Drones – The Sunrise Sector

Drones are expected to emerge as the most versatile tools by the end of this decade. NITI Aayog reaffirms this statement as it predicts the drone market to expand to $50 billion in the coming 15 years.
The drone manufacturing landscape has changed for the better in the last few years. The government and its industry-friendly policies have made a world of difference to fast-track the evolution of the drone sector.  In the last couple of years, the government has introduced several policies and schemes for the betterment of the sector. A much-relaxed regulatory framework has created a conducive environment for drone manufacturers, encouraging them to enhance their capabilities and increase production. The first edition of the PLI scheme has worked wonders as more and more startups are coming to the fore to be a part of this growing sector. It is a tremendous initiative on the part of the government considering the investment and participation it could attract in the coming time. Before the PLI scheme was launched, more than 90% drones used in India were imported. The PLI scheme has given local manufacturers the boost and financial push they require to increase their manufacturing capabilities and capacity. Other initiatives, such as Drone Shakti and Kisan Drones are expected to increase the adoption of drones across industries in the next few years.
For the drone sector to realize its full potential and become self-sufficient, it is very important for the government and key industry players to collaborate in supporting local innovation. The growth of the drone sector in recent years has created tremendous interest from investors and corporates alike. The increase in funding for the drone sector can be put down to a few important factors, including an increase in the applications of drones and favourable policies of the government. The current state of the sector has played a huge role in attracting interest from investors, who are now confidently lending their support to the future and further growth of the industry.
Innovation has been the key to the year-on-year progression of the drone sector. Drone companies are investing significantly in R&D to ensure that they deliver high-quality, safe, and outcome-oriented solutions to their respective customers. The growth of Asteria Aerospace Limited over the years is a good case in point. It has reaped excellent rewards for its focus on innovation as it has emerged as one of the leading drone manufacturing companies in the last few years that is firmly behind the government’s objective of making India a global drone hub by the end of the decade.
The next few years are going to be crucial as advancements in drone communication, sensors, autonomy, and computer vision amongst other areas will redefine how drones are used in different applications across defence and enterprise sectors. The objective of manufacturing companies should not only be on building better drone solutions but also creating a strong and self-sustainable local network of drone components, including semiconductor chips, motors, propellers, electro-optics, batteries, and more. 
Drones have the potential to completely transform operations across sectors. By automating operations, drones can improve operational efficiency, ensure worker safety, and significantly cut the time between data gathering and decision-making. Drones eliminate the need for human intervention in collection and analysis of data, thus fast-tracking these processes and reducing the chances of human error. Drones also make data collection easier in locations that are hard-to-reach through traditional methods. By conducting AI-based analysis of data collected by drones, stakeholders across industries can gather actionable insights that can ultimately help in simplifying the decision-making process.
A very good example of the effectiveness of drones in different sectors is how they are being used in agriculture. Automation through drones is helping the agriculture sector solve several problems that have been plaguing its growth for years. Drones are bringing more efficiency and accuracy into various processes across industry sub-sectors, including crop production, crop insurance, and crop plantations. In crop production, drones help in optimizing agri inputs usage for higher productivity, enabling informed decisions for higher and sustainable production, and building customized solutions for seed production amongst other things. The use of drones in crop insurance can bring more transparency to the insurance claim settlement process. In the crop plantations use case, drones are being used to analyse crop health, enhance operational excellence, and build customized solutions for plantation crops. Drones also help farmers to collect all the important farming data required to improve yield and consequently, increase their income.
As far as the existing export ecosystem is concerned, it is not very easy at this point in time to export a drone because it is considered a dual use item, which is also used in military applications. There is an export permission that you need to go through. It takes between 2-3 months to get export permission for a drone. The government is in the process of making this process easier, so we can expect to see locally manufactured drones exported outside of the country for defence as well as commercial applications in due time. It won’t be long before the manufacturing ecosystem here develops and export rules are more streamlined, there will be companies exporting drone solutions outside of India. Also, in many countries, there is a requirement for a drone product to adhere to a particular standard. For instance, in the European Union, a drone product is required to obtain CE marking (wireless devices) as well as certification under EASA regulations for certain operations. The Government of India and the DGCA can enter into bi-lateral agreements with their counterpart civil aviation authorities in other countries to ensure that certification issued by DGCA can be accepted by other authorities so that manufacturers do not have to go for re-certification in each country.
With the focus on designing, developing, and manufacturing drones locally, a lot of new-age job opportunities will be created in the time to come. Right from product designers and developers, software developers, pilots, service people and operators who manufacture, repair, and service drones. In the next 2-3 years alone, there will be about 10,000 direct jobs, which could be created from the drone industry itself.
India has a large potential drone market and no wonder it is referred to as the Sunrise Sector. The next few years are going to be crucial for scaling the manufacturing and adoption of indigenous drones and the industry must ensure that it promotes the use of drones in a responsible, safe manner, while providing effective outcomes to the end users. Swadeshi Jagran Manch