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Business News/ Technology / News/  Indian drone makers home in on foreign markets with global pacts

Indian drone makers home in on foreign markets with global pacts

Though the Indian drone industry is at a nascent stage, it has already created a buzz globally, thanks to the government's drone policy unveiled last year.

However, partnerships alone won’t give Indian firms credibility. Photo: BloombergPremium
However, partnerships alone won’t give Indian firms credibility. Photo: Bloomberg

NEW DELHI : Last month, Garuda Aerospace signed a deal with Lockheed Martin CDL Systems which will see the Chennai-based drone startup use one of Lockheed’s advanced autopilot and tracking softwares for defence and commercial drones. Both companies plan to collaborate to develop drone applications for agriculture, mining, large-scale mapping and industrial inspection.

The deal is among a growing number of global partnerships being formed by Indian drone startups to test international waters. Industry experts say such partnerships are mutually beneficial as global firms want to join hands with Indian drone makers to get a piece of this burgeoning market.

Garuda, for instance, is working with Harare Institute of Technology and Nyangani Virtual University to offer drones-as-a-service to the farming sector in Zimbabwe.

Another Indian drone service provider, Skye Air Mobility, is looking to expand into markets like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.

“We are working out software-related partnerships in the region. These partnerships will help us take our India-made products and services to global destinations," said Ankit Kumar, chief executive of Skye Air.

While Skye Air is a new entrant in India’s drone market, early drone solutions provider Skylark Drones said it has been supplying software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to global firms for a while now. However, Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, who co-founded the firm in 2014, said there has been a surge in interest.

Although 80% of Skylark’s customer- base is in India, that could change soon, said Ramasamy, adding that the firm is aiming at an equal split between global and Indian customers in the next two years.

IdeaForge, a manufacturer and supplier of drones, said that as part of its North American expansion plans, the company is talking to several distributors and resellers to help take their products overseas. It is also looking for technology partners.

“This will further help in making Indian products more tuned to international customers and help them with quicker turnaround time (TAT) for after-sales support," a company spokesperson said.

While industry experts acknowledge that the Indian drone industry is at a nascent stage, they said that it has already created a buzz globally. They attributed this interest to the government’s new drone policy that was unveiled last year, an emphasis on local manufacturing, and encouragement for drones-as-a-service in critical sectors like farming, healthcare, logistics, defence and e-commerce.

“What is interesting is that opportunities for partnerships that can lead to access to new markets are happening a lot more. One of the reasons can be that companies want an alternative to China to procure drones.

"The opportunity in India is more on the industrial side which has its nuances such as what payload it can carry or how high can you go," said Vishesh Rajaram, managing partner at early-stage venture capital firm Speciale Invest.

He warned, however, that partnerships alone won’t give Indian firms credibility. “If you can mine that relationship for more revenue or for distribution that can help. Most investors are looking at revenue and scale. Also, we are looking for a drone application that can solve a problem," he said.

Further, Smit Shah, president of industry body Drone Federation of India (DFI), pointed out that the cost of drone ownership is reducing with increasing scale. For instance, the government’s Swamitva Scheme is expected to use 3,000-4,000 drones, according to Shah. Under the scheme, the government plans to map land parcels by using drones, in an effort to establish clear ownership of property in rural inhabited areas. Drones surveys of 1,94,356 //acres?/ have already been completed, according to the government’s website on the scheme.

“There is a requirement for multiple drones under emergency procurement in the defence sector. Surveillance and logistics drones are being procured, and this is being seen as an opportunity. Positive indigenization is also attracting a lot of companies to partner with Indian companies, do technology transfer, and share intellectual property," said Shah.

Vipul Singh, co-founder, and chief executive of Aereo (formerly known as Aarav Unmanned Systems), said expectations from the sector are also rising on the back of an increasing reliance on drones, which leads to a requirement for “rapid innovation and upgradation of products and processes". Aereo, too, is in active discussions with enterprises in India and overseas to expand its business.

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Abhijit Ahaskar
Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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Updated: 10 Nov 2022, 09:36 AM IST
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