Flying Taxis, Future of Aviation & What is Defrastructure with Satya Chakravarthy Co-Founder The ePlane Company

Satya Chakravarthy Co-Founder The ePlane Company in conversation with Shripati Acharya, Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about:

04:00 - Entrepreneurship is About Solving a Problem

16:00 - Flying Taxis for City Travel

20:00 - Aviation Will Get Disrupted by Electrification

30:00 - Infrastructure & Defrastructure

33:20 - Startups in Engineering Colleges in India

Read the complete transcript below

Shripati Acharya 00:45

Hello and welcome to Prime Podcast. My guest today is Professor Satyanarayana Chakravarthy, also known as Satya. Satya received his Bachelor of Technology in Aerospace Engineering from IIT Chennai. He then went on to receive his Master’s and PhD from Georgia Tech in the US before returning to IIT Madras’ faculty in 1997 and has been a professor since 2009. Satya’s interests lie in the field of energy and combustion, covering aspects of solid propellants, combustion dynamics, laser diagnostics and spray characterization.

He has over 75 publications in international journals and 230 in international and national conferences. He has won the Young Engineer Award from the Indian National Academy of Engineering in 2003, the Young Faculty Recognition Award from IIT Madras in 2009 and the DRDO’s Academy Excellence Award in 2009. So it’s just my absolute pleasure to have Satya on this show. Welcome, Satya.

Satya Chakravarthy 01:51

Thank you so much.

Shripati Acharya 01:52

So let’s launch right into it. Perhaps before we get into what your entrepreneurial ventures are, it would be great to get a little bit of your background about what got you into academia and then perhaps into entrepreneurship.

Satya Chakravarthy 02:10

Yeah, I think they are two different phases of my life. I got into academia, when I was just about my late 20s, right after a couple of years of postdoc after my PhD, so ’90-’91 is when I finished my bachelor’s, ’95 my master’s, PhD, ’97 postdoc, then got into academia.

So at that time that seemed to be actually the best job, and I still think that if I were to dial back, I’d probably still think so. I’m not sure about it. But at that time, I think that was actually the best job that we could think of.

And I think the entrepreneurial, what should I say, the ecosystem or the buzz and the surround sound, all of that stuff was actually picked up in the last five, 10 years in India, particularly on the deep tech side and particularly on energy, transportation. Those are the hard, let’s say, hard hardware, I don’t know what to say. So it’s not like software startups anymore.

Even in deep tech you could actually have soft deep tech, but here it’s talking about hard deep tech making rockets or planes or engines or any of those things. So that required a certain timeframe over which you could get your mind accept that you should be doing this. And that happened only about five years back for me.

Shripati Acharya 03:40

Which are the startups which you’ve founded or been involved with deeply.

Satya Chakravarthy 03:45

So I mean, I myself founded ePlane, that’s what is my brainchild baby, whatever you want to call it. But I have been lucky to have co-founders to found other startups like Agnikul Cosmos, Aerostrovilos, X2Fuels, TuTr Hyperloop, and GalaxEye. These are the ones that I’m associated with at more like a founding level.

Shripati Acharya 04:15

Understood. So what is the common thread across this? Is there a central thesis which you have in your mind about how you see, I mean, these are all connected with aerospace, I understand that, but what is your underlying belief which propels you to actually be associated with these things?

Satya Chakravarthy 04:35

The common theme as far as I’m concerned, is not exactly aerospace, it’s just that let’s say for example, we decide that we want to do something, but people actually associate your view with something. So they will come to you only for doing certain things.

So since I have an aerospace background, which could also call as baggage, all of us have that, right? And so all these things happen to be aerospace, but that’s not exactly the common theme in my mind. In my mind, it’s exactly about solving a problem.

And so what problem are we trying to solve and does it make sense? So each of them, it’s like cricket. You have to play each ball by its merit. So every one of those ideas has to be gone through with what are the customer pain points that you’re looking at? What is the scale of that market that we are looking at? So can we create an impact?

So these are the things that actually go into my mind when I’m thinking about founding a startup along with co-founders as well as the ePlane idea that I got for myself too. So the common theme is spot on entrepreneurship, nothing more.

