Big Idea

Playing watch guard

IIT Madras-incubated start-up, DeTect Technologies, ensures oil and gas companies enjoy uninterrupted operations

RA Chandroo

It was the fateful night of December 2, 1984. An undetected leakage in a pesticide plant released the poisonous methyl isocyanate gas that claimed around 20,000 lives and left half a million marred for life. Newspapers across the globe called it the world’s worst industrial disaster then. Thirty years later the Bhopal Gas Tragedy continues to haunt the victims as they seek justice in the capital city of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Down south in the city of Chennai, three final year engineering students and their professor have developed an algorithm-based solution that could help prevent such a catastrophe in the future.

Incubated in IIT Madras with a grant of Rs. 1 million, DeTect Technologies, was founded by Daniel Raj David, AS Harikrishnan, R Karthik and professor Krishnan Balasubramanian. Having earned accolades and prize money at several start-up competitions, the team officially launched their start-up in February 2016 with an initial investment of Rs. 2.5 million. David, CEO, of the company explains the goal they set out with, “We wanted to build a cutting-edge technology to monitor asset management systems and save lives lost due to avoidable leakages”.

The start-up has developed a product called the Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipeline Systems (GuMPS). At the centre of it all is a sensor that has the ability to monitor long-range oil and gas pipelines and provide real-time data of a defect and also provide forecasts. The latter is where the innovation comes into play, as a pipeline crack is not a sudden occurrence but a gradual process. And DeTect’s sensor can identify sections of a pipeline that are prone to corrosion within a timeframe and thus alert the company and its client in order to avert a leak. The team’s major breakthrough lies in developing a sensor that can operate in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 350°C, as such are the mercury levels at which fluids pass through an oil or gas pipeline. DeTect’s second product is a manually controlled robot, Scope-I that can enter a pipeline and scan it thoroughly for a possible leak.

Apart from averting an industrial disaster, the pipeline management system will end up saving crores for the oil and gas companies who end up having to shut down an entire pipeline during a leakage due to inability to detect the exact spot. Such is the potential benefit of GuMPS, that the start-up managed to sign up industry behemoth Reliance Industries as its first client. It is currently in talks with seven other leading players in the sector such as Tata Petrodyne, the Adani group, British Petroleum, etc. The cost of the product could vary from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 1.5 million depending on the pipeline structure, temperature and extent of the certification. In addition to sensor installation costs, the start-up charges a 10% fee to provide the licensed software to a client.

The enterprise is confident that its pipeline management system has the ability to compete with peers outside India as well. “We want to take the products in the international market; USA, West Asia and Singapore are our prime targets,” David adds. With a clear roadmap in place, it might not be a surprise if DeTect Technologies ends up achieving its revenue estimate of Rs. 2.8-3 crore for the first of year of operations.