Your profile covers a portfolio of a vast experience. Can you brief about your journey so far to our readers?
My career has started in the Army, beginning with Artillery systems and thereafter transitioning to Unmanned Systems. I have been fortunate to be one of the Pioneers of UAV systems in India and lucky to be the First UAV pilot and raise a UAV Unit way back in 1999. Since then my travel has enabled me to earn many distinctions in the UAV domain from being the first Chief Qualified Instructor for UAV’s , Head of UAV training School, being the first Indian UAV Test Pilot for the MALE category of UAV’s to being the first Chief evaluator for categorising UAV pilots in the Army. After taking Voluntary retirement, I was amongst the earliest adopter of innovative tech solutions across a wide variety of business sectors. Being able to contribute to the regulatory policy frameworks, standard shaping and public-private partnership initiatives across each of these industries has also been personally rewarding, especially while being part of the FICCI Committee on Drones and FICCI Committee on Homeland Security for the past three years. The past 25 years of my experience in Drones, especially during raising of Operational units, and thereafter during start-up and growth phases in commercial space, has helped me gain in-depth experience in envisioning, planning, and executing large-scale technology platforms and driving strategic business initiatives. One of the most exciting experiences was establishing and operationalizing 3 UAV bases for the United Nations in Central African Republic and then spearheading the Homeland Security Vertical of Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, where I was engaged in the business and technology strategy. Currently, as Strategic Business Development & Technology Consultant (RPAS / UAV), with Elbit Systems, I provide business development, technical expertise and management analysis to develop business cases for emerging opportunities in India. I have started engaging on multiple strategic initiatives for Elbit Systems in India
Indian Gov. is trying its best to bring the best drone regulations/policies in India, what according to you is still missing with regards to Drone Ecosystem?
India is a country where entrepreneurship is now being admired, appreciated, and encouraged. There are numerous types of business ideas that are flourishing in India today, one of the most promising ones being drone technology. Indian Start-ups are slowly getting into drone technology. Drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a powerful technology that can be used for various purposes. In drone technology, India is witnessing a new wave of innovation with a boom in the number of start-ups. Drone technology and start-ups are helping solve several real time problems by bringing innovative solutions using drones.
It all started with the government coming out with the more liberal Drones Rules, in August 2021, replacing the previous UAS (unmanned aerial systems) Rules. “These rules made testing of drones much easier,” The drone ecosystem was taking root even earlier, but the easier rules have gingered things up. “For a start-up,” “three things are required — talent, capital and ecosystem.” While there is no dearth of talent, and ‘capital’ is now more accessible, it is the ecosystem that is still deficient. We still need to plug this gap.
The Push for indigenisation of drones is enabling the ecosystem to unfold nicely. “Indigenisation levels in drones have increased from 5 per cent to 25 per cent in the last three years”, which, is a good sign. Earlier the ‘brushless direct current’ (BLDC) motors , composite based propellers , Electronic components , Auto Pilots, Communication Systems and Batteries needed to be imported. There are few companies which now have invested to make propulsion systems and engines, as also make BLDC motors in India.
Another element in the ecosystem is insurance, which is now mandatory for drones. While insurers do offer products like for motor vehicles, both ‘own damage’ and ‘third-party liability’, insuring drones is complicated, as it calls for mapping the risks in every area the drone would fly in. A start-up called Tropogo has jumped in to provide this risk-mapping service.
The market for drones is exploding. Apart from the armed forces, sectors such as medicine delivery, logistics, surveillance and agriculture, among many others, need drones. The government itself will be a big buyer, under its Swamitva Yojana, a scheme to map land parcels in 6 lakh villages to help provide a ‘record of rights’ and ‘legal ownership cards’ to village households. A couple of hundred drone companies have come up in India, making vehicles for different applications these can be sustained if we have a Robust Drone Eco system.
You have been flying Drones and training Drone pilots for quite long time. What is your say on the current DGCA`s training curriculum?
Drone technology and industry is evolving very rapidly in India and the world. Drones are being used to accomplish very challenging tasks in a growing number of fields and many industrial applications. Drones will be using the same airspace which is used by manned aircrafts and hence it is of utmost importance to have qualified and trained Drone pilots, who understand Air Regulations, Air Traffic Management and Air Safety. Hence, one needs to undergo proper training even if they are experienced drone flyers as it has become a legal requirement now.
The Indian government is promoting the drone industry in India which is expected to create around one lakh jobs in the coming years. The government eased regulations too and removed strict mandates needed to fly drones. However, to become a professional drone pilot in India, candidates must get a certificate from an institute approved by DGCA, the aviation regulator.
If you have a look at the course curriculum, it’s relatively exhaustive to pack in for a 5 days of course. Also there is very little hands on time and relies more on the basics of autonomous flying and doesn’t cater much to recovery of the drones in case of emergencies and Flight safety is just brushed through.
