Luna Ergonomics Goes Global; Attempting To Raise Rs 15 Cr
Noida-based regional language texting startup Luna Ergonomics Pvt Ltd is drawing up ambitious plans to expand to all continents this year. Luna's flagship product is the Panini Keypad, a Java-based application for mobiles which uses a statistical predictive mechanism called CleverTexting to help users type in regional languages of their choice with ease.
Panini was launched in 2008 by Abhijit Bhattacharjee, an ex Signaller (military communications) from the Indian Army. He runs a lean operation with just 14 people, and has sustained it on Rs 2 crores of angel funding raised in January 2010. Investors include Asim Ghosh, the ex-Vodafone Essar CEO and Prakash Gokarn, the first chairman of spectrum committee, and has been on the Board of Directors of BEL, ITI, ECIL, and Chairman of the Electronic Development Panel of the DRDO. From 11 languages in 2009, the company has now scaled the number of languages supported to 22 including Korean and Mandarin.
"We are now ready to grow and are setting up offices across the globe starting with Silicon Valley," says Bhattacharjee. The company is setting its sights on the global arena this year, where it has received more attention than its home country. Oracle and Sun apparently showed their support for Panini as a key Java App at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Luna is now attempting to raise Rs 15 crore ($3.3 million) from venture capitalists, which will be used to chase its global expansion targets and refine the technology platform. "We will use it to take the technology to the world, more continents, and in developing the technology further. We plan to add hundreds of micro languages and make it available on all platforms. It will also be used to create more marketing buzz in India and abroad," said Bhattacharjee.
Though it is set up in the JSS Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park at Noida, a technology incubator sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India, Bhattacharjee is bitter about being shunned by the Indian government for years. "It is like a Bollywood story when the police turn up when the hero is dying. There was a conflict of interest when it came to government research institutions since a startup did what they did not in 15 years and the honchos were clearly not happy about it. We are now at peace with the situation - it does not matter if bureaucrats dont agree anymore!, " says Bhattacharjee.
The Indian government has a Indian Language Technology Proliferation and Deployment Center, which offers transliteration services online and is working on standardisation. It also offers software tools and fonts for the masses at ILDC.in. Other research projects the government is still working on include a machine translation system, for translating data from English to various Indian languages and also from one Indian language to another and a cross-lingual information access system to facilitate access to the data; an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) system for converting printed text to editable formats; an on-line handwriting recognition system for digitising handwritten data on tablets and finally a speech processing system which will read out local language digital text.
India's largest citizen ID project Aadhaar (UIDIA) has however, chosen to use Pannini over its own projects, according to him. The Wintel combine has shown keen interest in the technology. Intel's Darpan project is an attempt at creating a simple PC interface for Windows PCs, for rural users. Its user interface is currently available in Hindi, Marathi and Tamil, according to the site. "They wanted to cross the barrier of technology where someone receives a PDF file but does not know how to install the required application. It requires a smartness which we are used to but not rural users. So they are now planning to use our interface for input," says Bhattacharjee.
Luna faces competition from Rediff-backed Tachyon Technologies' Quillpad and IndiSMS by another hot startup Eterno Infotech Pvt Ltd, which is known for its popular Newshunt application. Panini is available to the layman as a direct download. Users can pay Rs 150 to download the app, which has all languages. The highest number of downloads Panini gets today are from predominantly South Indian languages Tamil, Kannnada and Malayalam.
One of the transitions Panini has undergone over the years is pricing - from four models and price levels to just one as the company realised was tough for sales people as well as end users to comprehend.
Panini is also offered as a white labeled product by Luna to phone manufacturers and PoS makers and also creates custom solutions for large enterprises. The platform can also be used to make other digital devices more language friendly - like a TV remote, IPTV, set top box, ATM, touch screen kiosks, a PC or a tablet PC.