You have taken an unusual path covering various studies and leveling up in the Aviation/Drone industry. Could you brief your multi-faceted profile to our readers?
My journey began in the Army, and I have been working in GNSS domain since 1998. I have been associated in Navic / IRNSS, since its inception in June 2008. I was system manager in charge of developing the monitoring system and GIS for the armed forces during 2003-2011 after which, I retired from the army in 2011 to pursue research in this domain. I have four PG degrees, and six diplomas/certificate courses linked to this domain. I was also a sponsored research scholar of MoD to IIT Kharagpur. In 2012, I was trained by the GIZ of Germany to understand German technology and to bring it to India. Being a founding member of the Integrated Space Cell (ISC) and I have been involved in NavIC from the inception stage since Jun 2008. I was also part of the ISRO team for trial evaluation of the GLONASS-based Multi GNSS receivers and simulators and a member of the committee to draft the Indo-Russian GLONASS signal sharing agreement of 2010, this was signed by the Prime Ministers of India and Russia in Dec 2010. In 2012, I founded Elena Geo System and from then on there was no looking back! Elena’s products are result of my research combined with in depth domain knowledge and experience. Today, I am a subject matter expert in Satellite-Based Navigation.
How did this experience-paved way for your ventures? What ignited you to establish ‘Elena’?
My experience helped me understand the challenges and bring out right solutions.
“The requirement for having an Indian system can be fulfilled only if ground-based electronics and solutions are available what we call as a downstream application developed for utilizing our satellites. We found that we needed to have someone dedicated to work in the navigation domain”, hence we established Elena. Elena means someone who shows the path, someone who throws light on the new path.
In the beginning we faced a lot of challenges:
- The Indian Constellation of satellites (GAGAN & IRNSS) was not fully functional yet when the company began the work to develop satellite-based monitoring solutions.
- The knowledge required to help the company was not available in the country.
- No Multi GNSS hardware was available.
- The company had to concentrate on testing the ground-level algorithms required for Indian geography.
The launching of Indian satellites and their stabilization from 2016 to 2018 triggered the growth of Elena. Elena could now concentrate on the development of complete NavIC-based monitoring systems. Existing products in the GPS domain did not fulfill the requirements of the users. Elena developed its own set of hardware, software, and systems, all optimized for NavIC that made its end-to-end presence in this domain.
What are the various Products & services that you are offering at Elena Geo Systems?
Elena Geo Systems dominates the industry with its position as a global leader in the NavIC based navigation space. Our solutions have unparalleled user experience as the company focuses on maximum accuracy with the most innovative technologies at affordable prices. Solutions created with the vision of continuous innovation through R & D work showcase their rich domain knowledge and a flexible & agile workflow. Elena provides the utmost cutting-edge technology to modernize road safety, ensuring security and operations.
Elena Geo Systems’ Industry-Leading and Differentiated Services:
Elena’s services enable enterprises to transform their processes to more sophisticated, more real-time to drive significant value, increase efficiency, optimize monitoring, manage associated risks through early notices, leverage advanced analytics to gain actionable insights, and deliver a superior tracking experience.
Elena has an end-to-end presence in this domain with its own set of hardware, software, and systems all optimized for NavIC. Through indigenous R&D, Elena has developed the core processor and built devices around it along with the supporting programs/algorithms and servers. This provides a complete spectrum of ‘Locating and Monitoring Devices’ with absolute reliability and an extremely high degree of accuracy.
Elena provides Antenna, Modules, Devices, Solutions and Systems, optimized for monitoring, navigation, IoT applications. These components can be used alone or as a chain in the user systems. These can be customized to work with other systems and solutions that are existing in the corporates.
We have Intelligent Vehicle Tracking Systems, high precision locating devices, marine NavIC Receivers, etc.
Lt Gen Sanjay Kulkarni PVSM, AVSM, SC, VSM, SM, Ex DG Infantry, launched the India’s first, NavIC Drone Navigation Unit (NDNU) on 27th May 2022 at Delhi Drone Mahotsav, Pragati Maidan, and New Delhi. This is our product, brought out to help the drone industry.
