Mumbai: 6.5-ft-tall humanoid is Goregaon man's 9-year labour of love

Jun 24, 2016, 08:36 IST | Maleeva Rebello

Santosh Hulawale, a networks hardware engineer, spent Rs 20 lakh on making INDRO

The first thing that catches your eye after entering Santosh Hulawale’s Goregaon East residence is the presence of a black and white, Star Wars storm trooper-like humanoid in his living room. The machine rolls on wheels, shakes hands and introduces itself as INDRO — a shorter version of India’s Robot. It then gives details of its height and weight.

Santosh Hulawale with INDRO at his Goregaon residence. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Santosh Hulawale with INDRO at his Goregaon residence. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Santosh (35) took nine years to build the latest humanoid which stands 6.5 feet tall and weighs about 55 kg. “I started tinkering with stuff to see how it works at the age of 6. I was inspired by this TV show called Robotix. I made my first robot at 11 and then another one at 13. My father always felt that I was wasting time and asked me to focus on academics.”

A networks hardware engineer, Santosh claims he learnt robotics by trial and error.

“I saw the humanoids online and found them very amateur. This inspired me to build one for myself and so I started working on it in 2007. I failed twice in 2008 and 2012 and the failure reduced me to tears, as I had invested a lot of hard work and money in the project. I operate a small-time computer business and all the profits earned were diverted towards making INDRO. So far, I’ve spent Rs 20 lakh on developing its hardware and software,” said Santosh.

Family support
Unlike his father, Santosh’s mother Kavita supported him through the highs and lows he experienced in the last nine years. “He would spend up to 15 hours a day working on his robot. He would barely step out of the bedroom, which looked like a combination of a science lab and a carpenter’s workshop. My husband was a mill worker and science was never our cup of tea. But I always believed in my son,” she said.

Commenting on his passion for building robots, his wife Shamal added, “When we got married in December 2014, I was unaware that he was building a robot. After seeing how passionate he was about the project, I told him to go ahead with it. He started building INDRO in March 2015 and finished it this May.”

Listing the raw materials he used to build the humanoid, Santosh said he used aluminium, wood, steel, vinyl, plastic, cardboard, cloth, etc. “I have 16 prototypes in mind and want to make robots to help the disabled, fight fire, etc. At present, INDRO can easily lift objects weighing up to 150 kg,” he added.

Stating that he now wants to build advanced level humanoids, Santosh said his current concept is very basic. “The robot is being operated using a control panel and a joystick, much like a remote-controlled toy car but with advanced features. I had limited funds and had to do everything alone. For my next project, I have ideas for an advanced humanoid. All I need to materialise my vision are funds and a few helping hands. Robotics can’t be taught, it is all in the head,” he added.

Experts sceptical
Shivaprasad Khened, director at the Nehru Science Centre, said, “Building a robot is easy, since there are a number of Lego kits available with detailed instructions. However, it is impossible to make a fully operational robot at home. A few of its parts require lathe (a machine tool for shaping metal or wood). At 6.5 feet, it could well be the tallest humanoid but the purpose behind making it also counts.”

Kavi Arya, associate professor at IIT-B and principal investigator at robotics lab e-Yantra, said, “Size is not an important factor when compared to the robot’s purpose. The precision of its movements, its functional capabilities and tasks it can perform are more important. The nature of the movement — whether crude or fine — also needs consideration. Since, I haven’t seen the robot, it would be unfair of me to comment on it.”

What is a humanoid?
>> It is a robot resembling a human body
>> It might be for functional purposes such as interacting with human environments, or for experimental purposes
>> Some humanoids are built waist above 
>> A few even have heads with human facial features like eyes and a mouth

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