India has over 40,000 drones, but where are they really?

A drone with camera Reuters
  • The government has proposed to set up a dedicated drone corridor, create drone ports and allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI).
  • However, the Indian drone industry needs much more than regulations to fly.
  • Funding is a major challenge that startups face.
From photography to now possibly e-commerce delivery, drones have gone from “hyped and expensive” to now being legal in India. However, other than for recreation, they are hardly in use.

Since their launch, drones have been used mostly for photography - wedding or travel. Even that had faced issues from authorities. Drones have just failed to take over the Indian skies, as expected, even after the Indian government declared them legal.

In 2016, the government announced a new draft policy, under which it has proposed to set up a dedicated drone corridor, create drone ports and allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in manufacturing the remotely piloted aircraft in the country. The Indian government is also asking drone companies to install chips in their drones, so that they can be disabled in case they go rogue.

One of the most important use cases of drones was meant to be the Indian agriculture industry – from surveillance to crop health monitoring and treatment, which is still looked at only by a few startups.

India’s drone policy also looks into the optimum utilization of drones allowing them to be used for delivery of goods. This could be a big boost for the Indian e-commerce industry. Recently, food tech unicorn Zomato had acquired TechEagle innovation, a drone startup, which fuelled rumours that the company will soon be experimenting with aerial food delivery.

“Drones will be an integral part of our lives be it for last mile delivery, security, 3D mapping, agriculture and several other use cases. Food delivery via drones will help reduce the last mile delivery leg and make the process more convenient and cost-effective. Unmanned aerial vehicles will significantly mitigate the delivery time while also increasing the reach,” said Vikram Singh Meena, Founder, TechEagle.

Even with all the ‘supposed’ encouragement from the government in the form of favourable regulation, there are many hurdles that grapple the Indian drone startups.

“Some of the key challenges which still exists is the timely certification of the drones, readiness by the manufacturers and democratization of the applications, ” said Vipul Singh, CEO and Co-founder, Aarav Unmanned Systems. “Research and Development ecosystem for drones in India is lagging way behind the global ecosystem.”

Globally, Amazon declared in 2013 that it will be experimenting drone delivery which sent the entire world into a frenzy. However, cut to 2019 and the global e-retail giant is still ‘testing’ drone delivery.

At this stage, Singh believes that Indian drone startup sector is still very small and needs extreme support from the government – which could come in in the form of a drone VC fund, more pilot projects, skill development programs, financial support for working capital, and expedited development of certification and testing centers, among others.

He added that with the introduction of regulation, on one hand most of the demands by both the government and private enterprises are going to scale up. On the other hand, most of the benefit will reach companies that follow regulatory compliance and use certified equipment.

See Also:
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Alphabet's drone delivery company is testing a quieter delivery drone after its original model annoyed townspeople and their dogs
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