Finding a number of applications, both government and enterprises are all set to adopt the global Drone phenomenon. Governments world over have been aiming to benefit from the technology, formulating regulations for their use. In India, civilian use is currently restricted, but once the DGCA guide lines are out, the opportunities are endless.
The sky and the skill of flying have always fascinated man. The advent of planes meant that man could finally accomplish the dream and stamp authority on the skies. Less than a century forward, a new technology called the unmanned aerial vehicle or drone is giving the impetus back to man, who is now technologically empowered enough to be able to control these aerial systems from the ground.
As a concept, drones are not a new phenomenon. Nations have been experimenting, producing and using drones for more than a decade. Defense organizations have been using there drones from the start of the 21st century for tasks like reconnaissance, aerial photography, spying and locating targets and even in combat sometimes. The Indian government itself uses Israeli made ‘Heron MALE’ and ‘Harpy Combat’ drones as well as indigenously built ‘Nishant’ for police and surveillance jobs.
“Drone industry is in a very nascent stage right now. Going forward, we see a market worth US$5-10 billion when the government regulations open up.”
On the enterprise front, drone usage has been littered with controversies and solutions. Consumer based organizations like Amazon and Domino’s Pizza have been known to use it in permitted airspace when making express deliveries. UAVs are being increasingly used by enterprises for aerial photography and cinematography, auditing, supply line monitoring, surveying and precision agriculture. Apart from enterprises, an incredible number of hobby drone flyers have emerged all over the globe which has seen a surge in micro and small UAVs for recreational use.
The Drone Market
According to a recent market survey, the global UAV-Drones market is expected to reach USD 5.59 Billion between 2015 and 2020 at an estimated CAGR of 32.22%. Although there has been an exponential increase in global sales with USA and China leading the way, the domestic market in India is still in its early stages. Apurva Godbole, CEO of Drona Aviation, a domestic UAV manufacturer comments, “Drone industry is in a very nascent stage right now. People are focusing on specific applications and service industry right now. Going forward, we see a market worth US$5-10 billion when the government regulations open up.”
“The applications of drones are going to have an impact across various industries right from infrastructure and mining to utilities, agriculture and logistics.”
Although the DGCA, the regulatory authority for civil aviation in the country, has currently restricted civil usage of drones without permission from authorities, it has said that regulations are in the pipeline and there will be concrete guidelines on the same by the end of the 2016. The industry is abuzz in anticipation of the same. Mughilan TR, Co-Founder at Skylark Drones, a Bangalore based startup opines, “The Drone market is set for exponential growth over the coming years. I believe the inflection point for the drone market is going to take place late next year. The applications of drones are going to have an impact across various industries right from infrastructure and mining to utilities, agriculture and logistics.”
UAVs are usually segmented into Large, Medium, and Small/ Micro based on their weight, capacity and flight endurance. The large and medium versions are mainly used by defense organizations. The small and micro drones are where the real potential lies with regard to enterprise level. Some of the current applications of drones in enterprises globally include surveying and auditing, power line monitoring, retail delivery, aerial photography and cinematography. Apurva states, “Our services business (aerial cinematography) started facing hurdles when government ban came in. But that’s when we pivot to core technology in Nano Drones’ space. Since, we operate under the roof; we do not face hurdles of government regulations. Our product Pluto has been sold by students, enthusiasts, application developers and research labs.”
“Drones present a wide range of risks, from privacy invasion to corporate espionage to terrorism; they can be used to snoop on confidential projects or gather competitive intelligence.”
Apart from the Armed Forces, there have been a number of deployments in governance too. Police Departments have been deploying UAVs to monitor processions and religious gatherings for unlawful activities, public works departments have been contemplating their use in controlling leaks and faults in supply lines. There is a gigantic market in India for precision agriculture with the help of drones. Mughilan says, “I believe drones will be used for rapid digitization of all our assets spread across geographies which is going to bring in the much needed authenticity and accountability in large industries such as infrastructure, mining and utilities.”
