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Asia’s Richest Man Buys Robotics Startup to Fuel Tech Ambitions

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(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. is buying an Indian robotics startup as the conglomerate scales up automation across its businesses, from e-commerce to new energy.

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Reliance paid $132 million for a majority stake in Addverb Technologies Pvt, which uses robots to make e-commerce warehouses and energy production more efficient, Sangeet Kumar, the startup’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Ambani, Asia’s richest person, is investing in technology as competition from rivals such as Amazon.com Inc. intensifies in India’s booming e-commerce market. Addverb already works in dozens of warehouses across Reliance’s empire, including online grocer JioMart, fashion retailer Ajio and internet pharmacy Netmeds, deploying robotic conveyors, semi automated systems and pick-by-voice software.

“Reliance has huge plans to implement automation across digital warehouses,” said Kumar, 41. “They have plans to expand warehousing to hundreds of locations in the next two years and when you have that scale, only robotic systems can be effective.”

Five-year-old Addverb, based in the Noida suburb of New Delhi, designs and makes software and installs robotic systems. That makes it one of a limited number of companies in the world to work in every aspect of robotics, from hardware and software to deployment.

Addverb’s robots help pack Reliance’s oil and gas storage facilities, and it has designed automation for the conglomerate’s refinery in Jamnagar in Western India. It is implementing solutions in Reliance’s giant new solar factories, also in Jamnagar, a location where the company plans to make green energy investments of over $80 billion.

The biggest collaboration between the two is yet to come, Kumar said. Addverb and Reliance are planning to build “next level” 5G robotics and battery systems as well as harness carbon fiber to build affordable, advanced robots.

Kumar, a graduate from the vaunted engineering school Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, worked with the country’s leading paint maker Asian Paints Ltd. setting up massive factories, using imported robots, before founding his own startup with four co-workers. Addverb now employs 550 engineers.

It’s expected to clock about $61 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending in March, and its customers include Amazon, PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart as well as other manufacturers and retailers in Europe and Asia. Its products include robots that improve storage density on warehouse racks, sorting robots, self-driving cars, and robo shuttles.

Kumar said Addverb is scouting land around Delhi as it envisages building the world’s largest robot-making factory. It also wants to accelerate expansion in Europe and the U.S. The startup already has subsidiaries in Singapore, the Netherlands and Australia.

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