Deep Tech Startups are changing the Innovation Ecosystem
Updated: Jun 8
This is the Era of DeepTech, a field characterised by future-defining scientific advancement and engineering innovation.
The future is now. Previously advanced fields like silicon chip technology and mobile technology have given way to newer cutting-edge ones like machine learning and quantum computing. This is the era of DeepTech, a field characterised by future-defining scientific advancement and engineering innovation.
The startup ecosystem is a key player in this development. Its role in speeding research, development and commercialisation of new technology is further fuelled by investors, corporate partners, universities, accelerators and governments. In 2018, DeepTech saw private investment reach $18 billion globally, marking a 20 per cent rise since 2015.
In fact, startups in India are currently developing a range of innovations that were previously only conceptualised by writers of science fiction. Here are five key trends that are currently being accelerated by promising startups in the DeepTech space:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming healthcare
A recent study by Zinnov identified India as the third largest AI startup ecosystem in the world, with Hyderabad, Bengaluru and NCR as leading hubs that drive innovation. Apart from industries like retail and education, these startups have been making steady and much-needed inroads into healthcare. For instance, Docturnal, an AI startup incubated at T-Hub, is attempting to tackle Tuberculosis (TB) using a platform that measures TB cough using music timbre. Bengaluru-based mFine, uses bots to collect basic data about symptoms from patients in rural areas to hand over to professional doctors. Another startup, Niramai, has created technology that diagnoses breast cancer by integrating AI with Machine Learning.
The use of AI in healthcare is still in its infancy. But given India’s acute shortage of medical doctors, particularly in rural regions, it has been suggested that AI might soon be indispensable to healthcare. The possibility of AI replacing doctors is still unlikely although the experts consider the use of AI for medical assistance to be a welcome development.
Virtual Reality (VR) is redefining real estate and collaborative platforms
Once the playing field of tech giants like Microsoft and Samsung, VR has since been taken over by promising startups. What began as an offshoot of the gaming industry now has potential in fields as diverse as talent acquisition, real estate and entertainment.
Of these fields, real estate is one that has particularly benefited from developments in VR technology. It is now possible for homebuyers to go beyond traditional two-dimensional layouts for a more experiential look at their prospective new homes. Mumbai-based VR startup Magicbricks set up India’s first real estate experience Centre in the city last year. The Lodha Group enlisted another Mumbai-based VR startup, Meraki Studio, to create virtual walkthroughs of its properties in Palava, an upcoming smart city near Mumbai.
VR is also set to revolutionise collaboration. Picture yourself in a meeting where you and your team interact through holograms instead of being physically present in the same room together. This is the kind of vision that Hyderabad-based startup Imaginate is attempting to realise with its NuSpace platform. The enterprise has already made significant strides in this field. According to founder Hemanth Satyanarayana, financial company MetLife is already using NuSpace to enhance its customer experience by enabling customers to talk to ‘avatars’ of customer service agents. Other applications of the platform include e shealthcare, defense, and education, to name a few. Apart from MetLife, Imaginate has also worked with the Aditya Birla Group, the Aga Khan Foundation, and even the Indian Army.
Such applications of AI may well become the norm in the not-too-distant future. Virtual Reality in India is on the cusp of an explosion. A GrowthEnabler report recently predicted a 76 percent growth for the industry over the next five years. Given this potential, we can expect to see further development in VR-enabled real estate and related fields.
Internet of Things (IoT) could hold the key to sustainability
Like VR, IoT was once an arena for major league IT players like IBM, Bosch and Cisco and is now commanded by burgeoning startups that are pushing the limits of the field further each year. The Indian startup ecosystem has witnessed an IoT boom since 2015. By May 2018, IoT startups in India had reportedly raised roughly $54.5 million in funding. A report by NASSCOM and Deloitte in 2018 predicted that India would soon have 1.9 billion IoT devices installed with a market size worth $9 billion.
IoT finds applications in a range of fields including automobile manufacturing and logistics. But perhaps its most significant role lies in checking energy wastage, a potential that many startups are currently tapping. Bengaluru-based Zenatix is one example, which uses machine-learning based models to curb energy wastage for commercial establishments. Ahmedabad-based Ecolibrium Energy is another startup on the same lines. Given these applications, we could soon see IoT being implemented in more places to check energy usage. Since sustainability is at the heart of the smart cities initiative, it is also no surprise that IoT startups like Gaia and Fluxgen Technologies are contributing to this programme.
Computer Vision is aiding retail, healthcare and transport
Computer Vision is closely linked to AI but also combines elements of machine learning, data processing and analytics. This technology enables computers to process images like the human eye, albeit free of the latter’s restrictions. Given its intersection with other DeepTech fields, Computer Vision technology has several applications, including e-commerce, transport, security and healthcare.
Bengaluru-based Turing Analytics is using AI-based visual search to help shoppers look for products using images and videos, granting tremendous ease of business between retailers and consumers. Like Docturnal and mFine, Bengaluru-based SigTuple aids in medical diagnosis using AI and visual medical data based on intelligent screening solutions. Another startup, Netradyne, is aiding the transport industry through computer vision technology that enables safe driving by alerting drivers to any emergency on their route, a trend we could soon see in home vehicles.
Given its relative infancy, the penetration of Computer Vision technology into these markets is still small, but trends indicate that the industry could see higher growth very soon.
Robotics is changing how we grow and consume food
As with other DeepTech fields, robotics is another area that has outgrown its origins in the manufacturing industry. Today, robotics finds applications in the military, hospitality, logistics, retail, healthcare, e-commerce, and even agriculture. A notable example of the latter is Marut Drones, a robotics startup incubated at T-Hub that specialises in indigenous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designs. It has developed agri-spraying drones that effectively monitor and provide data on crop and soil health, thus helping boost food production by preventing environmental damage.
However, it is perhaps the hospitality industry that has seen the most interesting deployment of robotic technology. In 2017, a restaurant in Chennai called Robot became the first in India to use robot waiters, drawing inspiration from a similar trend in Japan. The restaurant has since become a novelty in the city. Since then, other startups have begun to see the potential of robotics in FoodTech. Robots are now even programmed to cook rather than serve. For instance, Bengaluru-based Mukunda Foods designs robots that automatically make Indian foods. Another startup that works on the same lines is Euphotic Labs, which is using AI to create an automated cooking machine.
Several other startups have integrated AI and Robotics in FoodTech. In time, we could expect to see further integration with other fields in DeepTech like Machine Learning and IoT.
The work done by these startups is nothing short of revolutionary. It also stands testament to the sheer volume of technical talent in India. Aiding rapid technological advances in the country are incubators like T-Hub and top technical universities like the IITs, IIIT and IISc, which are breaking new ground in DeepTech. Startups in India are also notably market-friendly, requiring little time to achieve market status. They are now providing ever-increasing solutions to complex, interdependent problems without the need for human intervention. Given these advantages, we are now in a position to leverage them to transform how we reimagine the future and cement our status as a global DeepTech hub