Indian enterprises are fast adopting drone technology, expanding the market for the fledgling local drone industry. The mining sector, for instance, is heavily equipping itself with drones to conduct regular business operations. Big infrastructure companies—with expertise across segments like oil and gas, power, railways, and road transport—are increasingly using drones to augment capabilities and enhance productivity. Construction majors are banking on drones to monitor the progress of projects and for inspection purposes.
While surveillance and security operations still lead the industry’s share in terms of deployment, a spate of new use cases is opening up for the space. Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, co-founder & CEO at Skylark Drones, a six-year-old startup that develops drone software solutions for businesses, says that it is helping a few companies undertake a flood risk assessment of varied regions by studying the topographical data of land captured by drones.
The government’s move to introduce a liberalised drone policy and the pandemic-led technology push has proved to be tailwinds for the industry. The Indian drone market that stands at about $700-$800 million today is estimated to touch $3-$4 billion over the next five years, says Vipul Singh, founder & CEO of drone startup AUS (Aarav Unmanned Systems). Smit Shah, director of, Drone Federation of India says that within less than a month of publishing the liberalised drone regulations, the government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme for the sector with an outlay of ₹120 crore.
“These initiatives have created a very encouraging environment for entrepreneurs, investors as well as corporations that are looking to use drones in their business operations,” says Shah. Besides, drones increase the efficiency of operations and reduce the risk that too at a lower cost across various applications, Shah adds. “Covid-19 amplified the growth of the sector as businesses ascribed more value to technologies that facilitated remote working and reduced movement of manpower. There is a huge demand from the private sector as well as different government departments,” says Singh.
Already, the SVAMITVA Initiative—a central sector scheme of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj that relies on the usage of drone technology for mapping of land parcels in rural inhabited areas, and creating accurate land records for rural planning—has given a boost to the entire ecosystem; making businesses and varied state governments more receptive to the idea of using drones. India currently has about 80 drone manufacturers and over 100 drone service providers. Ramasamy says that the number of daily drone flights in India today totals around 40,000-50,000. This number stood at some 5,000-10,000 a couple of years back.
Not surprisingly, drone companies are seeing healthy business growth. The contract pipeline for AUS is nearly ten times that of the previous year, and the volume of projects already under implementation are almost six to seven times compared to the last year. Besides providing an entire bouquet of drone hardware and software solutions, AUS also manufactures special purpose drones used for surveying and mapping purposes. Skylark Drones claims to be recording a four-fold growth over last year and the firm’s client base has expanded to about 30 companies.
Investor appetite for the space is considerable and firms are looking to cash in on the opportunity. “We are interested in raising more capital so that we can open up more use cases, drive greater integration and dig deeper in our current use cases,” says Ankit Mehta, co-founder & CEO at drone manufacturer ideaForge Technology. Earlier this year, ideaForge bagged a $20 million contract from the Indian Army to deliver SWITCH 1.0 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) over one year which Mehta describes as a “marquee deal.” “We continue to enjoy a fairly large order book,” adds Mehta.
In terms of weight class, micro and small class drones are primarily used in India. If we go by the type of drone, multirotor drones are popular in the country.
AUS’s Singh expects agriculture, logistics and urban mobility segments to adopt drone technology at a fast clip in the years to come. While agri-tech companies are already exploring drones for spraying pesticides and scanning crops for disease identification, common farmers may also start deploying drones to count the number of plants, adds Ramasamy of Skylark Drones. AUS is also working with the central government and NGOs to facilitate afforestation by analysing data collected via drones.
However, the industry will have to step up manufacturing capacities to keep up with the demand. India’s total count of drones at present is just over a lakh, say, industry observers. “The PLI scheme should give a push to local drone manufacturers to get into the development of components and reduce dependability on China, Taiwan and other countries, in respect of batteries and other electronic parts,” says Ankit Kumar, partner at Alternative Global India (AGI)—a drone solutions consulting firm. All the mechanical components used in drones are currently manufactured in India, explains Kumar. The sector is also grappling with the lack of skilled talent.