Meet the Chennai Students Building Unmanned EVs for the Indian Army
Founded by SRM graduates Karthikeyan B, Vibhakar Senthil and Vignesh Kandasamy, Chennai-based startup Torus Robotics has developed an AI-based unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) for the Indian Army.
Chennai-based startup Torus Robotics is developing Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) for the Indian Army. These vehicles can be operated like robots and can be used from a safe distance.
“The electric-powered vehicles are designed to detect, identify and dispose of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They can be operated from a safe distance of up to 1 km. The same ground vehicles can also be used to scout locations and collect information,” says Vignesh Kandasamy, co-founder, in an interview with The Better India.
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He is one of the co-founders of the startup along with Karthikeyan B and Vibhakar Senthil.
Developing defence solutions in college
In 2012, Vignesh met Karthikeyan B and Vibhakar Senthil, the other founders of Torus Robotics, while they were all pursuing their B.Tech Mechatronics at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai. In their first year of college, they enrolled themselves in a robotics programme.
“In this course, we were required to identify existing problems and innovate solutions for them through robotics. Since the three of us shared a common interest towards the Indian Army, we began our research in the defence sector,” says Vignesh.
In the initial years of the course, the trio developed miniature robots that would help in surveillance, and designed a single-seat solar-powered vehicle.
“Our projects were selected for several college-level competitions, of which we won a few,” says Vignesh, adding that this prompted them to start a company of their own after graduating in 2016.
However, the trio needed time to figure out what solution they would develop, alongside figuring out how to rope in private investors. So to ensure the trio was upskilled to run a business, SRM University offered them a Masters in Business Administration course with a full scholarship.
“Until 2018, we were doing the MBA and on the side, we were meeting experts who would give us an idea about the ground-level problem faced by the Indian Army,” says Vignesh.
A solution to detect threats
By the end of 2018, the trio got in touch with experts at the Army Design Bureau, a government body. This organisation was set up to consider immediate requirements for the Army and have solutions designed through startups or private players.
“With the organisation’s help, we began understanding the problems faced by the Indian Army in detail. This included having to carry heavy loads up high altitudes, looking out for infiltrators, detecting IEDs and more. Soon, we also received a direct project from the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It was to develop a solution that could scout locations and conduct surveillance for unidentified objects,” says Vignesh.
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The team began developing the UGV early in 2019 and by the end of that year, officially registered their company, Torus Robotics, which is headquartered in Ambattur, Chennai.
One of the main challenges the team faced was procuring parts for building the vehicle. Most of them had to be imported from other countries. This was not only a time-consuming process but also an expensive one. To avoid extra costs, all the parts for their vehicle were manufactured individually in Chennai.
The device is an electric terrain vehicle with a robotic arm. This can pick up unidentified objects like suitcases or bags and analyse them for IEDs.
“Once the final version was finished, the device was submitted to the DRDO to conduct further tests on its performance,” says Vignesh, adding that after passing all the necessary tests, the device was displayed at the annual Aero India exhibition held in February 2021.
At the event, the team signed an MoU with the Government of India to develop an upgraded version of the UGV, which will be deployed at India’s border. This terrain vehicle will be equipped to ease the burden on jawans by carrying heavy loads. The UGV will be designed to carry the equipment that 10 jawans are required to carry to higher altitudes.
As a part of expanding their business, the team is also developing batteries for electric vehicles.
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