Shripati Acharya 05:45

Fair enough. We’ll go into eplane in just a bit. Agnikul is something which we covered a few weeks back when I was talking to the co-founder and CEO, Srinath. Talk about the other three companies in just a quick snapshot to get an idea of the things which you’re looking at.

Satya Chakravarthy 06:05

There would be either four.

Shripati Acharya 06:07

Yeah, go ahead.

Satya Chakravarthy 06:09

Right. So Aerostrovilos is actually the first of the entire bunch in terms of chronology. So we try to do a micro gas turbine, which is the same as a jet engine that propels planes. But this is meant for terrestrial applications, meant for actually power generation and local power generation, including onboard trucks as in a hybrid electric truck.

So we’ll generate power onboard and charge a battery and have electric powertrain in the front end for a long distance bus or a truck that has a range anxiety otherwise, or it actually would otherwise consume an enormous amount of battery and so on.

So that is what Aerostrovilos does. X2Fuels is actually pioneered by my colleague in chemical engineering at the combustion center that I have been heading, which is primarily looking at broadly developing value-add chemicals like fuels from different kinds of waste, which would use multiple different processes for these different wastes.

But we have one catchall process that actually allows for converting unsegregated municipal waste into crude oil. That’s what we are actually trying to push to do over there. GalaxEye is an earth observation satellite startup where we try to do a multi-sensor fusion.

So we develop a two sensors together in one box, which is an IR sensor, which is a synthetic aperture radar along with a visible spectrum camera that could be a hyperspectral camera.

And then we put them together, we actually co-register the images, we synchronize the imaging so that we can take multiple images at the same time and try to get learning data sets out of it for rendering visible spectrum quality images, even with cloud cover or nighttime. And that essentially gets us to run out of excuses for not taking good images, most of the time.

And TuTr Hyperloop is actually an outcome of my association with the Avishkar Hyperloop student team, which is still an ongoing effort.

I’ve been a faculty advisor with them since about 2018 and TuTr purport to eventually scale this up to commercialization with a plan of several kilometers worth of full scale tube, vacuum tube and a full scale port to be run on it over several hundreds of thousands of times to ensure safety standards and performance and so on over the next few years before we can commercialize hyperloop.

Shripati Acharya 09:00

Got it. So is it fair to say that many other things, like you talked about TuTr Hyperloop or the Aerostrovilos, which are fairly longer duration projects, right?

And typically when you’re looking at a startups, you’re looking at, okay, we need to find a product market fit, we need to actually put an MVP, et cetera.

But these are, would it be even fair to say that these are much longer duration from that standpoint in terms of getting a product to market before they can test it out?

Satya Chakravarthy 09:35

That’s true, absolutely right. So these should have been done by much larger companies, but we don’t really see larger companies doing anything newer than what they have been doing.

So unfortunately, we are the ones who are actually taking this up to do and which also means, okay, we can partner with the larger companies if they’re willing, but we need to actually cross a certain threshold for us to get on their radar and then so on. So each of these companies is a different journey in that sense.

Shripati Acharya 10:10

Wonderful. And so let’s, maybe, spend this conversation more on ePlane. So could you define and just elaborate for us, what is the thesis behind ePlane?

Satya Chakravarthy 10:25

Well, the fundamental thesis behind ePlane is the conviction that future aircraft are all going to become electric. And it may not happen with the aircraft as we know of them today, those that actually go between airport to airport across different cities, but it’s going to be a gradual process.

So right now the battery technology is not good enough for us to do the aircraft that go from airport to airport, which actually presents a great opportunity for us to democratize aviation and get people to fly right out of the doorstep and get onto where they want to go to, which is how we will position them in terms of eVTOLs. And we try to make the most compact eVTOLs for that purpose.

And once we actually get along these eVTOLs and make the next bigger one and the next bigger one and so on, and get people habituated to flying, we’ll also begin to see that we could make larger planes that require runways that can go from one city to another, maybe close by cities to begin with smaller planes and so on.

