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From DRDO to BPCL, India’s first underwater drone, EyeROV Tuna, finds many takers

Kerala-based startup develops India's first commercial portable drone that can be used for underwater inspections. Today, the robot comes very handy for location scouting for search and rescue mission, surveillance for the defence sector and for r...

ET Online|
Updated: Nov 28, 2019, 11.54 AM IST
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EyeRov
The startup has successfully completed numerous projects like surveying dams for the Kerala State Electricity Board, oil pipeline bridge for BPCL and are working with the Fire and rescue department of Karnataka and Kerala state amongst others.
Hot Startups 2020
By Pranbihanga Borpuzari & Geetha Jayaraman

When the Defence Ministry started the Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDex) programme last year, one startup stood out. An underwater robotic drone called EyeROV could spot a crack in the hull of a ship or damage to an oil pipeline and seemed like a great fit for the defence organisations.

iDex was started to create an ecosystem to foster innovation and technology development in Defence and Aerospace by engaging with innovators and startups to deliver technologically advanced solutions for modernizing the Indian Military. A passion for robotics and to innovate something path-breaking was the driving force behind the development of EyeROV – India’s first commercial underwater robotic drone by two IIT post graduates. It was a match, waiting to happen.

Co-founder of IROV Technologies – Kannappa Palaniappan P was working as an on-board scientist with the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai, when he came across a Herculean task to survey the ocean floor and inspect the ship’s hull with an enormous drone weighing a tonne. This got him thinking that when we have the resources to develop a cost efficient satellite like Chandrayan, we can surely develop a portable drone that can be used for underwater inspection, surveillance and for search and rescue operations.

“When Kannappa suggested the idea of developing a simple machine to inspect the ship hull as compared to the many sophisticated bulkier equipment available in the market, we thought of developing a miniature version that can go up to 300 meters,” shares Johns T Mathai, CEO and co-founder, IROV Technologies, who worked in Samsung R&D Institute India and Grey Orange Pvt Ltd before foraying into the entrepreneurial venture.

In 2016, they pitched the idea to the Maker Village in Kochi, Kerala. Mathai says, “The idea got selected for the incubator program and we started working on the initial proof of concept and prototype.”

Finding depth
Their product EyeROV TUNA is India’s first commercial remotely operated underwater drone, which can send real-time video of ships and other underwater structures to help with their repair and maintenance. “The drone can navigate up to a depth of 50 meters to take real-time HD video images to examine underwater, thus eliminating the need for costly and riskier manual inspection by divers,” explains Mathai.

He adds that the rover is very light, which can be easily accessed and controlled with the supporting tether and connected to a laptop or a joystick. “A camera is fitted on the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to give live video feed of the harsh and critical underwater environment. The drone moves at a speed of two knots, has a 6000 lumens LED lamps and a three hour plus battery life,” says Mathai.

The EyeROV TUNA weighs less than 10 kg and can be used to inspect ship hulls, ports, dams and nuclear power plants. Talking about the significance of EyeROV, Mathai says, “This product comes very handy for location scouting for search and rescue mission, surveillance for the defence sector and for research sectors like fishery and oil & gas.”

Eye-Rov--169

For a hardware startup finding funding is usually the biggest problem, unlike a software startup states Mathai and adds, “Designing a prototype is way different from designing an actual product. The costing can go exponentially high.”

They developed the first prototype within seven months of inception, but failed because of various reasons. “The water environment is generally very hostile compared to the environment in space. You have various challenges like very high currents, zero visibility, so it is very tough for a normal prototype to survive in such hostile conditions,” points out Mathai.

The company got initial funding from BPCL project Ankur Startup Scheme and Kerala Startup Mission Idea Grant Scheme. They also received their first order from the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Lab under DRDO. “We received the order based on the second prototype. Though the prototype was not as per their requirement, but they gave us the order along with their requirement. Our idea was to develop a commercially viable product and since there was a demand for the same we had an advantage. That propelled us to a great extend.”

A sea of opportunities
Oil and gas industry is another major sector that the company is trying to capture as they have many underwater structures and pipelines that connects the refinery and the dock. “These pipelines and offshore structures are to be inspected on a regular interval for any kind of damages.”

This four year old company has also worked with the Mumbai Port Trust for identifying wreckage of ships. “We used our technology to find out sunken ship near the port. Within 3 days we were able to spot seven wrecked ships in the surrounding, which divers could have taken around a month or so to complete,” expresses Mathai.

Apart from cameras, EyeROV also use sonar technology to inspect the water environment. “The portable micro-class ROV can be used for underwater survey and visual inspection of submerged structures at depths up to 100 meters. We use sonar technology because in India the water bodies are generally very murky and sometimes it is very difficult to capture anything underwater, even in a close range. There are two types of sonar – imaging sonar and side scan sonar. Imaging sonar provides data of what is in-front while the side-scan sonar shows the bottom area.”

The startup has successfully completed numerous projects like surveying dams for the Kerala State Electricity Board, oil pipeline bridge for BPCL and are working with the Fire and rescue department of Karnataka and Kerala state amongst others.

With a specialised data analytics platform, EyeROV aims to spread their wings outside India capturing the global market and compete with the existing products. “Most of the companies that currently operate just collect the data and share it with the client. Generally, these videos are about six to eight hours long. So, it is very difficult for a person to sit and analyse. What we do is, we make the findings into a 3D image or a user intrusive platform where they can click and see. We focus on data analytics and present to the client a user-friendly result. We are also working on image enhancement. We have an expertise in data analytics,” states Mathai.
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