Catching them young: Intel powers AI start-ups

Bolsters floor-cleaning, faster wound recovery, safe riding

November 12, 2017 09:56 pm | Updated 09:56 pm IST - BENGALURU

In a race to dominate the artificial intelligence space, Intel Corp., the world’s largest semiconductor maker is embedding its chips and technology in AI hardware start-ups.

Smart eyewear that helps the visually impaired read and identify objects, gadgets that analyse physical wounds for faster recovery, and floor-cleaning robots were some of the AI-based innovations on display by hardware start-ups at ‘Intel India Maker Lab’ in Bengaluru. Many of these companies said that they had implanted Intel chips or are in talks with the chipmaker to get the technology for their products.

“I don’t see any difference [between] what is happening in the Western world and here from an ideation perspective,” said Jitendra Chaddah, senior director, strategic development and operations, Intel India. But, he said, unlike software companies, these hardware firms could not be “started in bedrooms and garages” and needed labs, platforms and technical mentoring.

The Santa Clara, California-based company, which reported revenue of $59.4 billion in 2016, said it was addressing challenges faced by hardware firms in areas such as product development and commercialisation. One such initiative is Plugin, a collaborative, incubation programme between Intel India, Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) at IIT-Bombay and Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India.

Aiding visual cognition

Hardware companies leverage the incubation facilities and mentoring resources at ‘Intel India Maker Lab’ in Bengaluru and SINE to develop products in areas such as transportation, smart homes, industrial automation and healthcare. For example, Ayata Intelligence has developed smart eyewear with AI capabilities to assist the visually challenged. This includes navigation, recognising objects and currency, and reading text in different Indian languages. “We partnered with Intel to get the hardware,” said Shreyas Upasane, CEO and co-founder of Ayata. The company, which would globally compete with Israeli-start-up OrCam, said it aimed to sell its product priced at ₹8,000-₹10,000 and all of it would be made in India.

Another firm Epocare has created a hand-held medical device that uses imaging technique to helps doctors predict the healing outcome of chronic wounds by analyzing them. Deepak Kumar, founder of Epocare, said clinical examination of wounds are based on visual inspection and that was not sufficient to determine whether they would heal as expected or would require intervention. The device needs to be connected to a tablet to see the insights. The data is stored on the cloud for analysis and prediction, using machine learning.

“We are going to use Intel chips in the future version [of the robots],” said Debashis Das, founder and chief executive of Bharati Robotic Systems.

The company has built floor-cleaning robots for home and commercial complexes. Poyni Bhatt, chief executive of SINE said that the programme also provides training related to protecting intellectual property, besides access to legal and regulatory experts.

In August, the government also constituted a ‘Task Force’ on AI for India’s economic transformation. The panel will comprise experts, academics, researchers and industry leaders. It will explore possibilities to leverage AI for development across various fields. Dr. Anita Gupta, director and associate head, innovation and entrepreneurship, DST, Government of India said that though major developments in AI are driven by countries like the U.S, India is also playing a key role.

“Our start-ups are well informed about what is happening,” said Ms. Gupta. She said that the most start-ups emerging from initiatives like Plugin have their products ready in areas like AI and Internet of Things (IoT), where devices communicate with each other intelligently.

Tracking assets

For example, Linkeddots has deployed smart tags and readers that use IoT technology for tracking of assets at steel plants. This can apply to tracking the safety of children as well. “Our systems can learn over time,” said Devaraj Srinivasan, founding director of Linkeddots. It has deployed more than 100 such devices equipped with Intel chips for its customers.

Hardware companies such as Revsmart are betting big on solving Indian problems such as motorcycle accidents due to smartphone distraction while riding the vehicle.

At the Intel campus, Mohamed Yaseen, co-founder at Revsmart, showcased a small audio device that could be embedded in any ordinary helmet and transform it into a personal headset. The technology allows the sound to reverberate into the helmet. The rider can listen to music, navigation and take calls without annoying others. Importantly, it allows the rider to hear what is going around him.

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