If you want to play with the big boys, you need big dreams and the ability to perform at that level. Raghavender Sahdev wants to have a “big impact in the world” and is driven to achieve that goal.
NuPort Robotics, a company he co-founded and is the CEO of, converts Class 8 trucks to drive autonomously over short distances. Vehicles are retrofitted with controls, actuation systems, sensors, and computers to autonomously traverse over dedicated routes.
The soft-spoken IT entrepreneur’s eyes light up when he discusses his passions – robotics and autonomous driving. Artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning are his areas of expertise.
“That’s where the fun is, to play with the big boys,” Sahdev said. A huge amount of capital may not provide solutions. Billions of dollars have been spent on autonomous driving, but the results are not proportionate. It is about where and how you want to spend the money, he said.
“You can compete with any company irrespective of how many billions of dollars they have,” Sahdev said. The right approach toward solving the problem coupled with operational excellence and the right mindset is needed.
Sahdev came to Canada in 2014 on an internship to undertake research at the University of Toronto (UofT), after completing his undergrad studies in India. He worked on a robot team project at UofT’s Institute for Aerospace Studies. Thereafter, he earned his master’s degree at York University in Toronto. Simultaneously, he was a visiting graduate student at UofT, working on autonomous driving.
After working four jobs at the same time, he was offered employment at a multi-national telecom company. Finding the work “light and easy,” he wanted to do something more “intense”.
Sahdev co-founded NuPort Robotics in 2019 with Bao Xin Chen. They met in 2016 while working in the same laboratory, and published papers together. The company employs 15 people.
“The scale of the trucking industry fascinates me,” Sahdev said. He observed how autonomous driving in the trucking sector was taking shape in 2018-19 and said it was evident that it would be the first industry that would get automated. The 28-year-old innovator is dedicating the next seven to 10 years of his life on improving autonomous driving.
His company focuses on the middle mile, where routes are typically less than 50km. For example, a truck travels from a distribution center to a rail terminal and back, or to a shipping port and across manufacturing facilities.
Retrofitting a truck helps extend its life. A vehicle being used for five or six years, can be used for seven or eight years. “Driver efficiency is increased,” Sahdev said. A job that used to take eight hours can be done in six and as the task is optimized, time can be further reduced. Inherently the driver shortage problem is also being addressed.
The retrofit process takes a few weeks and has two parts. The first is installing sensor mounts, sensors, and onboard computers. The second is controls and actuation. Sahdev said the economics make sense because it is a one-time investment and costs are recovered in the first two years.
A driver is always present in the truck and hooks and unhooks trailers. Nuport Robotics is designing the system to enhance driver capability. This is done with real-time route optimization and suggestions, with the aim to have fully autonomous trucks.
NuPort Robotics retrofit two Canadian Tire tractors with sensors and controls that allow it to transport goods autonomously between a distribution center and nearby rail terminal. Sahdev said his company’s relationship with the retail giant has offered insights into dispatch and trucking operations. The companies also share goals on sustainability, reducing carbon footprint and emissions, and increasing safety.
“I knew I was going to be doing innovation and engineering.”Raghavender Sahdev, co-founder and CEO of NuPort Robotics
Sahdev has been creating and innovating from a young age. In grade 3 he was soldering components. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was designing something.” In grade 8 he envisioned doing holographic projections, technology that is based in present-day HoloLens. By grade 10 he was focused on robotics and technology. “I knew I was going to be doing innovation and engineering,” he said.
The next step is to see his technology deployed in trucks all over the world. He is also shooting for a billion-dollar valuation of his company. Big dreams and bigger goals. Bring on the big boys, Sahdev’s ready to play.
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