India is known for its high quality deposits of iron ore, bauxite, coal, alumina, and heavy mineral sands. Despite this, the country is yet to exploit its mineral potential as it contributes only 1.4 percent to the GDP.
One of the main roadblocks in the mining sector is the lack of assessment of natural resources. Many areas remain unexplored, and the mineral resources in these areas are yet to be assessed.
To drive transformation in the sector through technology, two friends - Puru Agrawal (26) and Mohit Sahu (28) - founded Minocular in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in 2018.
An integrated platform for the mining industry, Minocular hopes to simplify the mining process and increase productivity by using drones, IoT, and other new-age technologies to scour mines.
“Miners know that the mines have mineral and resources, but how to scour them and where and when to dig was something they had no solution for,” says Puru.
Both Puru and Mohit are from Chhattisgarh, and did their entire schooling and college at Raipur. Not only are the co-founders familiar with the town, but they feel that being based in a non-metro city like Raipur saved them a huge cost, which is essential for early-stage startups like Minocular.
“The local talent available is evolving, which helps us to hire locally and keep everything in check,” says Puru.
“Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra are majorly mining-dependent states, and being in Raipur provides us with an advantage of being close to these mines, and also gives us an advantage over other foreign players,” says Puru.
Minocular is a product that came as a problem statement from the mining industry itself, notes Puru.
After graduating from college, Puru and Mohit started a company in 2016 to provide software solutions to companies in and around Raipur.
During this time, the duo happened to visit a mine of a prospective client and realised that there was no technology used in the mine to increase its productivity and efficiency.
“We visited a mine where we were called for a discussion on how technology can help them solve a problem related to the survey. But we noticed there was no use of technology at any stage of the mining process. One-and-a-half-years later, and after many visits to mines to understand their problems, working with the mine managers, surveyors, the blast managers, and dumper operators, Minocular was born,” Puru recalls.
He adds the reason why Minocular is best suited for on-ground mining operations is because it is developed with inputs from the mines at every step, rather than making it first and then tweaking the on-ground processes to adjust it with the software.
Drones, AI, IoT, and dashboard
Minocular essentially provides customised hardware to mining companies to collect data from ground resources. It also offers an integrated software platform that brings everything together, and then makes use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to give these companies short-term and long-term plans for the most optimised mining of resources.
Explaining the end-to-end cycle of how Minocular works, Puru tells that a usual, medium-sized mine is spread across 10 KM area, which makes it almost impossible to monitor it through conventional methods.
So, we first generate a 2D and 3D map of the entire area by drone mapping (Geo-Spatial Survey). “This helps the mine manager to view the entire mine in one screen, which was previously not done in mines,” he says.
“Once we have the drone map, we gather quality data from the mines and different geological software, and impose it on the drone map. Our algorithm also calculates the approximate volume of mineral in the mines. So, the mines manager knows what quantity and what quality of mineral he has at what location,” explains Puru.
Using an IoT sensor network, Minocular then connects all the people involved in the process - dumpers, excavators, weight bridge, and quality analysers to its platform. “All these are now integrated, and their functions are visible on the centralised dashboard,” adds Puru.
With all these data and algorithms, Minocular helps the mining team take informed decisions on ‘where to dig, how much to dig, and when to dig’ along with real-time monitoring, reporting, and alerts sent to all the users.
Minocular has also developed a platform called ‘ Khanan Mitra’ along with Director General of Mines Safety (DGMS), Western Zone, and has on-boarded more than 300 mines and over one lakh miners. The app was developed keeping in mind all metal and coal mine regions of Jabalpur, Nagpur, Bilaspur, and Western Zone to act as a single platform for miners to connect and collaborate for safety outreach programmes, and to share best practices, etc.
According to the founders, the app is also an effective, positive, and interactive medium of spreading safety awareness by offering educative audio-visual clips, alerts, message, etc., to miners, and connects grassroot-level workers to the senior management. The platform helps the company to stay connected with the ecosystem as well as helps them to rope in more clients.
The mining sector and competition
A McKinsey & Company report says that the Indian mining sector will play a crucial role in accomplishing government initiatives like Make in India, Smart Cities, indigenous space programmes, and promotion of domestic defence manufacturing sector, which alone can potentially churn out six million additional jobs by 2025, and can contribute an additional $125 billion to India’s output, and $47 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
“However, it is possible only when miners get to scour the best in the mines,” says Puru.
Talking about competition, Puru says that most of the other players in the field are providing ERP software with manual data entry, whereas Minocular is a complete automated platform.
“Some offer only fleet management including local vehicle GPS providers. Whereas we co-relate the data from fleet and IoT terminals with the geo-spatial data. For example, steep roads greatly affect the fuel efficiency, which is possible only through our 3D drone data,” says Puru.
Growth and future plans
Minocular raised pre-seed funding of Rs 20 lakh last year from Raipur-based incubator AIC@36INC to setup the initial operations.
It currently has two full-time paying customers, which are Nuvoco Vistas Corporation Limited (formerly Lafarge India Limited) and a local mining company in Raipur. Puru says the company has six Proof-of-Concepts (POCs) in process with different mines, and is looking to have them onboard by December 2019.
Puru adds that the company is already profitable at the unit level, and has registered revenues of Rs 35 lakh for this financial year. “We are expecting to cross Rs 60 lakh in revenue in FY20,” he says.
The company also plans to test international markets next year. “In India alone, there are more than 5,500 medium-to-large opencast mines. Globally, South Africa, Australia, Canada, etc., are other markets with huge number of mines,” claims Puru. He adds that any opencast mine is Minocular’s target customer.
The startup is now looking for funding to the tune of Rs 5 crore for research and development, expansion, and to strengthen its existing technical and sales team.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)