Published: 30th June 2021
These SRM-grads are building unmanned electrical vehicles for the Indian army. Here's why it's really cool!
Torus Robotics was founded by three engineering graduates from SRM who wanted to meet the needs of the Indian army sustainably
While studying Mechatronics Engineering at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai, three friends — Vibhakar Senthil Kumar, Vignesh M and Abbhi Vignesh K — got interested in building solar cars. They managed to build their first solar car by the end of their second year. Over time, their interest in solar and electric vehicles grew and they began helping with research projects on campus. "We were able to work with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on various projects and through this, got some understanding about the needs of the defence sector," says Vibhakar. Soon, the trio decided to utilise their skills in Mechatronics and their knowledge about defence to develop unmanned ground vehicles. After completing their MBA from SRM, the trio launched their start-up Torus Robotics in 2019.
During their initial days, the trio had to go through some hard times to gather funds. "It is always difficult to gather funds, but more so if the start-up is hardware-based. It becomes almost impossible when the start-up deals with defence tech," says Vibhakar. So what did the 26-year-old do? "We decided to collaborate with people who are already part of the defence tech sector," recalls Vibhakar. Among their first investors was Nandan GSE's Raghunandan Jagdish. "They had a vast experience making ground vehicles. They mentored us initially and also helped with manufacturing," says Vibhakar.
The trio also consulted with retired Lt General CA Krishnan to get some first-hand information about the requirements of the Armed Forces. "He mentored us and helped us develop the unmanned ground vehicles as per defence standards," says Vibhakar. Soon, with the help of DRDO, Torus got its first tender and built an unmanned electrical vehicle for the army. "The robot can detect, identify and remove objects from the path. The vehicle weighs a ton and picks up a payload of about 20 kilograms. The robot can be controlled remotely," says Vibhakar. With the help of Artificial Intelligence, the vehicle can also be pre-programmed, in which case it can function autonomously.
While the DRDO loved this product and more orders have been pouring in, Torus is also focusing on building unmanned electric vehicles for other applications, including surveillance, weaponry and logistics. To do this, the trio knew that they needed more funds. "There weren't many incubators that took in defence start-ups, so we decided to partner with PSUs. Shortly after, we partnered with BEML Limited for product development as a joint venture," says Vibhakar.
The start-up is currently incubated at SRM Innovation and Incubation Centre (SIIC). But defence is not their only focus now. They are working to finesse a lightweight electric motor, suitable for commercial use. Vibhakar says, "Electric vehicles need powertrains and most of these have to be imported. We have built a powertrain that is 50 per cent lighter, 10 per cent more cost-effective and at least 15 per cent more efficient," This, he feels, will help India's electric vehicle market tremendously when it launches in the next few months.