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Johns T Mathai

PRODUCTIVITY IMPROVEMENT We create our advanced technology locally

Dec 17, 2018

Johns T Mathai, Co-founder, IROV Technologies, in this interview with Juili Eklahare, talks about his vision to disrupt the underwater critical infrastructure inspections industry and how the market for underwater drones is getting bigger. Excerpts…

Tell us about IROV technologies’ journey. What challenges did you face?

Kannappa Palaniappan P, the Co-founder of IROV Technologies, did his engineering from IIT Madras and then went on to join National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) as an onboard ship scientist. Here, he found that remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROVs), weighing about 1 ton, were being used for ship hull inspection. Using huge machines for underwater inspections can be really tiring to deploy. Besides, they also often employ divers for the inspection, which reduces the duration of operation and exposes them to possible hazards underwater. That’s when Kannappa got the idea that a much smaller ROV (micro ROV) could be used, which would deliver the same results. So, he pitched the idea to me, at the time when I was working with Grey Orange Robotics.

I liked the idea, so we quit our jobs and started IROV Technologies, which got incubated at Maker Village, Kochi in 2016, an initiative by the Government of India and Government of Kerala. After incubation, we had to do our first POC, from where we moved on to prototyping. The first prototype we developed was called EyeROV Humpback. And that’s when we began to get tractions. Down the line, we got several clients, such as, Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), that required an ROV. However, the main problem that we faced during the development phase of IROV technologies was to get the proper vendors and suppliers in India, in order to develop deep-tech hardware and an ROV that is waterproof.

Your vision is to disrupt the underwater critical infrastructure inspections industry. What is IROV Technologies’ plan towards attaining this vision? Tell us more about EyeROV TUNA and its role in achieving this vision.

The first and core essence of our company is that we create our advanced technology locally instead of procuring it from outside. We put in our efforts into building our technologies in India and then sell it globally. In fact, we got opportunities to work and also compete with established companies from across the world that are into ROVs, making us realise that we are also at par with them on field, which was a real validation for us. EyeROV TUNA, our first product, a micro-ROV/underwater drone, helped create an initial reputation that we required as a start-up. It is the first step towards our journey of disrupting the underwater critical infrastructure inspections industry. We are now working on EyeROV TUNA’s next version, which comes with more complexity.

What are the projects that IROV Technologies has been involved in?

We have been working with Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), various government-related organisations, as most inspection related work is conducted by government agencies. Also, our clients include various research institutes.

How do you expect the market for underwater drones to grow in the next 5 years? Where do you envisage the greatest potential for growth in it?

Underwater technology and exploration is going to take a big leap in the next couple of years. The number of people showing an interest in exploring what’s underwater is increasing, from both the government’s side and private enterprise’s side. Plus, as the need for underwater inspection is growing, so is the number of tools required for the same. The market was always there, but with more people understanding that there is technology available out there for exploring underwater, it is growing even further.

What is the next step for IROV Technologies?

Raising funds for further research and development is one aspect we are working on. Hence, at the moment, we are working on perfecting what we do and delivering the best experience possible to our clients. We aim to have more clients and cater to a variety of requirements.

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