Big Idea

Vision of the Future

GetVu is ushering in augmented reality to revolutionise the way warehouses and shop floors work

When you enter GetVu’s office in Bengaluru, you are likely to find people wearing weird looking glasses and trying to grasp something from thin air. A few others are wired to their computers oblivious to their surroundings. Looking a lot like the Facebook Oculus Rift, their glass product is called PikVu, which the three co-founders have developed using augmented reality (AR). It is now being used in warehouses to improve the efficiency of the workers by almost 25%. Its second product, RemoteVu, enables a service engineer to view faulty machinery from a remote location. It was one of those things that the 20-somethings did for fun and eventually turned into a phenomenon.

Taking off
Santhosh Chandrasekar, chief executive officer, is the ‘visionary’ among the three. College lore had it that, if one had an idea and did not know what to do about it, Chandrasekar was your go-to guy. On the contrary, Rakesh Ramaswamy, the chief marketing officer, has been a business guy since school. Often he took an uncommon pleasure in managing the supply and demand mismatch. If one had something to sell, and did not know where to sell, Ramaswamy offered his services. “I always liked the idea of trade,” says Ramaswamy.

The third founder, Meenakshisundaram Viswanathan, the chief technology officer, is the brain behind the firm’s technology. The hardcore coder of the group remains wired to his computers almost all his waking hours, it seems. The trio belong to the same college and hold a common interest — technology. “Ever since I saw Ironman, I wanted to do something similar. It got me thinking about augmented reality,” recalls Ramaswamy. That was when they began working with a Leap Motion sensor, a device which accepts hand and finger motions as inputs. They procured a smart glass and taped it with a bunch of cameras and the sensor. The aim was to control digital objects using hand movements while the sensor tracked the hand. 

Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and SOSV had launched an accelerator, Leap Axlr8r that encouraged start-ups to build businesses around Leap Motion in December 2013. The trio applied to the program and their idea was selected. After receiving seed-funding from SOSV, they moved to San Francisco for a few months to develop their idea.

In January 2014, GetVu was registered in San Francisco. “When we were at Leap Axlr8r, the aim was to build software as well as hardware. AR’s biggest application is to understand your environment. Initially we developed an algorithm which could track the features of your environment and place a 3D model there, say a virtual TV, and control it with your hand gestures,” says Viswanathan.

By the end of the program, they had developed their first 3D-print model — the GetVu headset which could house an Android phone and the founders wanted to use this as a platform for developers. When they returned to India, Chandrasekar realised that a B2C model might not work here. The market was just not ready for such a product due to various reasons like bulkiness, cost etc.  

Moving on
That’s when they started thinking about a B2B model. “We pivoted to develop a software for an existing hardware. Product development needed a lot of money, and companies like Microsoft and Google were already making smart glasses,” says Chandrasekar.

The warehouse idea hit them when they started exploring the possibility of a B2B model. While talking to various e-commerce companies in the US, they found that rising labour costs was one of the biggest problems that they were facing. The workers were paid $12 per hour and labour costs were increasing exponentially. “There was a need to improve the overall productivity of the workers. Our aim was to make labour more efficient through our technology,” says Chandrasekar.

They realised that warehouse operations were not at optimum efficiency despite state-of-the-art facilities. For example, consider a large warehouse of an e-commerce firm. Finding a book or a flask can be a cumbersome task if a worker is moving around with a trolley, a pick-list and a barcode scanner at the same time.

Using the GetVu headset, they wanted to provide a solution for this in real-time, which would provide the location of the required item so that the pickers can find the shortest path instead of manually searching for it. 

So, how does PikVu work? Every warehouse uses a warehouse management system (WMS). GetVu has developed a software that can be integrated with the WMS. The computer sends a pick-list to the picker’s smart glass. Once the worker starts his rounds with the trolley, the smart glass starts pointing the direction towards the intended item using green arrows by calculating the shortest route possible to the item. These arrows would appear real-time on the picker’s glasses as he walks around the warehouse. Eventually, the arrows would point at the rack where the product is placed. The exact location of the item would start glowing and the picture of the item would also appear on the glass. The picker can then scan the item using a ring barcode scanner that pairs with the smart glass using bluetooth technology. Once the item is picked, the smart glass will lead the worker to the next item on the pick list. Once all the necessary items are picked, the picker carries the trolley to the sorting station where they are segregated.  
The co-founders developed a DC prototype and approached various investors in the US. Rothenberg Ventures liked their idea and invested $100,000 in 2015. They spent it testing their first offering, PikVu in a real warehousing scenario to iron out the kinks.

