Billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited is buying an Indian robotics startup as the conglomerate scales up automation across its businesses, from e-commerce to new energy.
Reliance paid $132 million for a majority stake in Addverb Technologies, which uses robots to make e-commerce warehouses and energy production more efficient, Sangeet Kumar, the startup's co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
Mukesh Ambani, Asia's richest person, is investing in technology as competition from rivals such as Amazon.com intensifies in India's booming e-commerce market. Addverb already works in dozens of warehouses across Reliance's empire, including online grocer JioMart, fashion retailer Ajio and internet pharmacy Netmeds, deploying robotic conveyors, semi-automated systems, and pick-by-voice software.
"Reliance has huge plans to implement automation across digital warehouses," said Mr Kumar, 41. "They have plans to expand warehousing to hundreds of locations in the next two years and when you have that scale, only robotic systems can be effective."
Five-year-old Addverb, based in Noida, designs and makes software and installs robotic systems. That makes it one of a limited number of companies in the world to work in every aspect of robotics, from hardware and software to deployment.
Addverb's robots help pack Reliance's oil and gas storage facilities, and it has designed automation for the conglomerate's refinery in Gujarat's Jamnagar. It is implementing solutions in Reliance's giant new solar factories, also in Jamnagar, a location where the company plans to make green energy investments of over $80 billion.
The biggest collaboration between the two is yet to come, Mr Kumar said. Addverb and Reliance are planning to build "next level" 5G robotics and battery systems as well as harness carbon fiber to build affordable, advanced robots.
Sangeet Kumar, a graduate from the vaunted engineering school Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, worked with the country's leading paint maker Asian Paints setting up massive factories, using imported robots, before founding his own startup with four co-workers. Addverb now employs 550 engineers.
It's expected to clock about $61 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending in March, and its customers include Amazon, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Walmart-owned Flipkart as well as other manufacturers and retailers in Europe and Asia. Its products include robots that improve storage density on warehouse racks, sorting robots, self-driving cars, and robo shuttles.
Mr Kumar said Addverb is scouting land around Delhi as it envisages building the world's largest robot-making factory. It also wants to accelerate expansion in Europe and the US. The startup already has subsidiaries in Singapore, the Netherlands and Australia.