The Drone rules of India laydown that all drones should use NavIC the Indian Satellite constellation in place of GPS of America. Till now this circuit was not available. Elena’s NDNU fills this void there is a high-end military grade version and a commercial version available:
Some of the key features are:
- Support Multi GNSS: NavIC, GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO.
- Uses SBAS: GAGAN, EGNOS, and MSAS.
- Has more than 128 channels.
- Ultra-low power consumption.
- Faster TTFF, Cold start
- No loss of fix due to momentary loss of power.
- Tiny form factor and weight less than 70 grams.
Can you provide an insight into Drone market in Civil and Defense segments? What are their key differences?
In India, the use of drones has been gradually rising in various applications, especially in non-commercial applications for aerial cinematography, land surveys, agriculture & mining activities, disaster management, construction activities and mapping national highways and railway tracks.
In July 2021 report by BIS Research said that the global drone market, which is currently dominated by the US, China and Israel, is estimated to reach US$ 28.47 billion in FY21-22, with India likely to account for 4.25% share.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones played a crucial role in carrying out a host of activities—from surveillance and sanitisation to temperature checks and public broadcasting—across the country. This not only helped in minimising the risk of virus spread, but also helped authorities in ensuring the safety of healthcare and police personnel.
In India some of the crucial civilian areas where drone are playing a big role include
Healthcare Delivery Purposes: Telangana the first State in the country to embark on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) flights to deliver a payload comprising vaccines, with the launch of Medicine from the Sky project in Vikarabad. The project, which seeks to deliver medicines, vaccination, and units of blood to remote, rural areas by means of drones, is a collaboration of the Telangana government, World Economic Forum, HealthNet Global and NITI Aayog.
Union Agriculture Minister Shri Tomar said that Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has initiated the use of drones in agricultural activities in the wider interest of farmers. The government is promoting the use of ‘Kisan Drone’ for crop assessment, digitization of land records, spraying of pesticides and nutrients for which provision has also been made in the budget. Modernization of the country’s agricultural sector is on the agenda of the government
Monitoring: The drone technology in the SVAMITVA scheme launched by the Government of India, within less than a year, has helped about half a million village residents to get their property cards by mapping out the Abadi areas. Drones can be used for real-time surveillance of assets and transmission lines, theft prevention, visual inspection/maintenance, construction planning and management, etc
They can be used for anti-poaching actions, monitoring of forests and wildlife, pollution assessment, and evidence gathering.
Law Enforcement: Drones are also significant for the law enforcement agencies, the fire and emergency services wherever human intervention is not safe and the healthcare services.
A glimpse of the future of drones in India could be seen at the two-day drone festival organized in New Delhi with over 150 companies — from hardware to software to component OEMs showcasing their solutions.
In the military context, drones have often been said to be revolutionising warfare, leading the way to military transformation. Drones hold innovative promise for air power and high potential for increased safety for military personnel and civilians alike.
This increased focus on drone technologies by India comes amid their enhanced centrality in conflict. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, drones have played a central role for both reconnaissance and attack purposes.
In the Indian military, is evolving its tactics to use drones in a major way. All Arms and Services will use drones. The change is significant as drones are now being used by the Indian Army for surveillance purposes at the LAC, as the stand-off with China continues.
For the first time, the Army is now also going for loitering munitions, something operated only by the Indian Air Force (IAF) earlier. In September last year, in a span of less than two weeks, the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force signed multiple contracts worth over Rs 500 crore in the sphere of drone technology with the focus on Indian companies. Sources had at the time termed the procurement of swarm drones and loitering munitions by the Army and Navy part of the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’, or RMA, which changes the way war is fought.
Given these global military dynamics, and the Indian government’s push for drone manufacturing, a few private military drone manufacturers are developing important technologies.
What are some of the important points to be noted based on your observations on the Drone industry, more specific to India?
It is rather unfortunate to see many drone companies still opting to use GPS as part of their drone navigation systems. Only a few countries in the world have the technological capability to operate large-scale space missions and develop state of the art navigation technology and India is one of them.