So that requires us to do a bit more market research, but right now we are actually positioning ourselves on eVTOLs and prior to even getting to market, we are also positioning ourselves for eVTOLs in the cargo space as the large drones that could be possible in the Indian setting with the kind of drone rules that we have.

Shripati Acharya 12:00

So my understanding of ePlane, perhaps you can correct me, was that you’re looking at a flying taxi, a compact flying taxi with a limited range, maybe a couple of hundred kilometers and perhaps carrying two or three passengers. Is that the right characterization of what ePlane is?

Satya Chakravarthy 12:25

Yeah, that’s actually our marquee product. Right now we are actually focusing on getting there as if I had to box myself into what ePlane is all about in the near term. That’s what it is, yeah.

Shripati Acharya 12:40

Okay. But you also said then later that you want to get into cargoes and then drone delivery and those kinds of things.

Satya Chakravarthy 12:47

So cargo can actually happen much sooner.

Shripati Acharya 12:50


Satya Chakravarthy 12:52

Yeah. So we are actually working on trying to get cargo done sooner than when we can actually get these taxis happen.

Shripati Acharya 13:00

So what is the fundamental technological advance you’re looking to, I guess, invent or crack before this becomes a reality?

Satya Chakravarthy 13:10

So we actually developed technology that suits the use case the best. And in this situation, what it turns out is we need to be able to fly fairly slowly with a very compact form factor. And that’s counterintuitive in aerospace.

You’ll find that larger winged aircraft or these gliders that fly very slowly and things that fly very fast are these fighter jets which typically have a much smaller, shorter compact. So we try to ask the question, “Well, hey wait a minute, we are actually doing a VTOL,” so what are the VTOL rotors doing in this case, and is it-

Shripati Acharya 13:48

Can you explain VTOL for other listeners, please?

Satya Chakravarthy 13:50

VTOL is vertical takeoff and landing. So that means that it can take off like a drone, but fly like a plane. That’s what it is. So question is if I’m now using a VTOL in this case when compared to the ones that I use for reference the lighter or the fighter aircraft, so they not exactly VTOLs, but here we’re doing a VTOL and that’s because we can’t have air strips that are closed by each other within 200 kilometers.

And the use case here is actually city travel and typical city travel is not more than about 20 to 30 kilometers in one go. And so if that’s the kind of distance that we have to do, we have to do fairly slow flights because by the time you take off, achieve base, the flight speed that you’re supposed to do and then land, if you have a much higher flight speed to go to, you will end up traveling a much longer distance or you will not be flying at the effective flight speed that you want and you’ll be guzzling lot more power because you’re not designed yourself for that particular lower speed.

So it’s important for us to actually design ourselves for a lower speed, and we also need the wings to be very, very compact. So that’s a contradiction that we are trying to crack by taking the assistance from the VTOL motors or the rotors, which would otherwise be a dead weight.

So we try to actually avoid the deadweight problem in forward flight by taking assistance from these and getting them to interact with the wings in a way that allows for the wing to be very, very effective.

And when that happens, we can allow for a very small wing and fly much slower. So that’s actually an IP that we have developed, that goes into all aircraft that we know. So all our aircraft from the cargo ones all the way to the larger, the two, three seaters that we talked about have the feature of the most compact and the slow flying winged aircraft.

Shripati Acharya 15:45

Got it. So to help us relate it to what we already know here, the helicopter is how it’s actually taking off and landing, that’s a vertical takeoff and landing.

Satya Chakravarthy 16:00

Well, it’s more like a drone these days than compared to helicopter. Helicopter typically is with a single large rotor and that makes a lot of noise and doesn’t have redundancies. Whereas today we have these multi-copters because it’s electric, so we can run wires from the battery pack to small motors that can do this. So it takes off like a drone.

Shripati Acharya 16:20

Understood. So it’s much more vertical, not even, I guess, the little bit of space that a helicopter might require, but essentially it’s carrying passengers. So I think that’s probably the one way it is different than drones.

So for a moment, keeping aside the technical breakthrough, which is required, I guess the weight is obviously a major, major, major issue. You are thinking of this as, I want to go from, we are in Bangalore here and going from Electronic City to anywhere in town is just a nightmare. So what you would say is that you would actually use it for even intra-city travel for a large city.

