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Drone startups finally see high altitude growth with new regulations in place

Sandeep Soni

Drone startups in India are finally looking at scaling heights in the market, which otherwise has been dominated by the unorganized players, with drone regulations 1.0 that came into effect on December 1, 2018. India s drone market, according to a report by advisory firm BIS Research, will become $885.7 million in size by 2021 even as the global market will hit $21.47-billion mark.

There are around 40,000 non-compliant drones operating in the market versus 100-150 drones that fulfil the regulatory compliance, said Vipul Singh, co-founder, Aarav Unmanned System. Unorganized players going out of the market due to the new policy now will be the biggest benefit for the industry and its players. Currently, the market is growing at 40% annually. Bengaluru-based Aarav Unmanned System provides surveying, industrial inspection, and precision agriculture services via drones.

Weed out inefficiencies

The new policy by Ministry of Civil Aviation seeks drone operators to have a unique identification number, unmanned aircraft operator permit, no permission-no takeoff clearance, insurance, and ID plate via the newly launched online portal for drone registration – Digital Sky. The regulation applies to all drone types except nano drones or ones weighing less than 250 grams.

Delhi-based WeDoSky that offers drones for industrial inspection, mapping, and surveillance for cities believes that the regulated drone market will allow for better partnerships with large enterprises that so far has been shying away from using drones for large-scale applications.

Large enterprises didn t turn their drone usage into nation-wide programs for their businesses. Now big projects are expected to come in, said Jaspreet Makkar, founder, WeDoSky. Makkar hinted towards businesses like Tata and Adani Group that were reportedly planning developing drones and its use cases.

WeDoSky has been working with a power supply company in Noida for almost a year around developing examples of drones usage in the power sector. We have been working on some examples around drone usage in the power sector but they were hesitant to come out with any large-scale project for entire NCR due to lack of regulations, said Makkar. The startup raised angel funding from Mumbai Angels in 2017.

The impact of the new policy has been visible for WeDoSky. The number of business queries has gone up and from small proof-of-concept projects, the startup has received interest for larger projects. For example, if companies were giving us projects to inspect 40-50 megawatt of solar thermal plants, there are companies that are exploring gigawatt of solar inspection with new rules for drones coming in, said Makkar.

Under the new regulation, drone usage is limited to only daytime within visual line-of-sight, and at a maximum altitude of 400ft.

New rules help in planning scale if we are working with private businesses and solve their problems across different verticals which weren t possible earlier. So scalability factor in terms of times and visibility improves, said Singh. Aaarav Unmanned Systems expects its annual growth to grow by 2-3 times annually with new regulations in place.

Scaling use cases

The most pertinent use cases for drones exist in the areas of power and utility, agriculture, highways, mining, railways etc. Vani Kola, a leading venture capital investor and managing director at Kalaari Capital expects high impact particularly around agriculture using drones. Established drone market 2020: India – $1 bn v/s Global – $100 bn. Glad to have drones legal in India. Excited to see its promising impact on agricultural output, with field analysis & crop health assessment, Kola tweeted.

Over the long-term agriculture is the largest application for drones in India in terms of the market. It is because of the vast agriculture land in India and the potential to impact that space. However, it may not be the early adopter unlike oil and gas etc, said Neel Mehta, co-founder and director, Asteria Aerospace. Bengaluru-based Asteria Aerospace manufactures drones for surveillance, asset monitoring in security, oil and gas, mining, construction industries etc.

The startup so far has been developing drones for government projects, however, the new rules have opened up the business-to-business channel as well. Mehta feels that B2B or industrial side will dominate the drone market ahead. For the next five years, around 60-70% of drone usage will be on the industrial side. So, the whole market has opened up which was not there before and hence we are seeing a weekly increase of around 30-40% in new queries.