Rusty Jahangir, founder of Blue Robotics

Rusty Jahangir, founder of Blue Robotics

Rusty Jehangir founded Blue Robotics in 2014 in his garage, using Costco folding tables as a work bench to build his first 600 thrusters, starting with just $100,000 in Kickstarter funding. After eight years of rapid growth and expansion, Jehangir’s facilities and support have changed dramatically, but its mission has remained the same: to design, manufacture and deliver low-cost subsea robots for multiple markets.

The numbers tell part if not all of the story, as in just over eight years the company has sold more than 70,000 pushers, more than 3,200 BlueROV2 vehicles backed by an in-house team of 58 employees and 50 dealers globally.

“From day one, our mission has been to make low-cost enabling parts for marine robots, starting with the thruster and that is still our mission today,” Jahangir said in a recent interview with Marine Technology TV. “We have a lot of products now; about 280 total products in our online store, but they are all geared towards enabling marine robotics with products that are low-cost, accessible, well-documented, and easy to use.”

While growth has been rapid, Blue Robotics has endured its fair share of hurdles. “On the technical front, it seems embarrassing to say to a marine robotics company, but I think the hardest technical thing is to keep things dry and keep them low-cost,” Jahangir said. “There are a lot of ways to do this with expensive products, but doing it at a very low price is difficult.”

Blue Robotics has used “penetrators in a bowl,” essentially epoxy around a cable through a nail to seal a cable from water, for a number of years, and Jahangir said they worked great until customers started pushing products harder, which led to reliability and consistency issues.

“One of our biggest technical breakthroughs in the past year was coming up with the WetLink hack tool, which is a hack tool for airtight cables. We think that problem is now fixed for us, but getting there has been an ordeal,” Jahangir said.

Another common problem with startups across industries is the business aspect, in particular deciding exactly what type of company you want or need to build. For example, Jehangir designed and sold 600 thrusters of his prototype to start, but had no experience with the contract manufacturer or efficiently building them, collectively, himself.

“I thought I was starting a marine robotics company, and didn’t realize I was starting a manufacturing company at the same time,” he said. “I think it was probably three or four years before we realized that this is what we really are. We are a manufacturer and we have to be really good at it. So we went through a lot of growing internally to get really good at manufacturing.”

Part of Blue Robotics’ plan is to make low-cost, high-quality, flexible products.

“You don’t have to buy a complete ROV to have a propeller. You can just buy a thrust motor, a weatherproof enclosure, or a WetLink Penetrator and these components are not designed for one specific application. They are not designed for our BlueROV2. They are designed to be used in many of different applications.
This, in turn, opens the market to everything from middle school students building ROVs for MATE competitions to artists who build robotic swans to provide light shows for the most discerning and demanding clients, such as WHOI.

While Jehangir is focused on building his business, he is also intent on helping build collaboration within the ocean exploration community, sharing details about interesting products and the projects they are being used for. As the industry is successfully built on new generations of innovators, he offers this advice to anyone seeking to take the lead in the world of marine robotics: “I think the way to ensure your success is to find a loophole in the market. We don’t look at where others are competing and trying to compete against them, but To find a place where no one competes, where it’s wide open. For us, that was our number one impulse. There’s a $30 bilge pump motor or there’s a military-grade thruster, and there’s a wide open gap in the middle. I think a big part of Our success is simply choosing the right market to be in and pursuing something that fills the market need.”

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