Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT engineering students win Student Startup, Innovation Award at SXSW

Courtesy of Siddharth Thakur

A busy weekend of pitches, speeches and events came to a climax when Paradigm Robotics found out they won not one, but two awards at SXSW. Elated UT engineering students Siddharth Thakur, Krishnan Ram and Jimmy Mahon walked onstage to accept their prize.

It all started eight years ago, when Thakur watched a news clip about a group of firefighters who passed away in a burning building while searching for human life. Shocked that there was no existing technology to help with these disasters, the electrical and computer engineering senior founded startup Paradigm Robotics which created Firebot: the world’s first wirelessly-controlled and thermally-insulated search and rescue robot. 

Paradigm Robotics’ goal is to spearhead a “paradigm shift” in the field of robotics by developing accessible and robust solutions to protect firefighters. Thakur, the startup’s CEO, said that “paradigm” actually comes from a concept in robotics.

“The term ‘robotic paradigm’ is used to describe a mental model of how a robot operates,” said Thakur. 

Mahon said the team conducts research and outreach by employing something they’ve coined the “Blue Bell outreach method.”

“Firefighters love ice cream,” said Mahon. “We found if we walk up to any station with a tub of Blue Bell in our hand, it’s an automatic invite inside, so that’s allowed us to foster great working relationships with not just local firefighters, but firefighters across the country.”

The team fully utilized their resources at UT, working with the Texas Innovation Center, The LaunchPad, Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs, Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center and even with President Jay Hartzell.

“I’m proud to say we’ve worked with every single entrepreneurship place on campus,” said Thakur. “I’m really fortunate and thankful to be here at UT. The entrepreneurship community is incredible.”

As entrepreneurs, the team worked hard to gain initial momentum to get their idea off the ground. Co-founder and chief technology officer Krishnan Ram said that confronting failure proves an inevitable but crucial part of the engineering process. 

“In the engineering process, failure is paramount,” said Ram. “It’s hard to look at failure as a good thing, … but there’s so much we learn from failure. Nowadays it’s like, this thing messed up? Cool. What did we learn? What do we get out of it? It’s just part of the process.”

Paradigm Robotics faced novel challenges, which Ram said fostered a growth mindset and developed important problem-solving skills. 

“That mindset is the foundational intuition of being able to break (down) a problem,” said Ram. “It’s hard to build a robot that’s never been built before. We’re surviving temperatures comparable to Venus, and nobody has made that work yet either.”

Thakur said the team now prepares to take their fourth version platform to market.

“Robotics is hard,” Thakur said. “It took Boston Dynamics 12 years and $200 million, and they still haven’t achieved product market fit. We’re trying to do this in a year and a half.”

With a clear vision and a passionate team, Paradigm Robotics sees an ambitious future ahead of them.

“I’m very proud of how much we’ve been able to do in such a short amount of time,” said Thakur. “And we’re going to continue to do it.”

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