Satya Chakravarthy 16:57

That’s a goal. That’s exactly the goal.

Shripati Acharya 17:00

Okay. So in that case, the-

Satya Chakravarthy 17:05

Electronic City to Jayanagar in 15 minutes, how does that sound?

Shripati Acharya 17:08

It sounds quite difficult, but I guess I can see the possibilities. So what would be the price points here? Because clearly for this to be viable, you’ll have to hit some pretty dramatic price points. So can you give us some idea of that and the thinking behind what can be achieved?

Satya Chakravarthy 17:30

Right. So we have quite a few market studies that tell us that India has a huge appetite for this particular application and people are willing to pay quite a bit when compared to their current, let’s say, Uber, Ola fares.

So we have made a calculation that lets say we can start the entire operation whenever that is ready, in the next year or two. I wouldn’t say a year, it’s more like two than a year, but we can position it as around two to two and a half times in Uber fare. And that as a business that can allow us to actually break even on the asset cost in about less than one and a half years.

Shripati Acharya 18:15

The fact that even comparing to… you’re comparing an air travel to terrestrial travel actually boggles my mind. So you’re actually saying an airport for instance, costs say 1500 rupees for most places in the city. What you’re saying is that for 4,000 rupees perhaps, or maybe a little bit I can actually fly in this. Is that-

Satya Chakravarthy 18:45

We are making comparisons between about a thousand rupees on the road without any surge pricing and what is it, rush hour fare and all that stuff to about 2,700 rupees.

So with surge pricing, rush hour and all those things, it may be a road trip may become like 1200 to 1500, whereas we don’t need to do that. So it would be 2,700. So you can see that comparison, it’s about double, maximum.

Shripati Acharya 19:15

Whoa. Okay. What does that mean in terms of what would be the cost of this aircraft by the time it is fully delivered?

Satya Chakravarthy 19:20

Should be about one and a half to two crores, I would think.

Shripati Acharya 19:22

That would be dramatically less than anything, which is in the same zone, isn’t it?

Satya Chakravarthy 19:30

Yeah, I mean give or take a little bit more. We have not got to the point of making exact assessments on production costs, but it’s in that ballpark. It’s okay, like TATA Nano wanted to sell at one lakh, they probably exceeded that. So we may probably do too, two and a half, I don’t know, so don’t hold me to it, but it’s in that ballpark.

Shripati Acharya 19:45

So you could clearly see, I guess, customers as, is it fair to say as companies, right? So if I’m Infosys or any of those companies, I could actually have one of these sitting on the helipad at all times, right?

Satya Chakravarthy 20:00

No, no. My customer is someone like you. I don’t even know who you are, let’s say, right? So it doesn’t matter. It’s a normal middle class plus kind of customers, whoever takes an Uber, they should actually start taking us.

Shripati Acharya 20:15

How would it work from a… I’m just trying to wrap my head around the regulatory aspects of it, right?

Satya Chakravarthy 20:25

Oh, before you do that. So if it boggles your mind, the answer is that’s what electric aircraft is all about. So electric aircraft has the possibility of bringing down the aviation cost.

So when I started saying first that all planes will become electric in the future, that’s essentially is the reason. Aviation will actually get disrupted by electrification. So the asset cost, the maintenance cost and the operating cost will all come down because we are electrifying it. That’s basically the idea.

Shripati Acharya 20:50

And so you actually perceive that somebody like an Uber or an Ola or these companies themselves operating these aircraft, ferrying people and you just from an app, you say, “Hey look, come and pick me up… and pick me up from the neighborhood ground” or wherever it is where this thing can land.

And it’s practically anywhere if it is a vertical takeoff or landing and then going there. But in a success case, Satya, we will have a traffic jam in the skies and how would this work?

Satya Chakravarthy 21:20

So I mean, if we can make a plane, I think we can figure that out. So yeah, we are actually working on that. So we are actually working on an algorithm by which we will never have even flight path that even intersect with each other, between any two landing sites.

So we expect all the landing sites to be registered so we know we need to actually file a flight path authorization first before we actually go from one place to the other.

