By Srinath Srinivasan
With India having its own drone portal, DigitalSky, and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) playing an active role in setting up guidelines and issuing licenses for drone pilots, indigenous manufacturers are looking to tap into this market in deeper and more meaningful ways. Working on the bigger sized drones is VFLYX, a Bangalore-based customised UAV/drones manufacturer with in-house hardware and on-board flight software engineering teams.
“While imports of micro and smaller drones are more common, doing the same for larger ones is not efficient and cheap. We intend to import only those parts that are not locally available here and build the rest ourselves,” says Vishal Saurav, co-founder and CEO, VFLYX.
The large drones can help in agriculture at scale, in firefighting, to carry loads in industries, among many other critical missions, with accuracy. “Land surveys, surveillance of large industrial complexes, remote monitoring with live feed are some on-demand use cases that we are currently working on,” says Saurav. The company owns the design IP for all its drones. “For drones as big as carrying payloads, if we make them in India, the cost comes down by over 40%,” says Saurav. “We are planning to make channel partners to go deep into different markets in India.”
VFLYX services the drones through their lifetime while continuing to develop software updates as well. On the software front, the startup specialises in AI capabilities on board the drones and at client application level.
According to Saurav, the industry is faced with some long-term challenges. “The Chinese products with all latest features and available at such a low price are tough to beat. India is highly price sensitive,” says Saurav.
Then, there is the problem of drone application awareness while trying to make the sector more organised. “There also needs to be a strong supply of talent. We have a strong software base. We equally need a core engineering talent base to design drones and fly them,” says Saurav. The startup has tied up with pilot training academies to train people on drone flying across India. “We are also getting government support for training people locally for flying. The proposals regarding these programmes for youngsters to participate are coming in actively,” he adds.
To ensure steady supply of quality sensors and on-board chips, a local semiconductor ecosystem is essential. This can further bring down the costs. According to Saurav, as more people adopt drones, the country will see the ecosystem grow and see new players locally set up their business. “For instance, delivery of food, consumer items and emergency services using drones is an application which will increase the demand for more local drones, pilots and vendors,” he adds.