Not Just Enemies In Battle, You Can Use Drones To Kill Weeds And Shoot Movies Too

As per the civil aviation ministry, India's drone sector is expected to achieve a total turnover of $1.63-2.04 billion by 2026, from its current turnover of about $10.88 million

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While the Indian startup ecosystem is under stress at the moment, during its heyday till a few months back rose to recognition a surprising, hitherto less active space: drone-based solutions.

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Initially associated primarily with the military as intelligence gathering devices and weapon platforms, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are flying robots that can be controlled remotely. Nowadays, they are also employed for various civilian roles such as surveillance, traffic monitoring, videography, delivery services, etc.

As per the civil aviation ministry, India's drone sector is expected to achieve a total turnover of $1.63-2.04 billion by 2026, from its current turnover of about $10.88 million. Two weeks back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating Bharat Drone Mahotsav said India has the potential to become the global drone hub.

This is in part due to the fact that the government has been liberalising its drone policy over the last few years, leading to the emergence of roughly 270 drone startups, including well-known names across segments such as agriculture, healthcare, tourism, etc.

Agriculture

Drone startups seek to enhance agricultural activities by performing various tasks: compilation of plant count, calculation of fair crop loss percentage, crop supervision, and crop maintenance. For instance, founded in 2015, Bengaluru-based TartanSense provides an AI-based robot that uses its camera to capture plants, identify weeds, spray chemicals on the detected weeds alone, and produce analytic reports. The startup has raised $8 million in funding from investors including Blume Ventures, Omnivore, etc.

Another interesting startup in this space is Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace, which was also founded in 2015 to customize drones for various applications such as photography, agricultural survey, wildlife monitoring, etc. Having raised $1 million in funding, the company counts Silver Swan Capital as an investor.

Infrastructure, Mining & Renewable Energy

Drone-based solutions aimed at infrastructural development offer services such as industrial inspections, 3D video mapping, land audit, town planning, site management, thermal imaging, terrain mapping and change detection, and infrastructure and equipment detection. Bengaluru-based Skylark Drones is a well known name in this segment. Founded in 2014, the drone analytics platform provides worksite intelligence for businesses operating in the infrastructure, mining, and utility space, solutions to manage drone operations, and compliance solutions. The startup has raised $4 million from investors including Indian Angel Network Fund and AdvantEdge, among others.

Huviair, founded in 2015 and also based in Bengaluru, provides drone-based data insights for application in multiple areas such as construction, infrastructure, smart cities, insurance, and renewable energy and natural resource management sectors. It has raised $4 million from over 25 investors. Another Bengaluru-based startup in this space is AUS, which was founded in 2013 and has raised $3 million from investors including Auxano, KITVEN, among others. The application of its quad-rotor drone systems spans many areas such as mining, urban development, roads and railways, irrigation/watershed development, construction and utilities.

Media & Entertainment

In addition to the above mentioned applications, drones are also being used for the purposes of aerial documentary, photography and cinematography, among others, so as to cater to the advanced technological needs of the media and entertainment industry. For instance, New Delhi-based BotLab Dynamics is a startup incubated at IIT-Delhi's incubation facility, TBIU (Technology Business Incubator), to focus on the commercialization of its drone technology in two key areas: media and entrainment, and defence. The team has developed full stack of solutions for drone light shows where many drones fly simultaneously and autonomously in interesting spatial and temporal formations.

In January this year, BotLab conceived, designed and produced a 10-minute drone light show, as part of which over 1,000 drones, dazzling in different colours, lit up the sky over Lutyens' Delhi during the Beating Retreat Ceremony that brings the Republic Day celebrations to a conclusion. Mumbai-based Drona Aviation is another example of drone technology serving media and entertainment needs. Founded in 2014, the startup offers drone-based solutions such as aerial cinematography, crowd monitoring, etc. Its nano drones can be used for flying, photography, cinematography, selfies, etc. The company also develops hardware and software for developers to create their apps.