Last month IoT startup, CRON Systems raised a pre-series A funding from early stage investor, YourNest. The startup was only founded in 2015, and with its unique value proposition and brilliant leadership never looked back. The firm was founded by three minds, Tushar Chhabra, Saurav Agarwala and Tommy Katzenellenbogen. CRON Systems deploys solution for border security, leveraging its competencies such as deep research in lasers, data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), encrypted communications, and automation.
Earlier this month, IoT India Magazine got in touch with the CEO of CRON Systems, Tushar Chhabra to get a more transparent picture of CRON’s unique value proposition in the defense space, besides understanding how CRON leverages IoT to offer innovative solutions. We present before you the detailed interview as follows.
IoT India Magazine: What are the factors that spurred the conception of CRON Systems. Please talk about your journey so far in the IoT-based defense space.
Tushar Chhabra: When you look at the challenges and solutions our Border Security Forces face and try to solve them from a technological point of view, it is very easy to understand how CRON Systems came to be as there is a huge gap between what today’s technology can offer and what is actually implemented at the front lines. While this gap was the spark that ignited CRON Systems, the “fuel” was the combination of a diverse team with unique experiences and expertise, ranging from Google (Tushar Chhabra, CEO), to Qualcomm (Saurav Agarwala, CTO), to the Israeli Defense Force (Tommy Katzenellenbogen, Chief Strategy Officer). We believe that any team with the right skills and motivations, given the same problem, would have probably reached the same conclusion.
Our journey started at the Morcha with a few Jawans, where we tried to understand how they live and what the daily routine and challenges are and tried to really understand what can be automated and deployed at scale. We also looked at the type of threats the forces encounter and the environmental challenges. Once we analyzed all the information, we developed a prototype solution with the BSF and worked with them to fine tune it and test it. This was the beginning of the KV product line, also know as the Laser Wall. Once we had a product that addressed a specific problem, we realized that the physical infrastructure of the Laser Wall could be a great platform for additional sensors and communication networks, and from there a whole new world of possibilities opened up to us. We are currently considering ourselves not as an IoT company, but more as an IoST (Internet of SECURITY Things) as we are aiming to become a platform to connect not only our products, but every 3rd party security product and solution that could benefit the defense forces securing borders.
IoT India Magazine: Please highlight some of the current technological trends that is shaping the defense space. What is the potential that IoT holds for streamlining defense activities?
TC: Even though the potential of IoT appear to be endless, it is very difficult to actually develop an effective product or application. This is probably why IoT has been around for a long time but hasn’t really hit the mainstream and taken off yet. But IoT Technology is becoming cheaper, more reliable and more secure, and we believe this is going to bolster the adoption rate from here on forward. Defense and Security are actually perfect verticals for the IoT (or IoST, as we call it). These verticals are characterized by an abundance of sensors gathering huge amounts of information and intel, which needs to be analyzed and cross checked at scale to produce Real Time Actionable Intel, with which the operators need to make decisions with and act upon. As the technology becomes more reliable and more secure, we will definitely see more IoST startups (and also ML & AI) in the near future. Saying that, all will continue to have a difficult time establishing themselves (compared to the B2C and B2B markets) as the barriers to entry for startups will continue to be high. This is due to the nature of the defense space, which is less tolerant to unproven tech, and working with startups that don’t have the resources to support a client such as the military.
IoT India Magazine: We congratulate you on receiving from YourNest. Please shed light on this most recent funding, describing how CRON Systems has planned to utilize this fund.
TC: Once we found Product-Market Fit, we decided that it was time to scale and started to look for funding from early stage investors, which was not an easy task, being in the defense space – most investors do not feel comfortable with this space as they don’t have the necessary skills to analyze a deal in this space. Fortunately to us, we managed to identify a number of interested parties and chose YourNest. We identified a real partner who understood our vision and was not afraid to venture forward and support us on this path. Our goal is to use the funding predominantly to hire top talents to develop the next generation of our product and scale our company. We have tripled our numbers and we are still looking for top talent, which is a challenge by itself.
IoT India Magazine: CRON deploys solutions predominantly focused on border security. BSF and Indian Army make use of your products to secure the international borders as well as perimeter of sensitive installations like army camps, airports etc. Can you shed light on how your solutions helps maintain border security?