And all these things are live, as in you can do this online. If you go from one place to the other, you have to actually follow a certain flight path. And if you want to go from a third place to a fourth place, that’s kind of crisscrossing this, it’ll be a flight path which does not even intersect with this at the same altitude. So these are, we can say cast in the air, like in a digital manner. And so you just follow these flight paths between any two pairs of landing sites, which will never intersect with any of these other flight paths, essentially all having digital roads in the sky.

Shripati Acharya 22:35

Now, the drone which you expect to actually be regulated, Satya, as a new thing. Or do you think that this is just an extension of the drone policy, which we already have because drones in India need to automatically register and all that stuff. If they’re doing that, need to have the right chip sets and so forth. So can you just expand on that a little bit?

Satya Chakravarthy 23:00

I think the extension would be in terms of a different altitude. There’ll be an altitude separation between this and the drones, first of all. So this occupies an intermediate layer in the air between drones on the one side and the current aviation space on the other side.

Shripati Acharya 23:18

What is the altitude we are talking about here?

Satya Chakravarthy 23:22

We are expecting the altitude range of about 500 to 1500 meters to be cleared for this. And that’s what we are actually working towards. But many of the… Otherwise, I think, the drone rules about registration, all of that stuff could actually be extended. We can look at this as more like a car specifically. I think drone registration is also been patterned after that.

But I think the flight paths and all those things that I’m talking about will be fairly unique to what we’re talking about because we’re carrying people we want to make sure that flight paths are not intersecting between any two landing pairs of… any pairs of landing sites or take off at landing points. So those are things that we will probably bring into the picture for setting up a framework for the flight authorizations and so on.

Shripati Acharya 24:15

Okay. So we have begun to see the first hints of ePlanes in the world. I saw some footage of companies which are beginning to do this, right? And even test some human flights there. When would in your, I guess, projections would we able to see the first of these ePlanes actually fly?

Satya Chakravarthy 24:47

Maybe tonight?

Shripati Acharya 24:52

Yeah, right? Is that right?

Satya Chakravarthy 24:55

Yeah. I think we are planning to actually go on social media to show our first flights of our subscale prototype, which is about a three meter wingspan, three meter nose to tail. It’s fairly large, if you want to call it a drone, it’s fine, but it’s, of course, an unmanned one, but it’s one of those very large drones in that sense.

Shripati Acharya 25:15

Timing is perfect, I guess, what they call, for this conversation. So this is very much a reality in one sense in terms of where the product is today. And I can see why you’re talking about cargo because I reckon the regulator will have a lot less issues with starting with cargo, I would think, before-

Satya Chakravarthy 25:35

Yeah, mainly because in India I think the drone rules allow for up to about 500 kg total weight of the aircraft to be classified as a drone. So the same rules applied.

Shripati Acharya 25:50

So is it for a cargo then, I think, I could clearly see the delivery companies being very attracted to this. Is it possible or what is the maximum range you could do? Because, I guess, if the range is increased a bit, it could actually even go intra-city, wouldn’t it?

Satya Chakravarthy 26:10

Yeah. So I was saying that, that’s what I used to actually teach in the first electric aircraft propulsion course that I offered before I stopped teaching and got into my company full time, which just with the current level of batteries that we have, no matter how big your aircraft is, the range that you get is about 200 kilometers. Nothing more.

The best way to do this is to not think about like a single operation that clocks the longest range. Always think about where you will have to do multiple trips that are much shorter and try to maximize the number of such short trips in a single charge of the battery. And that’s our focus. All the slow speed, compact form, IP, all of those things come in.

Shripati Acharya 26:55

I’m clearly more excited to hear that the first prototype, if I were, for lack of a better name, is ready to take to the skies as we speak.

Satya Chakravarthy 27:05

Yeah, we just flew our first flights of our subscale prototype last weekend, and we will be putting out videos of that on social media today.

Shripati Acharya 27:15

Wonderful. So I very much look forward to that. So in terms of both getting the regulatory clearances, working with them, I guess, you’re going to be breaking new ground in several different ways.

