PAAILA/NAULO – Stepping in to Serve the Future
Remember Pari, the banking robot stationed at SBI Bank, Durbar Marg, that made headlines? Well, Paaila Technology, the group responsible for the creation of Pari, has got another project again in Durbar Marg that being Naulo. It’s a restaurant that’s automated where you can order your food from a digital menu on the table and the food is served by Ginger the robot. We took it upon ourselves to dig some more into the company behind this remarkable feat and we interviewed Bibek Bhandari (Operation Manager of Naulo), Binay Raut (CEO, Co-founder of Naulo and Paaila), Aayush Kasajoo (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila), Rabin Giri (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila), Sagar Shreatha (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila), Dipkamal Bhusal (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila), Wasim Akram Khan (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila) and Niraj Basnet (Co-Founder of Naulo and Paaila) and here’re their collective thoughts.
In 2016, we had a vision; a vision to be one of the leading robotics manufacturer and seller with the primary mission to bring in the best technology in robotics and AI to different service sectors like banking, hospitality, malls, and other platforms alike, not only in Nepal but in the World. And we were looking for a team of engineers who shared that vision to work in robotics and artificial intelligence. To which we met a group of young engineers in Pulchowk Engineering College who also happens to be the co-founders of Paaila. They were a team consisting of five engineers; Rabin Giri, Sagar Shrestha, Dipkamal Bhusal, Wasim Akram Khan, and Niraj Basnet, who were already representing Nepal on an international scale, in the Robothon taking part from Pulchowk Engineering College Robotics Club. They also brought home some awards that were milestone accomplishments for Nepal. So, we met them and we found out that they had a vision that matched ours and it was then when we decided to start Paila. And that’s how the journey began.
We went to China and we were exploring and looking up different robotic companies for our framework research. There we found a lot of problems in the existing service robots. We outlined all the problems like manual charging, inability to communicate, inefficient battery performance, and an absence of Swarm Based Intelligence, and saw them as an opportunity.
We solved those problems in our initial robot, Ginger, and we wanted to launch it in the Hospitality sector. But first, we wanted to check the feasibility before producing it on a commercial scale. So, in August 2018, to test the robustness of our product, we initiated Naulo, a platform where food meets technology, where the main goal is to have everything automated from the very start; from ordering food to having the foods being served. Naulo is the first fully digitized robotic restaurant in Southeast Asia and perhaps in the world itself.
So far, the local people have been very grateful and they see this as a platform where Nepal is progressing in the fields of AI and robotics, which is an optimistic sign. They bring their children, they try to educate them about technology, and they feel proud that such level of technological advancement is present in Nepal. This actually doesn’t only apply to the local people here, we’ve had people from over 100 countries such as Australia, America, Korea, Europe, Romania, and the Gulf Countries that have witnessed our technology and were amazed. They say that they haven’t seen technology like this in their country yet. They also thought it was imported from China or Japan and couldn’t believe it was made right here in Nepal. Hearing that is a huge milestone for us.
There have been inquiries from countries like Indonesia, Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia Singapore, America, and Argentina, where they wanted to open franchises of the restaurant. They believe that this module of digitizing the whole process in the restaurant industry is a revolution and are very keen on bringing that level of automation into their own market.
ON FUTURE ASPIRATIONS
In terms of the hospitality robot, Ginger and Feri, we plan to export them globally. We’re also coming up with Ginger 2.0 which is going to be much more advanced in terms of friendliness, performance, productivity, and adding business values.
For the Banking Robot Pari, we deployed Pari 1.0 for SBI Bank and after the successful operation, Pari 2.0 was recently launched which is being integrated to SBI Bank. The robot can go around the lobby and assist customers giving different banking solutions, and since it’s powered with artificial intelligence it will have facial recognition so next time you walk into the bank it will be able to greet you personally and talk to you and ask about your queries you encountered in the previous visit.
We are working closely with the government to deploy a robot in the museum as well. We are also working on a query chat bot where we are trying to automate the entire process of the traditional call center. We are looking at CSR and we’re looking at 360 customer view where in the future you would virtually talk with some of our products which we cannot disclose at the moment. But more interesting things are coming.
Naturally, finance is a major obstacle in research and development then we also have the challenge of raising product awareness since this is a concept which is new across the globe itself. The other challenge is that certain things that you need to procure from the international market is difficult, if we could procure materials immediately then I think we would be developing much faster. Another challenge is that our technology isn’t perfect; there are a lot of failures during the process of building this technology. Sometimes you’ll have to give in 14 to 20 hours a day to make sure things run properly. HR is a major obstacle as well. Our employees are constantly facing family pressures where they are being sent abroad which is already a major problem in our country. We train employees and then their parents send them abroad and we’ll have to find replacements for them, and the all over again. Then, being in a developing country and having to deploy robots and gaining an acceptance is a major challenge in itself because most people in Nepal see robots and automation as something that will take their jobs away. But that isn’t so. Our main objective is to build robots so they can handle the repetitive tasks to make it convenient and easy.
When it comes to adding value and how much we’ve grown in a span of two years, I believe we are the fastest growing robotics company in the world. The global market has been accepting us pretty well and we’ve also had media coverage from 100 different countries and even news platforms like CNN. We got to this point without having to ask for support from any other organization, but we think the government should support us because we are trying to prove that Nepal isn’t only reliant on imports and that we too are able to export which is another benchmark that we are striving for. Now we want to move to the commercial market and export our robots to the international market to which we’ve already opened an office in Shanghai where we plan to assemble our robots and we plan to deliver them from there itself. We hope we can show the next generation of youngsters our technology so they can look at it as a motivation to initiate something of their own in Nepal.
Interviewed by Shaquille Ghotane | Photographed by Gaurav Xhompate Sunuwar