‘When our AI first engineered a car part, it was so scary I couldn’t sleep for days’

Kane Fulton, August 29, 2019 5 min read

When it comes to the automotive industry and 3D printing, Revannth Narthama Murugesan has more experience than most 24-year-olds.

The Carbon Performance founder and CEO took an interest in cars at four-years-old and has been fixated with anything on wheels ever since. In pursuit of life in the fast lane, he naturally gravitated toward the world of business.

“I used to carry a black executive bag to school thinking that was cool, at a time when most kids my age carried superhero-themed ones,” he says. “That’s when my love for entrepreneurship started.”

Revannth set up his first business aged 11 after “blackmailing” his dad to get him a plastic 3D printer, which allowed him to sell custom accessories to schoolmates. In his teenage years he founded an online affiliate marketing business, before adding a Masters in International Business on his CV down the line.

Now, like any startup founder dreaming big, Revannth is looking to change the world – and Carbon Performance is the culmination of his passion and experience to date.

Carbon Performance

Headquartered in Leeds with an office in the Netherlands, Carbon Performance was founded a year ago. The digital manufacturing startup, which was a Tech Nation Rising Stars finalist earlier this year, aims to disrupt the automotive world by allowing electric car makers of any size design and produce environmentally sustainable parts for electric vehicles – consisting of driverless cars, and those used in motorsport.

It’s done using the company’s proprietary digital platform called SK3L37ON, which “grows” cars from the ground up like plants or trees. Skeleton uses AI to automatically generate sturdy metal part designs that fit together like Lego when printed off, which is done using multi-million-pound additive manufacturing machines.

Featuring a human biology-influenced design, each part is unique and resembles an organ, such as the heart. Revannth calls this end-to-end process ‘Autofarming’, a name that represents both car and agriculture. And when the founder first saw it in action, he found it hard to believe.

“We wanted to make our first pilot dramatic, so we bought a large tub of popcorn and sat back in the office to literally watch our AI live engineer a brake calliper on the cloud,” he says. “It was really scary – I didn’t sleep for two days after seeing what computers can do at this point in time.”

In its early days, Carbon Performance used third-party products as part of its tech stack but has since developed Skeleton into an entirely proprietary system for ultimate control. Revannth says that the platform now offers many advantages versus manually designing, developing and engineering a car.

First, he says it’s faster, generating auto parts in seconds instead of taking months by a human; and it’s also cheaper for both the automaker (as it cuts down the middlemen to simplify the supply chain) and consumer, who benefits from lower cost of ownership through reduced fuel consumption and increased range in electric cars.

“Humans make mistakes and the automotive industry is heavily reliant on manual labour to develop cars, so a single delay can cost £2.7m for automakers, who pass on their low margins and increased costs to the end-consumers,” Revannth says.

Skeleton automatically adapts to different countries car manufacturing regulations, helping automakers comply with emission standards and avoid penalties. As parts can be 3D printed locally, there’s no requirement for them to be shipped across borders.

“Forbes estimates that it takes £5.5bn to develop a new car, which is prohibitive even for large automakers, let alone SMEs and startups,” Revannth says. “If this is not problematic enough, governments across the world impose hefty fines on automakers for excess CO2 emissions with £31bn expected to be paid in fines by automakers in 2021 alone.”

All about the team

Carbon Performance is a team of seven with a combined experience of more than 108 years in the automotive and tech industry including Google, SKF, Volkswagen, Honda and Cummins.

“The company is the culmination of different passions of mine and the team – and not an idea pulled out of thin air,” says Revannth. “We all came together organically to work on something we believed believe in, with none of them being hired for salaries. And there’s no hierarchy – I don’t see myself as boss.”

Revannth is surprised at common misconceptions he hears about Yorkshire and maintains that basing the company’s headquarters in Leeds was one of the company’s “best decisions”.

“Automotive makers always assume we’re from the Oxbridge area – we talked to a Canadian automaker’s CTO who was like, ‘Isn’t Yorkshire full of waterfalls and meadows?’,” he says. “Leeds is the place to be for any aspiring tech startup – it’s a vibrant, dynamic city with a thriving tech community and access to multinational talent in the form of more than 40,000 students at its universities.

“The significance of our commitment to developing the tech scene in Leeds is evident in our vision to put Yorkshire on the innovation map by bringing advanced manufacturing to the county.”

Yorkshire was chosen despite the company having its head turned by a conditional offer to relocate to the Netherlands.

“To be honest, Brexit has forced us to set up a branch in the Netherlands as well,” Revannth says. “We wanted a small team there because the perception of being a British company isn’t really popular in mainland Europe right now – they prefer local ones.

“The Dutch government also offers you a lot of incentives and also an entire stretch of motorway for you to test and trial a car, whereas you can’t even fly a drone in the UK without permission.”

Racing ahead

Bootstrapped up until this point, Carbon Performance is currently raising a seed round of £500K to enable it to scale its technology infrastructure, team, address existing traction, and monetize the platform.

The company will be launching its Intelligent Mobility platform at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January of 2020. It’s also setting up trade posts in the US with support from the Department for International Trade (or DIT).

“Our priority currently is to secure investments and we will be showcasing an entirely 3D printed car that is automatically generated by algorithms without any human intervention,” he says. “In the long run, we have huge growth plans and are focusing on the autonomous side of things as we see that as the future of mobility.

“We really want to be an automaker in the future – in seven or eight years from now we want to develop an autonomous electric car, the first of its kind production car in the UK.”

With the aim of lowering the cost of electric vehicles using its innovative methods and technology, Carbon Performance is a company that you’re going to be hearing more about in the future.

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