Saurabh Chandra (left), CEO and Naveen Arulselvan, CTO of Ati Motors
Ati Motors’ founders started with ideas for autonomous vehicles, but zeroed in on a simpler “use case”, as they say in industry—moving things around. Whether it is tugging or lugging, the task is one that’s repeated over and over on factory floors and in warehouses, and an autonomous robot that makes this more efficient and effective will find customers.
That’s what the Bengaluru startup is finding, across some 20 customers now. The company was started in 2017 by CV Raman Award winner V Vinay, an IISc computer science don, Intel IRIS award winner Saad Nasser, a precocious youngster who wrote the first algorithm that became the germ of the idea for Ati Motors, and Saurabh Chandra, who brought the business chops.
A difference of opinion over the future direction of the venture led to Vinay and Nasser leaving the company, Economic Times
reported in March 2022, citing the professor.
Chandra, the CEO, continues to run the company, and on the tech side, CTO Naveen Arulselvan has been with Ati Motors since 2017. He brings to his role a PhD in electrical engineering from Northwestern University in the US, and several years of industry experience, including stints at Motorola and Nokia Siemens Networks.
In July, the company announced it had secured Series A funding of $10.85 million from investors, including True Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital (VC) firm focussed on early-stage technology companies, Athera Ventures Partners, a deep tech VC firm. Existing investors Blume Ventures, Exfinity Ventures and MFV Partners joined in.
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The money will help Ati Motors expand into markets including the US, Southeast Asia, Japan and Europe. Chandra and Arulselvan also want to tap the demand for autonomous cargo robots in the pharmaceuticals, chemicals, maritime and injection-moulding sectors.
“Autonomous mobile robots are not completely new, but what we liked about Ati Motors was that their architecture enables very different use cases and also makes it work at different cost structures,” Karthee Madasamy, founding partner at MFV says.
Ati’s three robots in the market, under the brand name Sherpa, are inspired by self-driving cars in the way they combine artificial intelligence, computer vision, and hardware to perform complex tasks in dynamic environments, Ati said in its funding press release.
“Public street autonomy has solved some of the hardest problems and that’s something that we take inspiration from,” Arulselvan says. “A lot of our engineering goes down to tailoring these ideas to [environments] like factories and warehouses. That makes our product robust but not as complex.”
That said, new ideas beyond carrying and tugging are emerging, he says, like using their robots as autonomous visual inspection platforms. Early customers of Sherpa include TVS Motors, Ceat Tyres, Robert Bosch, Hyundai and automotive supplier Forvia in the US.