Miko have evolve immeasurably from a white board concept to an actual product.
Our team caught up with Mr. Sneh Vaswani, Co-founder and CEO, Emotix, India’s first social robotics startup focused at Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things consumer products and asked him a few questions that take us through the journey of Miko.
Sneh Vaswani, Co-founder and CEO, Emotix
How was Miko created? And every device has a target. What is Miko’s?
My co-founders Chintan Raikar , Prashant Iyengar and I studied at IIT Mumbai for five years and worked together on several path-breaking projects out of a garage-like space. That was the time we decided to start a company together and after spending months discussing on the plans, we finally settled on a completely new category withMiko, a companion robot for kids that can answer questions, tell jokes, ask riddles, and initiate conversations, all the while getting better as it interacts with the child. We were interested in solving a documented consumer problem so the parent-child relationship caught our interest. The genesis is very interesting. We were in Bangalore while looking around to zero down on our business plan, and that is when we saw a mother screaming at her child about “leaving a game of Temple Run he was obsessed with”. An almost-three-hour conversation later, we figured that parents don’t want to cut out children completely from technology, but needed “a trusted gateway of technology for kids that caters to their learning and development needs. It was this experience which ignited the vision of a companion robot for children manifested through Miko.
Miko’s first prototype was picked up by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani’s EkStep Foundation in Bengaluru who saw Miko evolve from a white board concept to an actual product. Thereafter, we got some angel investments in 2016 followed by YourNest Venture Capital and IDG Ventures infusing pre-Series-A funds with which we were ready with a go-to-market version that could be scaled. Rest is history. Miko has received an overwhelming response and was not only picked up by urban consumers but also by schools in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Today, Miko2 is available at more than 300 touch-points including online and offline stores and has been registering a robust monthly growth rate.
Our target is to see how we can make Miko and its subsequent versions a household name. For example, Miko2 (the current version) offers the options for the child to interact in Hindi and Hinglish. The evolution will be contiguous going into Miko 3, Miko 4, essentially a ten-year pipeline.
Can you share a bit about the AI aspect of Miko? What are some of the features we are looking at that are not there in other products?
Well, it’s not just AI but we have gone ahead and made the product emotionally intelligent.
The cute robot aims to help modern parents in early education and development of children by engaging the child in “playful learning”. The robot can initiate and hold long conversations with kids, imparting knowledge based on academic curriculum and general facts about the world. Say “Hello Miko” to the robot and it starts a conversation on its own in a loveable emotive voice unique to it.
AI makes a lot possible. For example, Miko 2 can see, hear, sense, express, talk, recognize faces, remember names, identify moods, initiate a conversation and learn from its own environment to intuitively develop a bond with the child.
The features which differentiates Miko from other products is that it can identify the child’s moods but also adapt to their personality. Miko 2 can also hear through active noise cancellation microphones and has edge sensors that saves it from falling off edges such as tables and stairs.
What’s the prospect of emotional robotics in the long run and what can we expect from the future versions of Miko?
Emotional robotics has a great prospect in the near future. We’ve been interacting with robots through our phones and speakers. As new technology unfolds, robots will start to come out of our gadgets and get more involved in our lives. The idea of a “home robot” has captivated the tech industry for years. There’s something irresistible about a gadget that cooks, cleans and generally does all the household stuff you’d rather not. So, the opportunity is huge.
We took a giant step in creating a companion robot for children. We are living in a world where parents lead a hectic lifestyle and they are not able to give sufficient time to their children. Companion robots like Miko 2 can help the child to revise the syllabus, give a pep talk if she/he had a bad day and entertain them via rhymes and bedtime stories.
A truly great home robot is still a long way off. It will need better sensors and processing, plus a far more precise way to pick up and manipulate objects. Long legs wouldn’t hurt, either. So far, the closest things we’ve got is Miko and the new generation Miko2which has been engineered for global consumers with respect to content, design and cultural connect.
Being a parent, I would think twice about any children-focused device with cameras. In way of privacy, how safe is Miko?
Miko 2 has an advanced parental control dashboard that can help track and guide the child’s interaction with Miko 2. It also has guaranteed age-appropriate content, child-safe design and strict privacy norms to address any data breach concerns.
How is Miko 2 superior as compared to the first version of Miko?
India’s first and very own companion robot Miko which was the first product developed by the company about a year back, got a shiny new makeover with Miko2 introduced in the market in January 2019. The changes are not just cosmetic but remarkable in several ways. Miko 2 can see, hear, sense, express, talk, recognize faces, remember names, identify moods, initiate a conversation and learn from its own environment to intuitively develop a bond with the child. In terms of operation, while the 1.0 version (Miko1) required a smart phone to operate, the new version requires a one-time Wi-Fi set-up to be done through the Miko 2 app by the parent, post which, the child can talk with the robot directly through voice commands. Miko 2 sports a new HD camera that does face recognition, can hear through active noise cancellation microphones and has edge sensors that save it from falling off edges such as tables and stairs. Miko 2 comes with a “Time of Flight” sensor that enables the robot to better sense the surroundings and make decisions likewise. In addition to all the upgrades, the product now has a better battery life and improved display and sound quality.
The first Miko came a day before demonetization. Did it affect your prospects?
While the market for consumer durables operates primarily on cash, our customer base is mostly evolved who prefer digital payments, plastic payments or even the new age payment gateways. So, while we did fear a setback, we didn’t see any significant impact in our market entry and subsequent ramp up. Rather, customers evinced a lot of interest in buying this brand-new product made in India.
If you can share as to how the three founders met and their background. The story behind Emote and how did it come about.
I met Prashant Iyengar (CTO and Co-founder) and Chintan Raikar (COO and Co-founder) while studying at IIT Bombay. We started building robots from our student years in IIT Bombay with the objective of developing rugged and robust robots for different applications.
All through our student years, our robots have won national and international awards for our country and alma matter bringing them on a global pedestal through such initiatives.
After passing out of IIT Bombay and a stint in the corporate world, we wanted to solve solid consumer problems with our experience.
While in Bangalore we came across a mother screaming at her child for surfing on a tablet for long. After having a conversation with the mother, we identified that parents realized the positive value that technology could bring to the life of a child but were not comfortable to see their children spend time on the internet/social media/play screen-based games. We realized that parents need a positive and trusted gateway of technology that caters to learning and development needs of the child.
In 2016, over 22 product pilots across 2.5 years we launched
our first product, Miko: India’s first companion robot that engages, educates and entertains children.
You have received funding from different agencies. What’s the roadmap for Emotix?
Initially funded by family and friends, we raised ₹4 crore in June-July 2016 from a group of angel investors. Thereafter in April 2018, YourNest Venture Capital and IDG Ventures did a pre-Series A funding round of $2 million.
Besides a vision for Miko, which will go into Miko 3, Miko 4, through a ten-year pipeline, as well as foray into the developed global markets. We also have a long-term vision for the company and looking at other consumer problems that a combination of ‘emotional intelligence and robotics’ can solve.
How popular is Miko beyond the big cities?
We have received quite a good response from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as well and our customers are also happy with Miko.
Will Emotix focus only on Miko or do you have other plans?
We are looking at other consumer problems that a combination of ‘emotional intelligence and robotics’ can solve.
How often is the software updated on Miko and how handy is the device?
With a width of 15 cms, height of 18 cms, depth of 18 cms and weight of just 900 gms, Emotix is very handy to carry and operate. In terms of operation, while the 1.0 version (Miko1) required a smartphone to operate, the new version requires a one-time Wi-Fi set-up to be done through the Miko 2 app by the parent, post which, the child can talk with the robot directly through voice commands.