And I could think of so many interesting use cases here, especially when you talk about cargo because in India a lot of the population can be very close to urban centers, but be very remote from a connectivity standpoint and just getting supplies there or just in disaster relief. But there’s so many applications here where it could actually be worthwhile. I’m going to just take a step…

So all the best with that and hopefully as the awareness of this product goes, hope is that the regulation follows soon enough so that we can see the production side of this. So if all goes well, goes to plan, Satya, when would you actually expect to see the first real plane being used in a commercial sense?

Satya Chakravarthy 28:19

The passenger one or the cargo?

Shripati Acharya 28:22

Cargo, I guess, you said cargo is first, right?

Satya Chakravarthy 28:28

The cargo could actually happen as early as end of this year or early next year. In less than a year, we can actually push that to the market. It’s our outlook at the moment. Passenger will take more time because the certification process for that will be more involved. So we probably could do that in about one more year from then.

Shripati Acharya 28:50

Okay. Well all the best with that. But let me actually move on from ePlane, which I am very excited to see how the videos look. I want to talk to you about something which you have mentioned in your other conversations. You talk about infrastructure, and then you talk about de-frastructure. What do you mean by that?

Satya Chakravarthy 29:10

So the question basically is do we have to exactly do what has been done in the last hundred years by the developed country? So is there a shortcut that we can take to development? And one of the cornerstones of this kind of development has always been like how good is your infrastructure?

So if you are a developing country, you’re always challenged on how well you are able to develop your infrastructure fast enough and all that stuff. And I think that’s just a paradigm. We can have a different paradigm. So in a different paradigm, we develop a lot of smart, small, modular, scalable products that will replace all these infrastructure heavy items.

And we basically get to the same goals as what we want in terms of economic development. That’s actually the most abstract way of saying what I said, what I meant. But it turned out that whatever we were doing in a lot of these different startups kind of fit that overarching theme.

And they come in by means of small rockets, small planes, small engines and small crude, local crude production plants, let us say, for example, small satellites and so on, which eventually means that I don’t need large launch pads, I don’t need large airports, I don’t need to pump, get, import lots of crude through long pipelines or through oil tankers and so on. Lots of these things that we are now taking for granted, but takes a lot of effort to develop, can just be bypassed.

And we leapfrog into a situation where a lot of these things actually happen, distributed across the country. And there’s a lot of economic development participation from a lot of people that happens that gets us to reduce our own fuel and consume them locally right then and there and without much infrastructure. So you have ePlanes, it’s okay to have potholes on the road, that’s okay. Right? And you don’t need to actually do that extra metro line anymore.

Shripati Acharya 31:40

But I would argue, Satya, that the capacity of an ePlane and the capacity that a bus or the metro has is always going to be just an order of magnitude differently.

Satya Chakravarthy 31:50

Agreed. So the argument can be pushed only to some extent, but it is very modular. So let’s say we are now trying to decrease the times it takes to clock different distances. Let’s say ePlane get better and better. It can do longer and longer distances, you’ll find people actually move out to suburbs and spread out and you cater to more people by flying more planes closer to their homes and so on.

So it’s extremely modular and with the additional cost of servicing more people just becomes a little bit every year. It’s not as if I had to sink in so much money, just one go and then I’m actually sunk with it for the next 50 years and it becomes outdated pretty soon and so on. It’s not that way. We can actually keep on updating this very much more quickly. We have a much better chance of doing much better than the developed countries very soon with this kind of an approach.

Shripati Acharya 32:50

I could see where you’re going with that in the sense that suppose you have a remote village or you have a remote city even, you don’t need to go and build roads across hilly terrain, tunnels, this and that. You have a cost-effective way of reaching those places for people and material.

Satya Chakravarthy 33:10

And then the market will actually figure out the sizes, the capacities. So that’s exactly the point, which is if I find a large number of people have to travel, I’ll actually make a hyperloops for that, and so on. And still that needs to be the best in the world ahead of anything else.

So you don’t go through the same tortuous path of high speed trains, Maglev and all this stuff, directly go to hyperloop. So we’ll always find the right technology that they can use for the right segment that’s dictated by the market instead of expecting the government to plot through with everything that needs to be done, copying what’s been done elsewhere in the last 100 years, right?