The Drone pilots are given a broad brush or introduction to most of the subjects and rely purely on the software and hardware to perform rather than have a in depth knowledge, which in the long run may not be the right way forward. The training period I personally believe should be at least 2 to 3 weeks if not more for holistic and professional flight training.
How do you see India as an upcoming market? Which market according to you is the best; Defence or Civilian?
“India will be a drone hub by 2030,” said Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ‘Bharat Drone Mahotsav 2022’ in New Delhi on May 27.
Drone start-ups and research has been around for several years now. The Indian start up ecosystem has already started to see some of these start-ups emerging. Once there is approval from DGCA for commercial applications for e-commerce companies, deliveries and for the on-demand food delivery services, drones will provide a new way to execute their logistics, however the current legislation aren’t quite updated to cater to this technology yet. Startup companies in drone technology began to raise funds and gain recognition, while demand continued to surge. Revenue from business-to-business applications of drone technology is expected to grow more than fourfold over the next decade as the usage of drones expands across industries.
More than 500 startups in India are racing to use drone technology to solve problems like helping farmers monitor crops, inspecting power lines and bridges for companies, providing connectivity to rural areas and monitoring construction sites. The MoD also has started a new scheme or government grant for drone companies to collaborate with foreign technology companies such as companies from Israel etc who are working on Drones Manufacturing, drone propulsion, anti-drone technology and drone monitoring. A classic example of this is the Adani Aerospace – Elbit Systems Joint venture for manufacturing the UAV’s in India for India and the World.
Drones across the Defence and commercial sector have specific and unique roles to play. Though the basic concept of the technology remains common, the applications / Utility and the size of the UAV’s as also the payloads / sensors are vastly different. Both Defence and Civilian markets are equally good for Drones and have immense scope for development and exploitation of technology.
What are the challenges and opportunities you see in Indian Drone industry?
Commercial drones and their utility have been making waves because of their versatility of applications across various sectors / industries. This new field brings together and expands upon many existing technologies in the fields of: Computer Vision, AI & ML, Advanced and Small CPU’s & GPU’s, specialized sensors, LiDAR, and manufacturing techniques. The field is heavily influenced by smart devices as well as tablet computers and hence able to leverage their availability in a mass market. Drone technology has caught up to our imagination, in a big way.
Drone technology has a wide range of application from monitoring coastal areas to agricultural purposes to defence applications. Drones can capture the aerial images, motion sensor data, and storing it for analysis may be used for effective crop management, disease control or patrolling on borders. A drone is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Instead, the UAV is either controlled by someone on the ground or autonomously via a computer program. The soaring popularity of drone technology is helping Indian start-ups create new businesses that range from aerial photography to crop monitoring, warehouse management and surveillance.
However the challenges still are far too many like regulatory requirements, Security concerns, Quality control, UTM, underdeveloped eco system, educating the users on the utility as also the efficacy of drones. Etc. With the proactive approach of the government as also as the technology proliferates down to the last mile, the challenges will reduce for sure.
Where do you see Indian Drone Industry in the next five or ten years?
The least disruptive technology like drone technology is making headlines almost every day. The developmental potential of drones has brought several billion dollars to invest in start-ups engaged in the drone technology business.
The Government notified a Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for Indian drone manufacturers on 30 September 2021. The scheme seeks to promote a competitive and self-sustaining drone manufacturing industry in India under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. The scheme comes shortly after the announcement of the Drone Rules 2021 which encourages drone operations in India by improving ease-of-doing business and simplifying compliance for the drone industry. The scheme will serve as significant encouragement for investment in the drone sector and for the creation of new Indian start-ups catering to the industry thus contributing to make India a global drone hub by 2030 with an expected turnover of INR 15,000 Cr by 2026.
Foreign drone component manufacturers are also contemplating setting up facilities in India. This will create a self-sufficient drone manufacturing ecosystem in India, with manufacturers of drones no longer requiring the import of foreign components. The Drone Rules 2021 and PLI scheme have been a effective catalyst for augmenting indigenous manufacturing of drones and drone components and creates employment opportunities in the sector.
There now is a large requirement of drone related technology manufacturers who will be catering to demand from defence and commercial sectors. The times is ripe for entrepreneurs for setting up of the manufacturing companies and get benefit from the right government schemes and also choose the right product that will be in the sunrise sector for next 10-15 years.
What are your suggestions to youngsters/ entrepreneurs who wish to enter into the Drone Industry?
Start a game-changing career working with dynamic drone technology. From a military innovation, to an exciting hobby, to a technology that’s transforming commercial industries; the use of drones has rapidly changed over the past years.
For a budding entrepreneur, owning a drone in this day and age is a latent business opportunity just waiting to be explored and exploited. For opportunistic businesspeople, drones have multiple uses and can be explored and utilized in a variety of ways.
Besides your newfound sense of pride and accomplishment, future opportunities in the field are limitless.