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View from India: Smart start-ups leverage AI for business advantage

Start-ups specialising in AI, machine learning and robotics have contributed significantly to innovation in these fields over the last few years.

The PwC India and ASSOCHAM report titled ‘Advance artificial intelligence for growth: Leveraging AI and robotics for India’s economic transformation,’ indicates that artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups in India are venturing into multiple industries such as e-commerce, healthcare, education, financial services, retail and logistics.

The report was released in April 2018 and reflects the fact that digital technologies have created opportunities and allowed them to set up new revenue streams around these new technologies. These start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can become suppliers of comprehensive solutions which are either stand-alone or integrated applications that can be adopted by businesses and consumers.

This is further propelled by the government’s flagship initiatives such as Make in India and Startup India. Smaller and nimbler start-up organisations are now becoming potent challengers to the existing market leaders through innovation and the adoption of newer technologies.

“AI is fast becoming the most significant general purpose technology of our era. With techniques like machine learning, we can now build systems that are capable of improving their own performance by learning from data over time,” said Sandeep Jajodia, president, ASSOCHAM, adding, “AI is moving from hype to reality and is increasingly cementing its importance as a building block for modern software and applications.”

It is finding use in a wide variety of industries or tasks within them — for example, in the form of more personalised search results on the web to daily conveniences such as app-based cab services and location-specific, context-aware suggestions about restaurants, movies and other forms of entertainment.

AI research has gained significant traction in some of the premier technology-focused educational institutions, including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). In recent years, many AI-focused start-ups have been either incubated by their founders during their academic years or by alumni from the aforementioned technical institutes. For instance, students of a prominent technical institute in the southern part of India have come up with a patented technology that uses AI to predict and diagnose medical conditions like diabetes, cancer and neurological disorders.

IIT Kharagpur is setting up an AI Research Centre of Excellence that covers education, training, research, projects and entrepreneurship opportunities. The centre is expected to be seed funded for around Rs 5.6 crore towards infrastructure, software, simulation platforms and courseware design.

A future forecast points to a world dominated by AI and computer vision, which will have to rely on sophisticated hardware to support and scale up to deliver usable performance for small devices to big servers. High-performance computing engines are essential to process big data required for neural networks. Traditional processors may not have the wherewithal to meet the demand coming from chip makers or tech giants. This is something that Manjeera Digital Systems, a Hyderabad-based start-up has understood and has decided to meet the industry requirement by developing a processor to enable AI processing.

The start-up has focused its efforts towards creating a high-performance computing engine. “Unlike other players in the field who have been tweaking and making incremental changes or modifications to the processor while keeping the fundamental architecture at the core the same, we took a step back and created a fundamentally new and unique approach to computing. We call this Universal Multifunction Accelerator or UMA,” stated Dr Venu Kandadai, co-founder and CEO of Manjeera Digital Systems.

The computing engine was tested for vital parameters such as performance, power consumption, programmability and silicon area. A competitive performance analysis on standard benchmarks for relevant application areas such as deep learning, image processing, computer vision and digital signal processor (DSP) has also been conducted.

UMA has diverse applications including, but not limited to, multimedia processing, data security, graphics, algo-trading and general computing that are used across industries such as healthcare, robotics, defence, space, automotive, surveillance, smartphones and drones. Coming to other aspects like validation on silicon, the team has been working on tape out of a chip with UMA over the last six months and achieved success in this effort. With the successful validation on silicon, the intellectual property (IP) is ready to be integrated into a system on a chip (SoC).

Manjeera Digital Systems received its initial seed fund from CIE (Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship) which is part of the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT-H) Foundation initiated to help IIIT-H manage its IP portfolio.  

Being an all-pervasive technology, AI has the ability to help understand data and hence, change the manner in which businesses are done. Simply put, businesses can fine-tune their output if they have an easy-to-use tool that can interpret the data generated through the business. Accurate when automated, the process is most efficient when the outcome is communicated in words. In a nutshell, data needs to be presented in a manner which can be understood easily and this happens by using AI technology.

This is the conclusion Neerav Parekh arrived at through his technology company vPhrase, based out of Mumbai. “When AI is used for business intelligence it helps improve business performance. Business intelligence can be driven in any industry which is of any size or scale. When the data generated is huge, you can use AI technologies like machine learning to take better decisions,” said Nisarg Bavishi, operations and client solutions, vPhrase.

Phrazor, the start-up’s business intelligence and natural language-generation platform, analyses the data in a few bullet points using natural language. This insight is then shared with the end user to make informed decisions. It means end users have ready-made insights and needn’t interpret dashboards. Data points itself are a disruption here and connect to the back-end operations of the business. This has applications in diverse segments including the banking, financial services and insurance sector.

“AI is the foundational technology for the next phase of innovation and economic development for India. The AI growth trajectory in India has been encouraging, with numerous developments in the field of AI, machine learning and robotics in India - both institutionally driven, as well as more subtle percolations within business processes and consumer lifestyles,” reasoned Arnab Basu, partner and leader, technology consulting, PwC India.

Globally, the scope of AI applications is becoming increasingly intertwined with the broader digital transformation agenda of businesses (small and big) and governments.

Considering AI is a socially disruptive technology, India is gearing up for AI-led economic growth.

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