Meet Elite Robotics, a start-up business based in Newcastle NSW (Australia), which strives to build the next generation of robotics to enter your household. their robots will use machine learning to navigate inside and outside your house, to keep it tidy so you don't have to worry about doing boring chores ever again!
Elite Robotics is a company that focuses on commercial applications for Autonomous Vehicle Technology. Their vision is to take the technology found in driverless cars, and bring it to the humble quarter-acre block (or several-acre block) by creating a line of household robotic solutions, starting with an autonomous lawnmower. We caught up with co-founder, Sahil Harriram, to get to know his business a little more.
What inspired you to start the business?
Our engineering team mostly comprises of mechatronics engineers who, throughout our studies, have developed skills in the area of Autonomous Vehicles Control. Upon completing our degree we found it difficult to find graduate jobs that used the skillsets we developed. So instead of taking a traditional career path we decided to forge our own.
Nathan, one of our co-founders, lives on a large two-acre property and has to mow it using only a push mower. One day he came up with the idea to combine our desire to work in the autonomous vehicle industry, with his despise for having to spend three hours on a Sunday mowing his lawn! So he got together with Luke and began planning and developing the idea. Soon after, Nathan brought the idea to me. I was eager to get involved, and the rest is history!
That’s a great tale! Like-minded people can achieve such amazing things when they collaborate. What excites you most about working with robotics?
Robotics and automation is the equivalent of what PCs were back in the 80s. In the coming decades, this technology is going to shape the world and we are excited to be at the forefront of this futuristic industry, which is only just getting started. We are currently working on a robotic lawnmower. Basically imagine a lawnmower that has a really smart brain and can avoid obstacles in your yard, like kids and pets, but is still capable of mowing the entire lawn.
No more lawn mowing on a Sunday? I can’t wait until a robot makes my dinner for me, gives me a foot rub and washes my car! I hadn’t even thought about mowing the lawns. What has been your greatest business accomplishment so far?
We’ve been fortunate to have some success in business pitching competitions, which has helped us obtain the necessary funding to get our business off the ground. We’ve also managed to keep the funds flowing by obtaining a government grant. This has helped us attract the right talent, to assist us in carrying out our long-term vision.
Pitching is a common challenge for many business owners. Maybe we need a robot to take care of that dastardly task too? What’s been your biggest business challenge so far since you managed to take care of funding?
One of the biggest challenges we face is the ongoing process of building our business at a time in Newcastle (NSW, Australia), where it is not common for people to establish start-up businesses. Compounding this with the fact that we are going into a really high-end industry, where a lot of capital and time is required to get a product to market, makes it extremely challenging for us.
Yes, you haven’t chosen an easy path, by any means! But the end reward will be worth it, when every household knows your name! What’s the most impressive robotic solution that you’ve ever heard of?
RoboRace. This is the company that’s producing the world’s first driverless car motorsport series; they’re aiming to launch in 2018. Partnering with Formula E – a current electric motorsport series – and the cars they’re developing are extremely impressive. The current prototype is a single seat LPM-style race car, which can be controlled by either a driver, or just the computer system itself. The end-goal concept, which was announced earlier this year, has no seat and relies completely on its onboard guidance, navigation and control system. Imagine the limitless possibilities of these vehicles! They will be lighter than current LMP (Le Mans Prototype) cars and there will be no driver risk involved.
That’s amazing, though it does start to raise questions about what we find interesting about racing - is it human skill we’re in awe of, or is it just about machines, code, and how it can best utilise horsepower?! Either way, no driver risk is a bonus. It all sounds so surreal, but we’re eagerly watching this space too. What’s your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for Elite Robotics?
The over-arching vision of our company is to have an Elite Robotics product in everyone’s home. The invention of personal computers and the internet, combined with the extreme growth in the global population has made the world we live in, more complex. As this complexity increases, we need to find ways to free up our time so we can spend it doing the things we love – like being with family, and pursuing our passions. We believe that robotics can help us achieve this, and Elite Robotics is striving to make this a reality.
Listen, sign us up! Who wouldn’t want to let someone or something else tick off the most annoying tasks, so that we can go and have more fun? What’s your plan to take it to market? Crowdfunding, or something else?
We are initially targeting golf courses, sporting venues and council-owned property such as recreational parks. This will allow us to develop a high-end, low-volume product using predominantly off-the-shelf components. Once we have established a production line we can streamline the manufacturing process, thereby reducing manufacturing costs. This will allow us to create a high-end, high-volume product that we can market to residential properties. We will initially sell our product within the Hunter region, expanding nationally, and then worldwide. We are focusing primarily on the development of our minimum viable product, as we believe that by successfully building this we can attract larger external business investors. Furthermore, we are working towards establishing partnerships with golf courses and city councils in our region, to create a pipeline of business customers.
What’s your anticipated timeline to get your product to market?
Right now we are in the middle of product development. We are aiming to get a “proof of concept/demo product” within the next six months, which is a requirement of our grant. From there we envisage servicing a business customer with our product by the end of next year.
Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment (or in the near future), or are you staying focused on the first product for now?
We have another project in the pipeline with a potential customer, but we are still in the negotiation process so we cannot disclose any detail yet. For now, we are focusing primarily on our first product, which is the lawn mower.
Sahil, what advice do you have for other people who are considering “going pro” with their electronics business idea?
We stumbled across an article a while ago, which quoted a study that found 60 per cent of the jobs that will exist in the coming decade, have not been invented yet. This is really exciting for us, because the invention of open source electronics platforms – such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi – have popularised electronics and programming. This has significantly driven down the cost of embedded computing systems, whilst improving their performance. This is huge, because it means we now live in a time where there are more amazing and profitable combinations of this technology, than there are people working this area. So if you have an idea and think it may be a way to support your lifestyle, then go for it! There are so many resources at your fingertips, and so many people who are willing to help you, so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
So true Sahil. We’re definitely excited to see your first prototype and hope to do so soon!
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?
There are already a number of similar products on the market; however, they use a very basic navigation "bump and go" system to detect obstacles; meaning they bump into the obstacle and then reverse to manoeuvre around them.
In order for those lawnmowers to detect the boundaries of your yard, they require perimeter wire to be constructed around the outskirts. This automated lawnmower will not require any perimeter wire and uses an intelligent navigation system that detects obstacles and manoeuvers around them before it touches them.