There was much at the 'Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022' which signalled that India could be a global drone hub by 2030.
The just-concluded ‘Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022’ in the nation’s capital, had many gee-whizz moments for the thousands who thronged Pragati Maidan over two days, including live demos of a variety of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) – almost all of them ‘Made in India’.
But for those who had a more professional interest, there was an unstated but strong takeaway. Just 10 months after the Indian Drone Rules 2021 were finalised after a couple of fits and starts, the new and liberal regime has had the precise effect that government intended: a sharp growth in the drone ecosystem, with large players as well as start-ups, academic institutions and state government bodies, joining to harness drones in a variety of roles and scenarios.
In his inaugural remarks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the importance of drone technology in the fields of defence, disaster management, agriculture, tourism, film and entertainment. He expected that drone technology would play a major role in empowering farmers and modernise their lives.
He cited the PM Swamitva Yojana as an example, of how drone technology is becoming the basis of a major revolution. Under this scheme, for the first time, every property in the villages of the country is being digitally mapped and digital property cards are being given to the people.
Among the exhibitors at the Drone Mahotsav, Navi Mumbai-based ideaForge claims the largest market share in the Indian security, surveillance, and industrial market for drones. Its customers have conducted over 2,40,000 missions using its drones. The company's flagship is the 'Switch', a Fixed Wing VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) UAV that has been deployed by the Indian Armed Force at high altitude and harsh environments for day and night surveillance in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Another exhibitor was the Bengaluru-based drone technology company Asteria Aerospace, providing actionable intelligence from aerial data.
Asteria develops customised drone solutions for government and enterprise customers using its in-house hardware design and software development capabilities.
The company is a subsidiary of the Reliance Industries’ unit, Jio Platforms.
Asteria recently launched an end-to-end drone operations platform, SkyDeck. This is a cloud-based software platform to deliver DaaS or Drone-as-a-Solution for multiple industry verticals like agriculture, surveying, industrial inspections, and surveillance and security.
It offers a unified dashboard for drone fleet management, scheduling and executing drone flights, data processing, and visualisation and AI-based analysis of aerial data captured using drones.
On the sidelines of the Bharat Drone Mahotsav, quite a few industry partnerships were announced:
The Centre for Developing Intelligent Systems (CDIS), an R&D Centre housed within IIT Kanpur, signed an agreement with Aarav Unmanned Systems (AUS), a Bangalore-based drone technology pioneer, for developing image processing and machine learning-based solutions for advanced drone data analytics. The agreement is expected to unlock the latent potential of drone data.
AUS has extensive drone mapping experience in the country and is the largest drone-solution provider for the Svamitva Yojana, for which it has already mapped more than 55 lakh acres of the rural area, across 18,000 villages. AUS was the first start-up to build and deploy GPS-based Survey grade fully autonomous drones in India.
Another announcement came from Adani Defence & Aerospace which entered into agreements for acquiring 50 per cent equity stake in Bengaluru-based drone start up, General Aeronautics, which specialises in developing robotic drones for crop protection services, crop health monitoring, precision farming and yield monitoring using artificial intelligence and data analytics. The partnership fuses military and civilian objectives by integrating several capabilities -- Adani Group’s military UAV capabilities with the agri-tech of General Aeronautics.
The Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IIT Roorkee) and leading Chennai-based drone manufacturer Garuda Aerospace, have entered into a partnership agreement to meet the growing demand for indigenous drone pilots.
They have signed an MoU to promote interaction in mutually beneficial areas of upcoming drone technologies in the areas of Software, Robotics, Digital solutions, and Drone Pilot training. IIT Roorkee will provide application-based solutions like AI based monitoring, while Garuda will do the real time implementation, including building and customisation of UAVs or drones for various applications.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister, pressed a button to simultaneously launch 100 of Garuda’s Kissan drones. Today, the company’s fleet comprises 300 drones, 500 pilots and 200 core engineers in 26 cities.
Garuda Founder CEO Agnishwar Jayaprakash speaks for many Indian startups, for whom the new and relaxed drone regulations and the production linked incentives have come as a boon: He calls Prime Minister Modi, Drone-Acharya.
Reliance Jio Platforms has another Bengaluru-based drone subsidiary, SankhyaSutra Labs which makes high-fidelity multi-physics and aerodynamics simulation software. It has planned a major launch in October this year, of its indigenously developed state-of-the-art software tools for Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which will help drone designers reduce the number of costly tests in wind tunnels. The name SankhyaSutra translates to ‘numerical algorithms’ in Sanskrit. Skye Air Mobility, a Delhi-headquartered drone delivery logistics firm serving sectors such as healthcare, diagnostics, e-commerce and agri-commodities, recently completed 1,000 deliveries via its flagship Skye Ship One within 6 months, making India the 12th nation in the world to lead the drone delivery space.
Skye Air has been part of the Telangana Government’s ‘Medicine from the Sky project’; the Flipkart Air consortium, Blue Dart Med Express and Dunzo Med-Air Consortium.
Skye Air Mobility also transported 100 kgs of Lakadong turmeric in remote parts of Meghalaya, demonstrating multiple autonomous Beyond Visual Line of Site or BVLoS flights lifting a combined payload of 100 kgs of dry turmeric. The drone delivery start-up has joined hands with the diagnostics chain, Redcliffe Labs to take healthcare & pathology services to remote areas of the country using drone technology.
Earlier this year Skye Air and the Department of Information Technology, Govt. of Himachal collaborated to promote medical and agri-commodity deliveries within the state. As a part of the partnership, Skye Air initiated a 3-day long BVLOS trial in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh to connect over 6 Public health Centres Area Hospitals via multiple flights between points covering an aerial distance of 170 kms.
There is general consensus among analysts that the drone and drone services market in India could account for Rs 30,000 crores of value by 2026, thanks to the evolving policy framework, Production Linked Incentives and the ban on import of most drones which can be manufactured in India. Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia says ‘We have the potential to make India a global drone hub by 2030."
In Delhi for two days there was tangible proof that this was very much a doable target under Atmanirbhar Bharat.
Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.
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