This startup wants to change the way you interact with your devices
On 1st August 2015, sitting in Intel’s IoT Roadshow in Pune, little did two engineering students from VIT University knew that two years down the line, their creation would stand on the brink of changing the way people perceive wearables.
Meet Vicara, a ‘human-augmentation’ startup. “We focus on products which aim to augment human capabilities rather than replace them”, says Adarsh Warrier, co-founder and Director of Business at Vicara. Armed with this ideology, he and his fellow co-founder Abhishek Satish set out to make a device that would be able to harness the power of gestures to interact with the digital environment. “Seeing as you could communicate with everyone else using natural human-actions, we asked ourselves why interaction with our devices be any different.” This idea led to the creation of their first product called Kai (which translates to ‘hand’). A wearable that sits on your palm, giving you the power to control your world through actions that only used to be part of fictional super-hero movies. The Kai seeks to make this happen and be a part of your everyday briefcase. Imagine controlling your computer, lights, smart switches, coffee machines and even robots and drones with one sleek wearable in your hand.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Just like a typical startup story, Vicara’s story has had its own shares of ups and downs. For starters, unlike what you might’ve expected, their journey didn’t get off to the best of starts. Having created a futuristic device called UHID (Universal Human Interface Device), they wowed the audience at the Intel IoT hack-a-thon. Validation would soon turn into bitter disappointment as they were disqualified for having not submitted valid identification cards. “We had two options, to accept defeat and go about leading our college lives the way they were, or pick ourselves up, go ahead and make a change.” Fortunately, they chose the latter. Having immense belief in the potential of their product, they set about improving their creation.
“Our very first prototype was made on a kitchen glove. It was the only thing we could find, and afford at the time. That flashy orange glove with haphazardly mounted circuit boards and entangled wires has come to symbolise how far we’ve come with the Kai”, explains Abhishek Satish, the Director of Technology.
6 months after that disappointment, opportunity knocked again at their university’s first ever state-level business plan competition called StartUp VIT. It was there that they tasted their first success coming in second and winning a cash prize of Rs.30,000. Even then the co-founders weren’t satisfied. Adarsh explains, “It was pretty encouraging. But the winner got to take part in the national symposium and we just missed it!”. Typical response from the men who dreamed big.
The next course of action was to decide what was to be done with the money. “We decided to put all the prize money into developing the product, until the money ran out”, says Adarsh. It is a philosophy that they follow to this day. They invested Rs.22,000 on a 3-D printer. “I felt that a glove would be inconvenient to wear everytime people wanted to use their gadgets. We needed something that would be small and comfortable to wear.” And it is then that we came up with the idea of using a band instead, recounts Abhishek. From then, it took over 12 iterations for them to realise that dream.
Their next stop turned out to be a turning point. Pitching their idea at an intra-city event organised by Startups Club, they managed to secure a grant of Rs. 1 Lakh. The duo then submitted their patented technology to University Startup World Cup in Denmark and the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit in Paris. While their classmates were busy studying for their exams, Adarsh and Abhishek were preparing to present their invention to the world.
“At the two conferences we saw robotic birds flying, programmable silkworms, VR time travel devices, spaceships and the list goes on and on. At one point, we really felt dejected, as we felt that we hadn’t accomplished anything special.”
Having gained invaluable experience, they came back to India hungry as ever. A very unique opportunity stood in front of them- because of the winners of StartupVIT withdrawing at the last minute they had the opportunity to pitch at the National Symposium. Getting their components only 12 hours before the competition started, they ended up winning a whopping Rs.5 Lakh. The turnaround was complete.
Currently incubated at VIT, the company has no intentions of stopping. The Kai will soon be unveiled to the public and will go live on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo from April 20th.
by the author.