech Republic saw their country put to work.

The Indian robot buy, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), appears woefully lower than any of its fellow Southeast Asian and East Asian neighbors, except for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

By comparison, the equally large and mega-populated China took in 56,000 industrial robots. Since most industrial robots work in the automotive and electronics industries, it follows then that maybe those industries, which are generally big-time employers, may not be doing too well in India.

Combining those poorly performing robot sales with a “dilapidated or non-existent public infrastructure” does not present itself as a healthy place to begin and maintain a successful, indigenous robot industry. But that’s only on the surface of things.

India is in the process of changing, and five Indian robot companies are venturing into that brave new world: Grey Orange Robotics, Gridbots Technologies, Omnipresent Robotics, Sastra Robotics, and Systemantics. There are others, but these five stand out as potential winners.

The emerging India

These five robot builders are emerging into an India that is itself emerging. India has been tabbed the fastest growing and third largest ecosystem for startups in the world. Today, there are 3100 startups in India, with an additional 800 more added annually — that’s over two per day!

By 2020, there could upwards of 4,000 startups employing over 250,ooo people. “If we’re able to get onto a non-inflationary, sustainable growth path of 7 percent a year of real GDP growth over the next 10 to 15 years, India’s economy will go from $2 trillion to $5 trillion over the next 15 years,” says Jayant Sinha, India’s minister of state for finance.

By contrast, China’s GDP is currently at $17 trillion. With India clipping along at a 7.4 percent GDP rate right now, sustaining that pace is the real key, as Sinha points out. But at least something is happening, and that’s encouraging for robotics and automation to become a critical part of sustaining that rate.

More encouragement comes from foreign direct investment (FDI), which the Ministry of Finance reports has increased 26 percent to $35 billion in 2014, against the global decline of 14 percent (according to UN Global Investment Trends Monitor).

Already in 2015, over $13 billion has been invested. That and more will be needed to stem the tide that’s rolling toward India. According to a recent study from Frost & Sullivan, Industry 4.0: Make in India, “The Indian manufacturing landscape contributes around 16 percent of India’s GDP each year and less than 2 percent of the overall global manufacturing output.”

“Furthermore, this sector employs around 58 million to 60 million people, which is just about 12 percent of the overall working populace,” the report said. “With nearly 250 million people set to enter the workforce in the next 15 years, the Indian manufacturing scene is expected to undergo a massive revamp in terms of investment, infrastructure, and technology.”

This necessary and anticipated revamp will be vital in meeting the demands of an ever-burgeoning Indian middle class. A middle class that McKinsey reports will hit 250 million or 20 percent of the country’s population in 2015. “Income levels will almost triple, and India will climb from its position as the 12th largest consumer market today to become the world’s fifth largest consumer market by 2025,” it said.

Prospects look good

The odds for success with robots making it into manufacturing and logistics in India seem to get better every day. There’s the obvious need for automation, of course; then there’s the Modi government, which is also aware and doing something about it with “Make in India.”

Best of all, there’s lots of investment money flowing into the country. Even Silicon Valley venture capital firms are opening offices there.

India’s Business Insider reports: “In the last five years, there were more than 70 VC investments worth over $2 billion in the domestic startup ecosystem. In last three years, there were over 20 merger and acquisition deals worth $1 billion.”

“Another major reason for the growth of startups in the India is the presence of more than 80 business incubators and accelerators, which provide seed stage support to startups. Major cities such as Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Chennai account for 90 percent of the startup activity.”

The five aspirants:

Grey Orange Robotics

Based in Gurgaon and Singapore, Grey Orange creates robots catering to the warehousing and automation space. The firm aims to provide disruptive technology to make innovative products for efficient logistics and distribution.

Its flagship product, the Butler System, is a high-tech material-handling system that simultaneously improves speed, accuracy, productivity, and flexibility. It consists of a grid of paths across a warehouse floor on which fast-moving mobile robots traverse, fetching racks of items to a packer.

Once the packer removes the item and packs it for shipping, the racks are replaced back in their place by the robots.

Gridbots Technologies

Based in Ahmedabad, Gridbots works in the fields of nuclear space and industrial robotics. Gridbots develops robots that can be used for inspection, welding, and cutting operations in difficult to reach spaces.

Its advanced combat robots can be used for battlefield and smart reconnaissance missions suited for homeland agencies and defense forces. A large part of its mission is to create robots that remove dependence on human workers by increasing productivity and efficiency in various industries.

Omnipresent Robotics

Based in New Delhi, Omnipresent Robotics specializes in robotics, electronic sensing and intelligent electronics. It supplies services and products to Indian Defense. It also offers unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and river-cleaning robots, as well as sensing, navigation, and perception software.

Sastra Robotics

Based in Kochi Sastra, Robotics develops and markets high-end robot systems and robotics technologies for a wide range of applications: manipulators, humanoids, mobile, and service robots. Its services include robotics and automation, electronics and embedded systems design, and software design.

Systemantics

Based in Bengaluru, Systemantics specializes in robotic systems, mechanical design, mechanisms, actuators and sensors, computer control, signal and power electronics, and embedded and application software. Its expertise includes robotic arms, SCARA, underwater systems, animatronics, and mobile robots.

See related: Does ‘Make in India’ Auger the Rise of a New Asian Giant?