Travelling regularly with the team at the National Institute of Ocean Technology few years ago helped Kannappa Palaniappan P, a graduate in Ocean Engineering from IIT Madras, find his true calling. During these trips he keenly observed the faults and shortcomings that the organisation, which heavily relied on manual inspections by divers, couldn’t resolve easily. It was getting tougher to find divers who would readily go deep down in the middle of oceans. This encouraged Kannappa to ring up his College of Engineering, Trivandrum teammate Johns T Mathai, with whom he had participated and won numerous national level project competitions as students.
Together they started Irov Technologies in 2016 and their solution was an underwater drone, which they wanted to manufacture entirely within the country from scratch. But what appeared an easy task for these engineers initially, took them two years to reach their vision. Mathai says, “Those two years were a roller-coaster ride. India doesn’t have any acclaimed hardware or robotics company nor is this sector investor-friendly. It is difficult to built hardware products here.”
They finally launched EyeROV Tuna in September, selling its first drone to the DRDO. It is a battery-powered remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) and can navigate through a depth of 300 metres underwater, giving real-time images and videos from the site of inspection to the users. For clients who rent the device for inspection, these videos are stored on the cloud platform of the device, which is later given along with detailed analytical reports having 3D images of the structure inspected. The hardware is also equipped to automatically surface, in case of device failure during an operation.
The Kochi-based start-up is the first to sell its underwater drone in the Indian market with a manufacturing wait-time of a month, once the order is placed. The founders are also trying to differentiate in terms of its pricing, which according to Mathai is lower than global players such as VideoRay in the US. The pricing, however, varies based on the kind of features and customisation needed.
Already boasting of clients such as Indian Navy and BPCL, Mathai and Kannappa see a huge opportunity in the marine robotics and underwater surveillance sector. “We are already getting a lot of enquiries from countries such as Japan and Singapore. We are employing our devices in dams, bridges and underwater oil pipeline inspections too,” Mathai says. The start-up recently won the best aerospace and research start-up award from the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association.