NAVIC exemplifies a hybrid technology, providing both civilian and military benefits. With seven satellites, NavIC is considered to be at par with US-based GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and Galileo developed by Europe.
Many of the drone manufactures don’t really understand the issues with GPS There are no assurance with GPS as it is owned by USA Air Force. Their service has been denied many times to users outside US. This includes Kargil War. Precision Positioning Service not given to India. And there is very less availability, low accuracy, and no reliability and the integrity is doubtful. Coupled with the above GPS has a lot of accuracy issues. So additional measures were used to overcome it such as the following Such as SBAS, LBAS. DGPS, CORS, IGS network and A-GPS techniques. In spite of all this GPS can give only up to 10 M accuracy. It’s time to move away from GPS .
NAVIC is assured for Indian public, and had been specially created for the Equatorial Region. It has high availability, accuracy, reliability, and integrity. S Band is the most suited for Indian Terrain, especially the mountains and the seas.
It has enhanced accuracy. And is permanently visible over the Indian sub-continent. NavIC works better than GPS in crowded locations with highest accuracy, both over Indian cities and rural areas. It has been proved that, other than NavIC, other GPS systems loose coverage of equatorial region from 20 minute to 180 minute in a 24-hour cycle.
It is a true step in AITAANIRBHAR BHARAT.
In August 2021 The Indian agency responsible for drone safety, DGCA, updated the drone rules for India. The rules stipulate that “The Central Government may, on the recommendation of the Quality Council of India, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify the standards for obtaining a type certificate for unmanned aircraft systems and such standards may promote the use of the following:
(a) Made-in-India technologies, designs, components and unmanned aircraft systems; and
b) Indian regional navigation satellite system, namely, Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC)”
And the changes you wish, if implemented could promote the Drone industry would be?
India a very unique geographical terrain characteristics and drone manufactures should understand and develop their drones accordingly. They have to have equatorial navigation capabilities. It should have navigation capabilities for all terrain and environments. Adopting NAVIC based systems is the best way forward.
We need to develop drone talent in India. Just like India developed IT talent for the world. Besides having a strong school level curriculum, we need world-class drone schools that focus on high quality and standards, which will enable creation of skilling and white-collar employment in not only urban areas and rural areas. We need to encourage the development of world-class trainers who help train both young men and women and who will have the opportunity to up-skill themselves. We should give them the opportunity here in India rather than have a brain drain abroad.
As far as drone manufacturing goes as of now, drone manufactures are heavily dependent on Chinese made products, considering a grave security risk, we must have more liberal production polices in India, Of course we have the PLI scheme. But we need more. Organizations need research and development incentive, tax breaks, good export and import polices including faster customs clearance abilities.
At a policy level, currently we have the DGCA making all the key decisions as far as drones go. The DGCA is currently understaffed and overworked. Drones development is a multi-disciplinary field for example in Agriculture we have the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare developing SOP’s for drone usage. We have SVAMITVA, a Central Sector Scheme of Ministry of Panchayati Raj was nation-wide launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on National Panchayati Raj. Hence, we need a dedicated authority that look into all aspects of advanced air mobility and can coordinate such efforts. This will give all entrepreneurs, organizations, flying schools, a one-stop solution to address all concerns at a policy and implementation level as well.
Again at a policy level we need good data governance policies in place as well. Security Hazards Drones used by the government for the purposes of enforcement of law and order, for prevention of infiltration at border contain sensitive data. Computers are highly prone to get compromised, likewise drones can also be subjected to hacking/jamming/spoofing and its data can be subjected to misuse. So it is critical to develop stringent drone data governance polices as well. Basically rules on how to govern data is collected, used and stored
Last and the most important part is drone development in rural areas and it’s not just about using Agri- drones in farming. It’s also about giving Rural India the technological edge. It’s about encouraging rural talent to manage their own operations as opposed to traditional methods. It is about imparting a renewed vigor for agriculture in the rural youth so instead of the rural youth abandoning farming and coming to cities to search for technology jobs, they will have cutting edge skills and technology in their own villages.