In conversation with Rajat Aggarwal CEO of DreamVu, and Prof. Anoop Namboodiri, Chief Science Officer and Professor at CVIT, offers a glimpse into a journey marked by innovation, determination, and a shared vision for reshaping the landscape of visual technology.

Rajat joined for his B.Tech at IIIT, (while B.Tech students may not be expected to delve deeply into research as part of their curriculum), and he was one of the students who got a chance to work on a research idea with Prof. Anoop and he started looking into this problem called as panoramic video. “Sometimes, the initial ideas may not pan out as expected, but each iteration brings valuable insights that contribute to the eventual success.” says Rajat. This aspiration gave rise to the development of a single-sensor camera with depth-sensing capabilities, capable of capturing 360-degree, 3D videos in real-time.

Conventional solutions for capturing 360-degree stereo videos were prohibitively expensive and technologically complex, requiring extensive processing and calibration. The breakthrough came in the form of a revolutionary design inspired by a humble coffee filter. 

They presented their breakthrough paper at the CVPR 2016 and got inspirational feedback from experts in that area.

After returning from the conference, the first major hurdle for Prof. Anoop was convincing Rajat to forego his plans of pursuing a PhD and embark on this journey of entrepreneurship by starting a company.

“But, I think he convinced me that, it's a good idea to just have your own problem which you worked on and for which we have a solution too. If I were to pursue PhD elsewhere, maybe I won't get this kind of solution or maybe I won't get this kind of a problem. So, I took a bet and I converted myself from four years to five years, which is the other way at IIIT, students go back from five years to four years of study.” says Rajat.

Establishing DreamVu in 2017 marked the beginning of Rajat and Prof. Anoop's commercialization journey, with a focus on targeting the Western market, particularly the US and Europe. By starting the company in the US, they positioned themselves to access key resources, networks, and opportunities available in the thriving tech ecosystem.

The decision to incubate DreamVu within IIIT's ecosystem further enhanced their access to resources and support, providing them with a conducive environment for growth and development. They faced the formidable task of translating their research into a tangible, market-ready product. To begin with, it took around four to five months of literature and market research on the many devices in the same commercial space including the cost factors. During one of these brainstorming sessions, they came across the coffee filter design as the ideal shape for the product.

“As a student, we have to keep thinking about that problem in our mind for months and land upon such a design, which then sticks with us and we then kind of refine it in the future. I think that's very important for everyone to learn from that research experience that, you will finally get that design if you just keep working on it. Says Rajat

“Navigating the transition from design to manufacturing posed significant challenges. Once we arrived at the design, it was not very easy for us to get into the manufacturing stage. Back then we didn't have specialized labs where we could just go and do 3D printing. So obviously we had to take expert help for mechanical design and optics to finally build the product.” Says Rajat

Finally, they came out with a stable, efficient, and cost-effective prototype in hand, which had gone through a lot of improvements, from 2017 to 2020. The market demand was for much smaller sensors, which led to reworking the designs and coming out with much smaller and thinner versions of the earlier design.

The initial angel investment in December 2017 provided the necessary capital to kickstart DreamVu's growth trajectory. However, it was the major funding round led by Sri Capital, a Philadelphia-based company with roots in Hyderabad, that truly catalyzed the company's evolution. This infusion of capital, enabled DreamVu to redefine its product offerings, enhancing its value proposition and positioning it for success in the competitive landscape.

Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, particularly in the supply chain. Delays in semiconductor procurement and extended lead times posed significant obstacles to DreamVu's operations, requiring quick thinking and decisive action to mitigate the impact on their business. Throughout this journey, IIIT played a pivotal role in providing institutional support and resources to DreamVu, from granting space for operations to facilitating collaboration and innovation.

Eight years since its inception, DreamVu remains at the forefront of visual technology innovation, with no comparable solution in the market. Its deployment in various applications, including Autonomous Mobile Robots and UV disinfection robots, underscores the versatility and effectiveness of its technology. With three product lines catering to different market segments and applications, DreamVu continues to expand its reach and impact globally. Its presence in key markets such as the USA, Europe, South Korea, Japan, China, and India reflects the widespread adoption and recognition of its cutting-edge solutions.

The challenges they faced was that of building trust and recognition for their technology, particularly as it emerged from an Indian university. They encountered scepticism and preconceived notions about the quality and innovation potential of technologies originating from Indian institutions, which presented an additional hurdle in gaining acceptance in global markets, especially in the US.

To overcome these perceptions, they had to physically showcase their product to potential companies, demonstrating its capabilities and quality in person. This hands-on approach was necessary to dispel any doubts and misconceptions and to build credibility for their technology.

“The faculty have been open to our ideas and guiding with the research from the beginning. The ecosystem has expanded for doing startups, compared to earlier when we had fewer systems in place, but now we see there are a lot of systems in place even with CI, which has been very helpful for us. I completed my five years and started DreamVu. Thanks to the guidance of my professor Anoop and faculty at IIIT” Says Rajat.

As DreamVu establishes itself as a leader in the autonomous mobile robotics segment, the company plans to leverage its expertise and reputation to diversify its product portfolio and enter new markets. One such area of expansion is smart homes, where DreamVu envisions offering solutions tailored to consumer needs and preferences.