We invest in people who build cool stuff: Umakant Soni, CEO of Robotics Incubator

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What does the future look like? It looks like collaboration. The best ideas are unlikely to come from just one company, one individual, or even one government. The way forward can be seen, for example, at ARTPark in Bengaluru.

It is a one-of-a-kind AI and robotics technology park backed by AI Foundry, a venture capital studio; promoted by the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, on whose campus it is located; and supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which is under the Ministry of Science and Technology of the union government. With total seed funding of 230 crore, ARTPark is also a not-for-profit company.

“We want to invest in people building cool stuff,” says co-founder and CEO Umakant Soni, also a co-founder of AI Foundry. “The idea is to convert research into products, businesses and inclusive access to AI and robotics.”

ARTPark was launched in September 2020 and is currently working with 15 application-focused start-ups in mobility, health and education. “We want to support more than 50 AI and robotics start-ups over the next five years,” says Soni.

The Aero108, also under development at ARTPark, aims to be an autonomous air ambulance that can provide emergency transport even when no pilot is available.

Startups supported so far are building drones made entirely in India, autonomous service robots, STEM-related educational programs, and more.

ARTPark made headlines in the first year of the pandemic for developing Asha (Hindi for Hope), a robot nurse with the potential to communicate, administer medication and perform basic medical procedures. Asha is currently being developed to work in nursing homes and hospices, by Avtaar Robotics, one of the start-ups incubated at ARTPark.

Another product being developed is an autonomous air ambulance called Aero108. It is designed to fly, unmanned, up to 100 km, with state-of-the-art facilities on board to resuscitate and stabilize patients while they are transported to the nearest medical facility. “We want to connect patients to medical treatments and professionals, especially in rural areas, even when a pilot is not available,” says Soni.

ARTPark also organizes workshops and competitions for children. “It’s interesting to get the kids involved because they think about things that we don’t think about,” says Soni. “During one of the workshops, a child developed a scanner that told him which books to bring to school on which day, because he could never figure it out. This was an issue that was important to him and he found a way to solve it.

ARTPark’s role in the robotics ecosystem is primarily to fund and create space for the development and testing of new technologies. “For a long time, there was little ecosystem enabling robotics in India,” says Soni. “Through this park, we are offering capital and support.”

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