Shripati Acharya 33:50

Makes sense. Well, from your standpoint, right now you’re working with students from IIT and outside IIT in many of these startups, which you’re involved in. What is your sense of the vibrancy of the startup ecosystem within colleges in India?

Satya Chakravarthy 34:10

It’s huge. It’s unbelievable. The number of people who come up with lots of great ideas and trying to pursue them, sweating it out, the hunger they have, all of that stuff is to be believed… is seen to be believed. It’s unbelievable. I think we are… we’re probably going to reap the demographic dividends through entrepreneurs. That’s the way I look at it. The only thing is we should not judge people by the scale of the ideas that they’re working on.

So some of the things that we are working on, rockets or planes or any of these things may look like extremely attractive and very big ideas that require some amount of guts to be able to raise the money that’s required and so on. But any problem solving that people do is worth paying attention to and that’s very important.

So you look at an entrepreneur, ask what’s the problem you’re solving? Is it a real tangible problem that you’re solving or is it an imagined problem? Who are the customers? What’s their pain point and what’s the scale of that market?

So if you make these quick assessments, it doesn’t matter what product it is. It could be a drainage cleaning system or any of… I don’t know, I just came up with something, right? You find a lot of people specifically interested in more like hardware technology developed based startups, particularly in IIT Madras and in Chennai. I don’t know… I don’t know what is the weather here that makes us do that, okay? But that’s what it is.

Shripati Acharya 35:55

I think it is really exciting because I feel that this is, you’re seeing the first generation of entrepreneurs who are handling some of these problems you’re talking about, which are different than the traditional startups, which we have seen, in general, not just coming out of college, meaning they both have significant hardware components. In fact, the two things we have talked about ePlane and also Agnikul, which we had the opportunity to talk about a few weeks back, are centered around significant pieces of hardware.

And at the same time they are not adaptations of technologies, which have been developed somewhere else. These are fairly deep tech in terms of actually innovating and inventing the technology required to do it. And what makes it so exciting in my opinion is that these style of startups serve as role models for the next set of students who are coming right behind.

And there is a very positive feedback loop, not just for the students, but for faculty like yourselves, because you are, when you’re in the ground and trying to create, make this ePlane happen within strict commercial constraints, within dimensional constraints, weight issues, et cetera, it probably pushes you in ways that just being an academician, wouldn’t?

Satya Chakravarthy 37:17

No. I mean, I think you touched upon a couple of points that I could respond to. One is, yeah, I mean for exactly the reasons that you mentioned, we strongly, sincerely hope that we succeed commercially. I think that’s much more important for a startup than just showing the technology that works.

So it’s very important for us to focus on the business case, the customers, how we are actually going to go to market and what are the market pain points that we will have to keep in mind. So those are things that don’t naturally come to a techie. And so we are to keep on reminding ourselves.

So that’s really the main thing that we front end ourselves with so that we don’t fail. We have to actually succeed in order to showcase that this is doable and it’s an inspiration to others. That’s the first point I want to make.

The second one is, boy, I mean, being an academic, it’s possible for us to actually get into a rabbit hole and then live there all our lives. That’s exactly what most of us do because we just get into an over specialization and we get a lot of mental tickling that we are doing something amazingly deep that nobody else can think about and so on.

But we are asked a question, how much are we impacting with what we are doing? And it could be a very abstract saying that I wrote the best paper and somebody somewhere else sometime down the line might read this and I’m actually having an archival value and then all those things, which is okay.

But interestingly, what I have found in the last few years that have been leading ePlane and getting Agnikul and others grow alongside is the kind of breadth of knowledge that one can get. For example, today I’m actually a much, much better aerospace engineer than I was two years, three years back.

Shripati Acharya 39:05

Satya, it was terrific talking to you and for giving us the whirlwind tour of not only just ePlane, but all the fascinating initiatives that you’re involved with. And I’m very sure that both your students and yourself are going to probably be at the forefront of creating some of the best technologies, which the country has seen. So all the best to you going forward. I look forward to the footage.

Satya Chakravarthy 39:35

Thank you.

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