Published: 03rd September 2019
Meet Coimbatore's RoboMan, who has wired his creations to perfection!
Vijay Shah is an engineer who has a whole set of plans lined up for his robots, including service in the Indian Navy
I'm sure that a visit to the local bank isn’t anyone's concept of an ideal picnic. Waiting in long serpentine queues can be quite annoying and not to mention exhausting for most, but for 40-year-old Vijay Shah, it was an eye-opener of a unique kind. “My idea to come up with a banking robot basically stemmed from my experience in City Union Bank. There was a queue of customers who were jostling for space in front of the support desk and they were all quite tired of waiting. They had mostly basic questions to ask, like how to open a new account, whether there's a branch at a specific location, what's the interest rate and so on. The customer service representative at the receiving end was essentially giving the same information over and over again, throughout the day. Seeing this, I thought to myself — couldn’t an automated programme do this? Couldn’t this person's talents and presence of mind be used elsewhere, where actual human intervention was necessary? And that’s how I came up with India’s first banking robot, Lakshmi,” says Vijay, who was one of the key speakers at the recently concluded Digital Symposium 2019 hosted by Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai.
Lakshmi, whose clones are now present in several companies and fields, can understand over 120 commonly asked questions in multiple languages — and she hasn’t even reached her full potential yet! Vijay strives to impart a ‘human touch’ to his creations, despite the obvious fact that they are fueled by electricity and not blood. “Robots have plenty of applications, not just in the industrial setting that we’re so familiar with. They can be used in hospitals to aid in comforting autistic kids. A robot can be like a friend to children. People feel that they lack the human touch, but I disagree. Robots can be made to out reach just like humans and they do not have the side effects of negative emotions,” says Vijay, a Mechanical Engineering graduate of Vaishnav College of Engineering, Chennai, who began his career with the Shimato Group. After toiling and saving enough to start his own engineering venture in Coimbatore, he experimented on a wide array of hydraulics, pumps and automotive components — his foray into robotics was conceived around this time.
“The human-robot connection is based on trust, so there will be limitations. But robots can definitely work shoulder to shoulder with people,” he argues. According to him, robots and AI are intertwined and an integral part of each other. “Today, the concierge industry is thriving. It’s flourishing as one of the biggest fields of hospitality and robots can certainly carry out the meet-and-greet roles with ease,” he adds. Vijay feels that people tend to think of robots as ‘royalty and novelty’. His (and the country’s) first banking robot was designed specifically to tackle the monotony of answering mundane customer questions dozens of times every day. “While CUB was one of our first customers, we have robots that are tailor-made to suit every need and budget. They are normally priced at `10 lakh, but we can build one for `4 lakh too. Even these smaller versions will come fully equipped with almost all of the functions of its bigger brother,” says Vijay.
The teaching component, wherein the programmer codes the robot, includes both online and offline modules. “They can be taught and trained in voice recognition, face recognition and speech recognition. We have a team who handles the hard-wiring, walking, programming and coding. There are 6 platforms, including CC+ and Java. Then, we follow this up with the integration aspect. This includes the core banking solutions, among other things,” remarks Vijay.
He is of the opinion that people in India have started realising the value of robots and their unique applications. His plans for this year include launching a robot that can travel to remote regions, particularly villages, and teach the less privileged students there. “Brilliant students aren’t found only in the big cities. Robots can travel, on a daily basis, to the rural settlements and impart quality education,” he adds. Vijay and his 25-member team also have naval ambitions in their sights and talks are currently underway with the Indian Navy.
Despite the numerous obstacles and abundant skeptical remarks made by critics, Vijay has remained firm in his resolution and has found remarkable success in the process. He might not quite be a Tony Stark, but he certainly is a worthy contender for the title of ‘Iron Man of India’.