The trio then shifted to Bengaluru and refined the software they had built. Around the same time, an important addition to the GetVu family was Venkat Raghulan. Raghulan had worked for a consultancy firm in the US after completing his post-graduate degree in management, and eventually quit his job to start something on his own. “I belong to Coimbatore — a town with an entrepreneurial spirit. After spending some time in an organisation, I thought I was ready to start something,” says Raghulan.

He went on to start FACE — a firm focussed on skill development. He was introduced to the founders by their professor who thought that Raghulan could be a mentor. Since he liked the idea, he came on board as a mentor and put in his equity in the form of intermittent fund infusions as and when required by the firm.

Raking in the gain
“We have learnt that PikVu increases productivity by more than 25%,” says Raghulan. SOSV partner Arvind Gupta believes GetVu has a specific scope of application that makes it solve a pressing need — increasing efficiency in warehouses. “In today’s world of razor-thin margins, this is a big deal,” he says.

But couldn’t it be done cheaper with robots? Chandrasekar says, “Of course robots can replace pickers. But the cost of a robot like Amazon’s Kiva is $50,000. Retailers like Wal-Mart have constructed warehouses in a way to adapt to a pickers’ environment. To replace those kind of warehouses with something suitable for robots will again entail huge investments.”

Currently, GetVu works on smart glasses with an Android phone. They have implemented it on Epson’s augment reality glasses in the US and Recon Jet’s glasses in India. They are also in talks with a few Chinese manufacturers who can make these glasses for a lesser cost. “Once we are able to scale the business, we will start procuring from them,” says Chandrasekar.

GetVu always had the US market in mind for their product. “We started off with one of the large retailers in e-commerce at Bentonville, in US. The PoC has to be integrated with their WMS and should be done in a month,” notes Chandrasekar. “Labour costs in US are between $11 and $15 per person. With our product, productivity can be increased and $3-4 per worker per hour can be saved. You can recover your costs in about 6-7 months,” he adds.

The number of smart glasses varies depending on the size of the warehouse, number of pickers and the volume of business. Apart from the cost of smart glasses, they charge $1,000 for installing the software onto every glass. 

The company has also reached out to a few Indian e-tailers. “We found a different use case for the Indian market. Receiving the goods, finding the attributes in a computer, deciding where to keep it — all this was causing a lot of delay. We are trying to solve this problem in India,” explains Chandrasekar.

The company was selected for RocketSpace logistics accelerator in Europe in December 2016, which opened another market for them. “Currently we are exploring Europe and that’s our plan for Q3. Adaptability is faster there,” says Chandrasekar. “However, in India it’s all about costs. It might take a few more years for the cost of glasses to come down and then it might turn out to be a game changer for us,” he says. They have signed PoCs with two clients so far (one each in India and Spain) and are in the process of signing another with an US company.

Spreading its wings
GetVu has chosen not to limit itself solely to warehouse technology. They have come up with their second product, RemoteVu which enables a service engineer to view a faulty machinery from a remote location. Firms that use heavy machinery for manufacturing often spend a fortune on servicing them. Service engineers often visit remote locations to get a machine repaired. Not only does it increase the financial cost for the machine manufacturer, it also leads to a production delay for the customer. Interestingly, many a times the machines only require a minor repair which could have been done by the onsite worker. 

RemoteVu is aimed at providing a solution to this problem. The on-site worker will have to wear the smart glass which already has a built-in camera. The device is connected to the internet and has a voice-over-the-internet (VoIP) activated on it. Service engineers sitting at a remote location could log onto the software using credentials provided by GetVu. What they will see on their computer screens is the real-time view as captured by the camera on the smart glass worn by the worker. The service engineers can then guide the worker to look at different parts of the machinery and using the software can mark the parts where they find a fault. If the fault is minor and can be rectified, they can instruct the worker to do so with the help of real-time file sharing like PDF files, video tutorials etc. The service engineer can draw on his computer to clarify any technical queries and this could be viewed by the worker on a real-time basis.

RemoteVu is now ready to hit the market. Apart from the costs of the smart glasses, GetVu charges around $25,000 for three admin licences that can be used on separate computers. There is also a subscription model for companies. 

GetVu is, probably, an idea ahead of its time but one that holds a lot of promise. But with companies looking at every possible avenue to improve efficiency and reduce costs, it is only a matter of time before demand for GetVu’s offerings starts to gain momentum.