Role of the Government
After a couple of incidents involving civil and private drones hovering over prohibited places, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation came out with a ban on recreational UAV flying. This ban is though a temporary one and the restrictions are set to be over once the regulations come in. As Apurva puts it, “Drone emergence has been largely insulated of industry participation; except for the drones used in defense. Now the government has started a conversation with the industry which will hopefully give it the legal structure to grow to large scales. We expect the DGCA will be (and has been) receptive of the industry feedback. We also expect that the regulations should come out by the year end 2016.”
The industry has a lot of hopes from the DGCA’s formulation of UAV laws and believes a big part of the future of the technology in the country depends upon these regulations. “The growth of the industry only depends on the regulations set forward by the Government. If clear regulations are set forth by the government for building, deployment of UAVs, the sky is the limit for operation for these vehicles,” says Mughilan TR.
Issues and Challenges
Although highly useful in a vast array of implementations, these aerial systems come with their own sheath of security issues. Drones are unmanned aerial traffic that might pose threat to other aircrafts if flown in the vicinity of an airport. Ground injuries due to crashing of malfunctioning drones are an issue in populated vicinities.
The main apprehension on the government front however revolves around spying and photography of soft targets by foreign entities which might compromise national security. Sanjai Gangadharan, Regional Director, SAARC, A10 Networks believes, “Consumer drones are big now and they will get even bigger in 2016, with expectations to generate over $1 billion in revenues. But their increased popularity will also introduce new cyber security and physical security risks.” He continues, “Drones present a wide range of risks, from privacy invasion to corporate espionage to terrorism. Drones can also be used to snoop on confidential projects or gather competitive intelligence. For example, oil exploration companies should be wary of competitors using drones to learn where they are drilling for oil. And IT administrators should make sure that drones do not gain access to corporate Wi-Fi networks by providing closer proximity for the use of sniffers and other snooping tools.”
Good Times Ahead
With the ongoing digital transformation, India is becoming an IT hub with a number of indigenous IT companies providing big data and analytic services to enterprises. Coupled with growing number of drone manufacturers coming up, the country has the potential of being one of the biggest drone markets globally. Government initiatives like Digital India and Make in India are expected to be the main growth drivers behind this. “We expect the drone applications industry to grow to US$20 billion by 2020 when industries start adopting these on a large scale,” remarks Drona’s Apurva. Regulations governing and subsequently permitting civil use will be another catalyst for the sector. “Simultaneously, the civilian market for hobby and cinematography will be a significant part of this large market.” He added.
Skylark Drones’ Mughilan TR believes that smart cities and the digitization that comes with it will open a number of opportunities for the UAV market. Drones as per him are crucial to implementing the digitization plans and will be a crucial towards implementation of IoT solutions in cities as well as industries. “ Mughilan said, “In India, I believe drones will be used for rapid digitization of all our assets spread across geographies which is going to bring in the much needed authenticity and accountability in large industries such as infrastructure, mining and utilities.”
As an enterprise application, UAVs have a lot of scope, bringing a lot of excitement across the industry. Although not a path breaker in terms of technology all by itself, UAVs in itself is a collaboration of aeronautics and information technology. It conjures extensive data that can then be analyzed and used by different organizations. Moreover, with the recent infrastructure development and a spurt of a number of indigenous big data and analytics firms, India is poised to become one of the world’s largest drone markets eventually once the regulations are out.
As a trained aviator, I can vouch for the fact that the technology’s benefits outdo the risks involved. Being able to control drones from the ground an even connect them across systems via IoT will give the impetus to technologically equipped organizations to go about exploring newer options and avenues for application of UAVs. The industry is all set and braced for the future proliferation of dro0nes in the country, and it is certain that once the DGCA comes out with its rulebook for these mini aircrafts, the Indian Drone Market will explode.
By: Chitresh Sehgal