By Glenford V. D’Souza, General manager and spokesperson, Lynx_Lawrence&Mayo
Initially perceived as a toy, drones are now being utilized to their full potential across a broad spectrum. Since its entrance into commercial utilization, they have helped humans simplify complex tasks and work in extreme conditions without enduring severe costs.
The business sectors in India, though skeptical in the beginning, have embraced drones to increase work efficiency and reduce operational cost. According to a report by FICCI and EY, the Indian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is expected to touch $885.7 million by 2021, with the global UAV market size approaching $21.47 billion. Furthermore, a report by PWC India further states that the drone space is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18% during 2017-23.
Key industries impacting growth of drones in India
India is among the top countries in terms of drone imports, accounting to over 20%. The reason behind its rapid growth in demand in India is due to the following sectors:
Drones in infrastructure and engineering
UAVs are being used in the infrastructure and engineering industry owing to its ability to automate tasks previously accomplished using complex machinery and time-consuming processes. In the infrastructure segment, drones are used in quarries for topographic surveys and the measurement of reserves and storage volumes. Drones are also used by construction companies to monitor ongoing projects and are also helping governments to create smart cities. By providing useful analytical data pertaining to traffic and crowd management, UAV’s help governments in evaluating the conditions of current infrastructure such as bridges, solar farms, etc. Drones are also valuable in engineering companies to inspect structures such as dams, to detect foundation cracks and areas affected by natural disasters. Most importantly, it helps engineers and constructors to mitigate the risks associated with manual laborer.
Drones in Security and Surveillance
The primary sector where drones were used commercially was for security and surveillance. With the advancement in camera resolution and artificial intelligence, drones have become the product of choice, helping governments and security companies in surveillance of desired targets through features like multiple GPS for redundancy, integrated application software with a geographic map, and real-time video transmission. Being a powerful force multiplier, they also help security agencies by providing the ability to schedule, monitor, and repeat autonomous missions to augment security guards. Drone technology is also making a mark in aerial security and surveillance-as-a-service and are being used by governments to ensure border security, coastal security, and better crowd and traffic management processes.
Private security companies are using drones stocked with HD image sensing cameras to keep track of people and vehicles. Much like CCTV cameras, companies use this technology to survey the workplace and ensure a safe working environment. Drones with radiometric thermal payload and multispectral cameras are taking over the CCTV surveillance industry and are swiftly becoming the key technology to ensure on-campus safety.
Drones in environmental studies and monitoring
The Indian Forest Department, in the year 2018, used drones to monitor the 13 Crore plantation drive in the Indian city of Nagpur. UAVs are helping environmentalists to study wildlife, monitor flora and fauna, and to capture the impact of environmental factors on the forest life. As the drones can be equipped with scientific scanning equipment, conservationists and researchers are replacing lower-resolution satellite imagery, slower terrestrial surveying equipment, and expensive manned aircraft services. Key areas for use of drones in environmental studies and conservation, include forestry, Plant Conservation, Animal Conservation, River level and flood assessments, marshlands and mangroves assessment etc.
Drones in entertainment
The use of drones in the entertainment industry has also evolved from being just a toy to a product capable of mass influencing. Drones are being used by film directors to get aerial footage for a particular scene, for which they had to use helicopters in the past, thereby contributing to lower costs.
Influencers and creators actively use drones to capture engaging tourism videos of places they visit. Aerial photography has also become popular where photos are captured from high altitudes. The Indian government, during the edition of Asia’s premier air show, Aero India-2019 held a ‘Drone Olympic’ to let drone pilots show their potential of flying these devices.
Regulatory policies around drones
In December 2018, the government of India introduced new policies and regulations surrounding the use of drones by private citizens of India. Overturning the ban on UAVs since 2014, the laws dictate that Indian citizens can fly drones with payloads up to 249 gms (falling in the category of nano drones) without having to register for Unique Identification Number (UIN). For flights with larger than 250 gms payload (micro, small, medium and large drones up to 150 kg), one would need a UIN, which costs Rs 1,000 and a permit to operate the drones, costing Rs 25,000. The Indian government has launched a portal called ‘Digital Sky’ for registering drones and obtain a UIN and the operator’s permit.
A drone task-force was constituted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Minister of State for Civil Aviation. Accordingly, based on the recommendations of the task force, the Drone Ecosystem Policy Roadmap (“Drone Policy 2.0”) was released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on January 15, 2019. Drone Policy 2.0 aims to further relax the regulations introduced by the Indian government.
The policy seeks to provide a way for foreign players to invest in India, which will allow the development of India’s UAV sector. Investments by the Indian government and citizens, combined with future foreign direct investment, can become the reason for the further evolution of the drone sector in India. Drone-related careers can open up for pilots, UAV operators, engineers, and data processing and analysis experts. Potential positions can range from full-time to contract-based work, and internships across many industries.
Technological improvements have made drones what they are today: a marvel of engineering capable of performing tasks that are impossible for humans to perform. Given the economic opportunities and the scope presented by drones in India, it is not surprising that the UAV sector is the fastest-growing commercial sector in India. However, the sector is not free from challenges. Investment is required for innovations and research regarding the safe use of UAVs in India. It is through scientific research that drones can be technologically advanced to use artificial intelligence, machine learning etc., so as to become a one-stop solution to provide automated, secure and economical solutions for leveraging technology, across public and private sectors.