TC: When it comes to security and defense, there is no “one technology to rule them all” that can solve all problems and address every threat. The best strategy is to have a layered architecture with a combination of different sensors and technologies and this is exactly what CRON systems products are all about. We provide the platform that enables this concept and we call it DETECT -> VERIFY -> ACT. This architecture incorporates a detection grid (such as the laser walls) that use several sensors to DETECT activity in the perimeter. Once an alert has been raised, we cross-reference all the information of all sensors with other data sources we have, and VERIFY if the threat is real or just a false positive (for example, a donkey or boar wandering near the perimeter). The information is then presented to the commander and shared with other platforms and systems that can ACT and intercept, or even neutralize the threat, based on the type of procedures the security force has in place. Systematic and automated process can be deployed at scale across an entire border and instantly upgrade and future proof any perimeter.
IoT India Magazine: Please walk us through some of your IoT-based products and services. Please talk about your KV product line which offers all terrain, all weather breach notification. How is it helping your clients?
TC: The KAVACH “laser wall” is a laser and IR based detection grid. The system is comprised of 2 units that run a laser and an IR between each other and can detect if and what and how something crossed its grid. The laser wall not only detects a breach but can also sense if something or someone is approaching it and map its immediate vicinity. The system also incorporates a long range, independent and encrypted communication network which is used to connect all laser walls and even other defense systems and products to the Command and Control dashboard which gives the operator a bird’s eye view on what is happening in his vicinity. The system auto-aligns and is water and dust proof, which allows for a very quick and easy deployment and operation.
IoT India Magazine: Could you provide us with a case study where your IoT solutions helped to address border security needs or your IoT products were utilized for any commercial application.
TC: We have had great feedback from the BSF who already deployed our earlier version product at the border. The main use of the unit was in specific areas with harsh and barely accessible terrain and a large water body that has been very difficult and dangerous to cover and by deploying laser walls at these areas, the BSF could decrease the amount of physical patrols, which were being shelled and exposed to snipers on a consistent basis, while still maintaining (or even improving) the level of security at the area.
As for the commercial application for the technology, we had a pilot project with one of India’s largest ecommerce platform, where laser walls were used to protect their warehouses. By implementing our systems, they could cut the cost of men power needed to secure the warehouse while increasing the efficiency of the security provided.
IoT India Magazine: What’s the state of IoT technology in India. What is CRON doing towards driving an IoT ecosystem in the country?
TC: India’s technological strength up until recently was mainly IT and ecommerce while IoT was not mainstream. This translates into the number of engineers and their experience in the IoT space to be relatively scarce and hard to find. We hope that with our recent funding becoming public and (hopefully) future success, CRON systems will increase awareness of the space and demonstrate India’s ability to shine in the IoT space as well and encourage other entrepreneurs and startups to develop this still relatively nascent space and become a global player.
IoT India Magazine: Please present us with a picture about innovation that takes place at CRON. Also, tell us about the work culture imbibed at CRON.
TC: CRON systems culture is unique in the sense that it’s very fast paced, hard working, and yet still leaves room to learn a lot and expand the professional horizons of our employees. When we hire, we are looking to hire the best talent with the right mindset to solve problems with technology. We are not looking for GPA or titles but rather looking people in the eye and searching for that spark of joy that comes with solving a problem for our customers with technology. Having this type of fast, cutting edge, learning combination makes hiring a bit of a challenge and not everyone fits or feels comfortable with this culture but once we hit the right person, possibilities are endless and the joy of accomplishment is highly rewarding.
IoT India Magazine: What is the roadmap that lies ahead for CRON? Please talk about any upcoming projects involving IoT, or talk about any geographical expansion that CRON might undertake.
TC: CRON systems is at a critical point right now where we have a number of customers very interested in our products and our short-term goals will be to deliver our best solutions with the best results. While our ops team is focusing on production and delivery, our core R&D team is working hard on our next line of products and upgrades to the Laser Wall line – incorporating additional sensors to our platform and opening our encrypted communication network to 3rd party defense and security products, which we believe will be an additional force multiplier to our customers. As for geographical expansion, we initially decided to focus all our attention to the Indian market, as it is a huge market by itself, but we have been already approached by investors and clients internationally, specifically from Germany, Africa, and the Gulf countries, and we are demoing our products internationally as well, as the opportunity is huge and the timing is perfect. In the background, we are also continuously hiring additional engineers. An additional major milestone we will have this year is raising our Series-A round which will be used to accelerate our scale up and fuel our expansion into international markets.