Mis­sion pos­si­ble

Young tech en­trepreneur helps to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the drone in­dus­try

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By AN­THONY WAR­REN an­thony@chi­nadai­lya­pac.com

On one side of Pulkit Jaiswal’s busi­ness card are the words: “Do the im­pos­si­ble, be­cause al­most ev­ery­one has told me my ideas are merely fan­tasies.”

It is a quote from Howard Hughes, one of the United States’ most enig­matic busi­ness­men and an avi­a­tion in­no­va­tor. It is also an apt de­scrip­tion of Jaiswal’s dream to trans­form drones from op­er­a­tor-guided to au­ton­o­mous ma­chines.

New Delhi-born Jaiswal is CEO and co-founder of Swarm-X, orig­i­nally founded in Sin­ga­pore but now head­quar­tered in Palo Alto — the eco­nomic hub of Sil­i­con Val­ley — in the US. The com­pany has re­tained its Asian roots by keep­ing the South­east Asian oper­a­tions in Sin­ga­pore and its drone man­u­fac­tur­ing in Shen­zhen, south­ern China.

An as­pir­ing en­trepreneur, sci­encefic­tion fan and roboti­cist, Jaiswal is al­ready a well-known fig­ure in the tech in­dus­try. Right now, he is dis­rupt­ing and re­shap­ing how we think about and use ma­chines, even though he is only 23 years old.

In 2015, the EmTech Asia con­fer­ence or­ga­nized by MIT Tech­nol­ogy Re­view, a science mag­a­zine from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, listed him among Asia’s 10 world-chang­ing in­no­va­tors un­der the age of 35. Not only is he the youngest on the EmTech list but the only one not in academia. Jaiswal is in­stead busy run­ning his own busi­ness.

In 2013, he en­tered the Thiel Fel­low­ship, a com­pet­i­tive $100,000 grant set up by Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, open only to those aged 20 or un­der and not pur­su­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion. Only 1 per­cent are said to be ac­cepted and men­tored by Thiel.

While drones are ris­ing in the pub­lic con­scious­ness — un­sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing that $700 mil­lion was in­vested in the in­dus­try in 2014 alone — Jaiswal con­fesses his in­ter­est has lit­tle to do with their pop­u­lar­ity. If some­thing is hot right now, he says, “it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be hot in the fu­ture”. Rather than im­i­tate other man­u­fac­tur­ers, Swarm-X aims to en­hance ef­fi­ciency by re­mov­ing di­rect hu­man con­trol.

Jaiswal’s in­ter­est in ro­bot­ics and avi­a­tion likely started with his up­bring­ing. “You can take that as where I got my lik­ing for fly­ing things,” he said, re­fer­ring to his par­ents’ work as air-traf­fic con­trollers.

In 2011, Jaiswal en­rolled at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity in Sin­ga­pore. Yet less than a year later he dropped out. Want­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the world and loaded with ideas, he trav­eled to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to look at star­tups. There he took a few classes at Stan­ford Univer­sity and, find­ing it gave him the op­por­tu­nity to meet like-minded peo­ple, he soon en­rolled.

This was in late 2012. At the same time he was in­volved with a group us­ing drones to help Cal­i­for­nian farm­ers map their vine­yards.

“We were pretty much the first in the game,” ex­plained Jaiswal, though the ven­ture was not yet a for­mal com­pany.

Af­ter spend­ing only two years at univer­sity, Jaiswal put an end to his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies. In­stead, he felt it was time to turn the drone plan into a com­pany.

How­ever, an un­fore­seen le­gal wrin­kle threat­ened to un­seat the group’s plans: The US gov­ern­ment ruled that com­mer­cial use of drones would re­quire cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Jaiswal knew it would be im­pos­si­ble to com­pete with big avi­a­tion com­pa­nies un­der the new reg­u­la­tions. Yet he also felt the drone idea was too tan­ta­liz­ing to give up.

“I didn’t want to miss out on the rev­o­lu­tion,” he said. As some of his team mem­bers were Sin­ga­pore­ans, they de­cided to move back to Asia.

Garuda Ro­bot­ics was founded in Sin­ga­pore in 2013 and quickly gained trac­tion. At Startup Asia Jakarta in 2013, the com­pany’s drones won first place — and $10,000 — af­ter de­liv­er­ing cof­fee to the judges’ panel by drone.

But the prize money was worth less than the public­ity and good­will it raised. So, come 2014, Garuda Ro­bot­ics was work­ing to count trees and sur­vey land for ma­jor palm oil busi­nesses in In­done­sia and Malaysia. It was work that could be worth mil­lions of dol­lars. Yet Jaiswal felt he was still in the dark ages.

“We were out in the mid­dle of palm oil fields,” he ex­plained. “There was no in­ter­net, there was no cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion. There wasn’t even a pow­er­ful enough com­puter we could up­load the data to and do some­thing with.”

The lim­i­ta­tions of hu­man op­er­a­tors and work­ing with huge amounts of data soon con­vinced Jaiswal that he needed to in­no­vate fur­ther. There was also the fear that some­one would find a way to au­to­mate the drones.

If that hap­pened, ser­vice providers like Garuda Ro­bot­ics would be forced out of busi­ness.

Part­ing ways with Garuda Ro­bot­ics, Jaiswal sought co­founders for a new plan: A net­worked fleet of drones that would not need con­stant hu­man sup­port.

Swarm-X, Jaiswal’s sec­ond drone com­pany, was in­cor­po­rated in 2015 and six pro­to­types were built in Shen­zhen.

Within two months the com­pany had a sys­tem to show in­vestors. “I told them what my idea was for the fu­ture and they were re­ally im­pressed,” said Jaiswal.

As of June, the com­pany has gone through two rounds of fundrais­ing.

A num­ber of global cor­po­ra­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions have shown an in­ter­est in the drone sys­tem. The most ob­vi­ous at­ten­tion for the com­pany’s drones has come from se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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