‘Swavlamban’, the annual seminar of the Indian Navy’s (IN’s) Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation (NIIO), is round the corner and promises to be a major event. Scheduled to take place during October 4-5, 2023 at the ‘Bharat Mandapam’ in New Delhi, the seminar will showcase technologies developed under NIIO’s ‘SPRINT’ initiative. IN has indicated that the aim of developing at least 75 technologies / products as a part of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ will be met.

In that context, Delhi Defence Review (DDR) caught up with Dr R Shivaraman, who is Co-founder, and Head of Research and Product Development at Big Bang Boom Solutions Pvt Ltd. (BBBS). As such, BBBS is a prominent SPRINT winner, besides having received many other prestigious awards such as SKOCH award for Hybrid Personal Armour and the BHUMI-Miety Challenge for an Anti-Drone Defense System besides others. The discussion focused on BBBS’s innovation journey with IN.

DDR: To begin with, tell us how your experience has been as a SPRINT winner.

BBBS: It has been simply amazing the way things have been speeded up. SPRINT has, quite literally, been a sprint. What has been achieved in a few months is unimaginable and will provide a big boost to ‘Atmarnirbharta’ in defence in the coming years. It has especially been a boon for startups like us. It is heartening to see that orders are being placed quickly. Multiple Acceptance of Necessity (AON) approvals totalling up to Rs 1500 crores is music to the ears of the domestic defence industry. Many more orders are in the pipeline. People are normally wary about entering the defence market because of the long timelines and complex procedures. Innovations for Defence Excellent (iDEX) and technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC) have shown how this can be changed. This will certainly open more doors in the future and encourage many more startups to consider getting into the defence sector.

DDR: How long has your firm been engaged in the Defence sector?

BBBS: We started BBBS some five years ago, with the idea being that we will build indigenous deep-tech products in India. Indeed, we were amongst the first companies to jump on the iDEX platform. We were the first company to win challenges, complete trials and successfully get a contract under the now popular iDEX program. Of course, with SPRINT, the iDEX scheme has been taken to another level altogether. In iDEX we have completed three challenges as on date and have another two ongoing while working on a further two along with our partners. We have successfully designed, developed and completed trials for several key products such as anti drone systems, situational awareness for armored vehicles and improved fire fighting foam for naval applications. It has been a great journey for me, who spent the first half of my career in academics completing my PhD and Postdoc in nanotechnology, to now be engaged at the cutting edge of product development and translation.

DDR: The name of your firm as well as the tagline is rather interesting. How did that come about?

BBBS: ‘Big Bang’, is of course a major theory of ‘how the universe may have started’, in that how something new was formed out of nothing. We felt it was an ideal name for a R&D focused company. The word ‘Boom’ also had a strong association with defence and military. Most importantly, the name had a strong recall factor. It is a common story that people may forget who the founders are, or even what the company does, but they will never forget the name. The tagline ‘Your friendly neighbourhood defence company’ is a play on the ‘friendly neighbourhood spiderman’ tagline and is a reminder to everyone that we are here to support the real superheroes – our armed forces.

DDR: What are your core areas of work?

BBBS: BBBS portfolio is quite diversified. I would say that essentially we are problem solvers. Our core domains include artificial intelligence, electronics, electric propulsion, green propulsion technology, ground control station technology, UAVs, data security and encryption measures, communication systems, material science and instrumentation. Having people with expertise in such diverse fields helps us to bring a lot to the table.

DDR: Let us talk a bit about NIIO and Swavlamban. What is your overall view of NIIO? Moreover, do tell us about your participation in the NIIO seminar ‘Swavlamban’.

BBBS: I had said that we at BBBS are essentially problem solvers. I feel that the NIIO and TDAC are much the same. They too are problem solvers. A startup could always approach them with a problem including procedural or administrative issues and a solution was mostly given on the spot. A look at the challenges put out to the industry also indicate how well the problems have been curated. Before the startups could get on with the job of finding solutions, someone had to come up with or ‘create’ the problems. One of the major factors which has led to the success of SPRINT and unbelievable ‘acceleration’ has been how well, clearly and unambiguously the problems were articulated. So, in that sense and in a lighter vein, in addition to being ‘problem solvers’, TDAC officers are also ‘problem creators’!

In so far as Swavlamban is concerned, we are looking forward to it much like everybody else. I am happy that in addition to some of our products, I have also been invited as a panelist during the panel discussion on ‘procurement, policies and procedures’. This would be on Day 1 of the seminar. There would also be some surprises.

Swavlamban will be jam-packed with multiple sessions. I understand that on Day 2 a dedicated ‘break out’ session on medical innovations has been planned. Our firm has also developed assistive technology for civilians, which is partially funded by BIRAC, Department of Bio-technology. So, I look forward to attending this session as well. I would, of course, like to attend them all but some on them will be going on simultaneously, therefore we will have a large team at New Delhi so as to not miss out on anything. Of course, the highlight of Day 2 would be the interactive session with industry and interaction with Defence Attaches from over 50 countries. This is not something that small startups can hope for even in mega events like DefExpo. We are thankful to IN for giving us this chance and to help the defence ecosystem in the country in such a big way.

DDR: Do you feel that SPRINT products have serious export potential?

BBBS: Of course! Massive potential I would say. We already work with clients and partners from the UK, Israel, Finland and Australia. I had also recently been a part of a Ministry of Defence delegation to Israel. I can tell you that the level of interest in our products is quite high. In addition to the defence sector, many of these products will also find civil applications. Just to take an example, the high expansion foam developed by us can be useful for firefighters in state fire services, for ports & airports…the oil and gas industry. The products can also be exported for these uses. I have mentioned our in-house developments but there are a number of such products by other startups as well. Let us not forget IN promised to develop over 75 technologies under SPRINT. Quite a few of these, I am certain, will start getting exported in addition to meeting the requirements of the armed forces and other agencies in India.

DDR: We understand that you recently set up a dedicated ‘Naval R&D Center’ at Chennai. Would you elaborate on its raison and scope?

BBBS: Yes, we set up a Naval R&D center at Chennai in April this year. I am happy that Admiral Karambir Singh (Retd) the former Chief of Naval Staff agreed to be the Chief Guest for the inauguration. We were also glad to have Rear Admiral Sourirajullu Ramsagar (Retd), a decorated 1971 war veteran, and Commodore (Dr) Arun Golaya present for the event. The maritime domain is quite distinct and has many unique challenges. Since we were working on a number of cases for IN, we thought it would be better to give it the focused attention it deserves and retain a team of in-house experts with domain knowledge. That way the knowledge we gain with working on one problem is also retained for further cases. I am happy that there is also a proposal to designate us formally as an NIIO ‘Innovation Industry Partner’. This will allow our people to work much more closely with IN and have easier access to ships. This is mutually beneficial as we can better understand IN’s requirements leading to the service getting better products.

DDR: Finally, given your close working partnership with NIIO, what would you say has been their biggest strength? If you had to identify a single reason that has underpinned the success of SPRINT, what would it be?

BBBS: This is a tough question to answer. There are so many factors including the iDEX team, the partner incubators, the entire naval hierarchy including the nodal officers who helped the startups. The biggest factor would – and I am sure everyone would agree – be the small, agile team at TDAC. They always had the ‘big picture’. Many different firms, many directorates and many ‘nodal officers’ (both from iDEX and IN) were working on many cases. The big picture was never lost as a central team at TDAC was closely monitoring everything and everyone. They were always on the phone talking to various firms, resolving their problems. They visited the firms many times over and had many video conferences. The nodal officers were doing this as well, but TDAC was always in the background. There are times when the startups themselves are surprised with what the product they were working on will eventually be used for. TDAC helped weave together a number of disparate cases into one complete whole. Some firms were making sensors, some were making unmanned platforms, some were making weapons, some were working (like us) on non-lethal devices. The TDAC team was like a master conductor coordinating a well-orchestrated symphony. They knew how this will all come together. They facilitated collaboration. I know that over a thousand proposals were received for the SPRINT challenges. About a hundred winners were declared. Notwithstanding, having gone through such a large number of ‘pitches’ by the industry, TDAC probably not only has the biggest database of innovators in the country but is also fairly well aware about the capabilities of each. They could also therefore facilitate collaboration between firms. They also helped collaborate between various nodal officers within the Navy. This helped speed things up in no small measure. Yes, so the answer to your question would be – the single biggest factor for me is: The master musicians at TDAC conducting this grand opera, bringing together this mega orchestra!



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